The viper family is very extensive, it contains more than half a hundred of all kinds of these reptiles, including the common viper. Unlike its many relatives, this snake person loves a cooler climate, takes a fancy to latitudes even near the Arctic Circle, and mountain ranges are not alien to her. In the minds of many, the common viper is associated with something sinister, scary and unpleasant, often abusive. Let’s try to figure out if it is really as scary and dangerous as it seems?
Origin of the species and description
The common viper is a poisonous representative of the snake genus of real vipers, belonging to the viper family. Of all its relatives, it is the most widely distributed and known. In our country, this snake is found almost everywhere. You can even encounter it in your own garden. From May to September, the viper is very active. Often it is confused with a snake, which sometimes leads to sad consequences.
The common viper cannot be called large-sized, this reptile usually reaches a length of 60 to 70 cm. There are also larger snake specimens more than a meter long and weighing half kilograms. But most often, the length of the viper does not protrude beyond one meter, and the mass does not exceed two hundred grams, varying from 50 to 200 g. It is noteworthy that males are smaller than females.
Video: Common viper
The venom of an ordinary viper is dangerous, but it rarely leads to death, the damaging substances in the structure of the poison are not so highly concentrated as to lead an adult to death. Much more dangerous is the effect of toxic components on the children’s body. Approximately seventy percent of those bitten may feel almost nothing, or will experience a painful burning sensation at the site of the bite, which often swells, reddens and swells.
Sensitive people may feel dizzy, nausea sets in, diarrhea often occurs, blanching of the skin is observed, the heartbeat quickens, chills occur, they are thrown into sweat. With more severe consequences, a person may lose consciousness, fall into a coma, the face may swell, the pressure drops critically, all this is accompanied by convulsions. Usually, all the damage caused by the bite of the common viper disappears after a few days, sometimes the treatment is extended for a longer period, but this happens much less often.
In order not to mistake the common viper for a harmless snake, you need to have an idea of its characteristic signs, so you should carefully understand the external features of this small snake, so that when you see it, you know exactly which family it belongs to and try to avoid contact, protecting yourself from danger.
Appearance view and features
We have already figured out that the dimensions of the viper are small. It is noticed that in more northern habitats larger snakes are found. The head of the snake is quite large, slightly flattened, has a rounded muzzle. It is equipped with three large shields: frontal and two parietal. The rectangular frontal shield is located in the area between the eyes, and behind it are the parietal shields. It happens that between these two types of shields there is another small shield. The bottom of the nasal shield is equipped with a nasal opening.
The eyes of the viper are small with pupils located vertically. Slightly hanging eyelids, which are scaly ridges above the eyes, create an angry and embittered image of a reptile, although this has no emotional overtones. The bones of the upper jaw of the snake are mobile and short, they have one or two tubular poisonous fangs and about four small teeth. The bones located in the sky also have small teeth. The head of the viper is clearly separated from its body with the help of a neck interception.
The body of the snake is not long and is very thickened in the middle part. It gradually tapers and turns into a small tail, which is several times less than the length of the entire body and has a silhouette resembling a comma. Scales cover the entire body of the reptile, there are 21 of them in the middle part of the snake, from 132 to 150 pieces on the belly of males, up to 158 in females, and from 32 to 46 pairs of scales in the tail of males, in females – from 23 to 38 pairs.
Special attention should be paid to the coloring of the common viper, because it is very diverse and rich in the following shades:
- dark gray;
- yellowish beige;
- silvery white (closer to light grey);
- brown with hints of olive tones;
- copper with a reddish tinge.
Fun fact: It is very rare to see the so-called “burned” viper, its coloring is asymmetrical. One part of the body of such a snake is colored with a pattern, and the other is solid black, so it seems that it is slightly burned.
The most common and most common tones are gray in males and brown in females.
The uniformity in color is not inherent in all specimens, more individuals are decorated with all sorts of ornaments:
- zigzag , with a well-defined pattern;
- even striped pattern;
- dark spotted color on the sides.
The coloring of the viper is, above all, an unsurpassed disguise , which is why it is distinguished by all sorts of shades and variations of patterns, just as the places of residence of this common reptile differ.
Interesting fact: Albinos are not found among vipers, although this phenomenon is common in other snakes.
Where does the common viper live?
The geography of distribution of the common viper is very extensive. On the territory of the Eurasian continent, it is settled from Sakhalin, the northern part of Korea, the northeastern regions of China to the north of Portugal and Spain. Beyond the Arctic Circle, the viper settled on the territory of the Lapland reserve, located in the Murmansk region, it also lives in the Barents Sea area. In the west of Siberia and in Transbaikalia, this reptile can also be found.
The common viper is unique in that it can live in northern latitudes with a fairly cool climate, which is very alien to other snakes. The snake does not bypass the side of the snake and various mountain ranges, for example, the Alps. As for our country, we can generally say that the viper on Russian territory lives in the Middle lane: from the Arctic to the southernmost steppe regions. The reptile is distributed quite heterogeneously: in some areas it is extremely rare, in others its density is high.
Often the common viper inhabits those places where there is a contrast between day and night air temperatures.
The snake will definitely appreciate the territory with high humidity:
- moss marshlands;
- shore zones of rivers and other water bodies;
- forest clearings;
- clearing sites;
- steppe expanses with dry grass.
The viper prefers bushes and shallow crevices under rocks, which serve as both shelter and protection from