pit viper

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Crotalidae (pit vipers; order Squamata, suborder Serpentes) A family of venomous snakes which are closely related to true vipers (Viperidae) but which have heat-sensitive pit organs just behind the nostrils. Their diet consists mainly of birds and small mammals. Tail-rattling mechanisms have been developed in advanced forms (rattlesnakes); these are formed from loosely connected horny segments more of which are added to the ‘rattle’ at each moult. Crotalus horridus (timber rattlesnake) grows up to 1.8 m long and occurs in woodland in the eastern USA. C. cerastes (sidewinder) is small (up to 60 cm) and occurs in the deserts of the southwestern USA; it has a small horn above each eye and its common name is derived from its method of locomotion across soft sand: it proceeds diagonally by throwing its body forward in loops (‘sidewinding’ also occurs in some vipers). There are approximately 130 species in the family, occurring in the Americas and tropical Asia.

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pit vipers See CROTALIDAE.

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