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Genus/Species

 

Vipera sp., "European vipers" of the genus Vipera

see also "Asiatic vipers" of the genus Vipera sp. and Macrovipera spp.

Species

  • 1. Vipera ammodytes
  • 2. Vipera anatolica
  • 3. Vipera aspis
  • 4. Vipera barani
  • 5. Vipera berus
  • 6. Vipera darevskii
  • 7. Vipera dinniki
  • 8. Vipera ebneri
  • 9. Vipera eriwanensis
  • 10. Vipera kaznakovi
  • 11. Vipera latasti
  • 12. Vipera lotievi
  • 13. Vipera monticola
  • 14. Vipera nikolskii
  • 15. Vipera pontica
  • 16. Vipera seoanei
  • 17. Vipera renardi
  • 18. Vipera transcaucasiana
  • 19. Vipera ursinii

 

Vipera darevskii and Vipera dinniki were previously described as subspecies of V. kaznakovi; Vipera anatolica, Vipera ebneri, Vipera eriwanensis and Vipera renardi were previously considered subspecies of V. ursinii. Vipera transcaucasiana was previously described as a subspecies of Vipera ammodytes.

 

The following subspecies are now recognised:

 

-Vipera ammodytes ammodytes  
-Vipera ammodytes gregorwallneri  
-Vipera ammodytes meridionalis  
-Vipera ammodytes montandoni  
-Vipera ammodytes ruffoi


-Vipera aspis aspis 
-Vipera aspis atra  
-Vipera aspis francisciredi  
-Vipera aspis hugyi  
-Vipera aspis  zinnikeri


-Vipera berus berus

-Vipera berus bosniensis
-Vipera berus sachalinensis

 

-Vipers latasti latasti
-Vipers latasti gaditana

 

-Vipera seoanei seoanei
-Vipera seoanei cantabrica


-Vipera ursinii ursinii

-Vipera ursinii graeca
-Vipera ursinii macrops
-Vipera ursinii moldavica
-Vipera ursinii rakosiensis

Taxonomy

Serpentes; Viperidae; Viperinae

Common names

European vipers

  • 1. Horned viper, Sand viper, Sandotter
  • 2. Anatolian mountain viper
  • 3. Asp viper, Aspisviper, Juraviper
  • 4. Baran's adder
  • 5. Common European viper, Kreuzotter
  • 6. Darevski's viper
  • 7. Dinnik's viper, Caucasus subalpine viper
  • 8. Iranian mountain viper
  • 9. Armenian mountain steppe viper
  • 10. Caucasus viper, Kaznakow's viper
  • 11. Lataste's viper, Snub-nosed viper
  • 12. Caucasian meadow viper
  • 13. Mountain viper
  • 14. Nikolski's adder, Forest steppe viper
  • 15. Pontic adder
  • 16. Baskian viper
  • 17. Steppe viper
  • 18. Transcaucasian sand viper
  • 19. Meadow viper, Wiesenotter

 

 

Fig. 4.67 Vipera berus

 

Distribution

Europe. V. berus and V. renardi also in the Far East. See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information.

 


  Map 49 "European vipers"

 

 

Subspecies which are not listed in the Distribution tables:

 

Vipera ammodytes ammodytes: former Yugoslavia, Albania, southwest Romania, northwest Bulgaria
Vipera ammodytes gregorwallneri: Austria (Styria and Carinthia), former northern Yugoslavia, possibly also as far as northern Bulgaria

Vipera ammodytes meridionalis: former southern Yugoslavia, southern Albania, Greece (including the Cyclades), western Turkey

Vipera ammodytes montandoni: Romania, northern and eastern Bulgaria, European Turkey 
Vipera ammodytes ruffoi: northern Italian region of the Alps


Vipera aspis aspis: northeast Spain, central and southwest France, west and southwest Switzerland (Jura, in the south as far as Lower Valais), the far southwest of Germany (southern part of the Black Forest)
Vipera aspis atra: Alps and pre-Alps of the Swiss cantons Bern, Fribourg, Valais and Ticino, the Alps of northwest Italy and southeast France

Vipera aspis francisciredi: southern Switzerland (Ticino south of Monte Ceneri and southern Grisons valleys), Italy (not including the northwest and south, but including Elba)

Vipera aspis hugyi: southern Italy (including Sicily)
Vipera aspis zinnikeri: French Pyrenees, Gascony

 

Vipera berus berus: England, Central and Northern Europe as far as the northern Balkans, Scandinavia up to and above the Arctic Circle, Eastern Europe

Vipera berus bosniensis: southern Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and northern Macedonia, northern Albania and western Bulgaria

Vipera berus sachalinensis: southeast Siberia, northern Mongolia, Sakhalin Island and the Shantar Islands

 

Vipers latasti latasti: central and eastern Spain, northern Portugal 
Vipers latasti gaditana: the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, northern Morocco and Algeria

 

Vipera seoanei seoanei: northern Portugal, northwest Spain, the far southwest of France 
Vipera seoanei cantabrica: Cantabria


Vipera ursinii ursinii: central Italy

Vipera ursinii graeca: Greece

Vipera ursinii macrops: former western Yugoslavia, Albania
Vipera ursinii moldavica: Romania, northern Bulgaria (?), Moldavia (?)
Vipera ursinii rakosiensis: residual populations in Hungary (extinct in Austria and Romania)

Biology

Apart from Gloydius (=Agkistrodon) halys, a pitviper which is also found in the far southeast of Europe, the European vipers are the only true venomous snakes in Europe. V. barani, V. kaznakovi and V. monticola are only found outside of Europe, and for them the common name of this group is misleading.

The dorsal markings generally consist of a dark zig-zag or wavy band which may break up into individual blotches or rectangular bars (as in V. aspis). The basic colouring is lighter, from shades of grey and yellow to brown and red. V. seoanei and V. kaznakovi are predominantly dark and marked with two light lines along the sides. Completely black individuals are seen in most species.

The genus can be divided into two subgroups with minor differences: 1. the Pelias group ("primordial European vipers") with V. barani, V. berus, V. darevskii, V. dinniki, V. seoanei, V. kaznakovi, V. anatolica, V. ebneri, V. eriwanensis, V. renardi and V. ursinii; 2. the Rhinaspis group ("more highly developed European vipers") with V. ammodytes, V. aspis, V. latasti, V. monticola and Vipera transcaucasiana.

The species in the Pelias group can be distinguished by their oval head, which is barely distinct from the body, and their blunt snout, among other features. These animals are able to flatten their relatively slender bodies, which improves heat absorption when they sun themselves, particularly important in colder regions. These species are generally rarely longer than 60–70 cm.

 

The shape of the head in Rhinaspis species is more triangular and distinct from the somewhat stouter body. The tip of the snout is typically upturned, more so in V. latasti than in V. aspis, and is drawn out into a horn in V. ammodytes. V. monticola is the smallest species in this genus and barely reaches 35 cm. V. aspis and V. latasti are 60–75 cm in length, and the western subspecies of V. ammodytes up to 1 m.

Habitats: V. aspis, V. latasti and V. ammodytes prefer warm, dry regions, such as stony, scrub-covered hillsides or on the edge of forests. V. aspis, V. berus and V. ursinii can also be found in colder regions up to an altitude of 3,000 m, but they do require a south-facing location. V. ursinii inhabits steppes and grasslands, V. kaznakovi warm and humid regions with dense vegetation (also tea plantations), up to an altitude of 2,400 m above sea level. V. seoanei lives in regions with heavy rainfall, from sea level up to 800 m. V. monticola lives in the treeless and scrubless highlands of the Atlas mountains.

V. berus, the snake species with the largest distribution area of all, requires cool and humid habitats, such as moors, heaths and mountain meadows, but also sparse forests. In the north, where they are found beyond the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia, they inhabit low-lying regions; further south they are found primarily in low and high mountain ranges.

In sparsely populated regions, they tend to seek out hiding places in man-made structures, such as stone cairns or walls or abandoned stone cottages. In regions where there is more human activity, the populations are decreasing dramatically, especially of V. berus and V. ursinii.

Generally diurnal, in very hot weather and in the southern distribution areas more often active in the evening and at night. Chiefly ground-dwelling, but can also climb (e.g. V. berus in bilberry bushes, V. kaznakovi in tea shrubs). Long periods of hibernation are common in the colder regions, in the far north for up to 8 months, in central Europe 5–7 months.

Risk

Accidents most commonly occur in the warm summer months, but to a lesser extent also during the other periods of activity (approx. April to October in central Europe, approx. May to November in the more southern distribution areas). Most bites occur when the animals have been handled unnecessarily. However, victims can also be bitten when picking berries or walking barefoot or when working in the fields.

Due to the destruction of natural habitats through intensive agriculture and the expansion of towns and cities, the wild populations of vipers in Europe are intensely threatened in many places. In central Europe vipers are only very rarely seen. 

Many bites only result in local signs of envenoming. Cases of life-threatening envenoming or fatalities are extremely rare. One of the most dangerous species is V. ammodytes, but Scandinavian populations of V. berus also seem to cause serious envenoming more often than the other populations of this species. Of 136 patients hospitalised with V. berus bites in Sweden, 12% had a serious course (Persson and Irestedt 1981). In Great Britain, of 95 V. berus bites recorded over a period of 100 years (1876–1975), 14 were fatal, although between 1950 and 1972 only 1 death was recorded (Reid 1976). Of 113 recorded cases of envenoming due to V. berus and V. aspis in Switzerland (1967–1983), 14 were severe, but none were fatal (Stahel et al. 1985). The last fatality in Switzerland occurred in 1960 (Hediger 1969), in Germany in 1959 (Lieske 1966).

In Italy, between 1980 and 1984, 3 patients died of viper bites. Of a total of 286 patients with identifiable signs of envenoming, 8% suffered from severe envenoming (Pozio 1988). In France, in 1990, 5 of 102 cases had a severe course, but none were fatal (Audebert et al. 1992).

In Spain, in the period 1980–1987, between 1,000 and 2,000 viper bites per year were recorded. Of these, around 5 patients were reported to have died each year. Most bites in this region are caused by V. latasti (Gonzales 1991).

Literature (biological)

Berney 2001, Bieling et al. 1936, Biella 1983, Brodmann 1987, Bruno 1985, Engelmann et al. 1986, Gruber 1989, Kudrajavtsev and Mamet 1989, Mallow et al. 2003, Mertens 1960, Moser 1988, Schiemenz 1985, Stemmler et al. 1967, Stewart 1971, Monney 2001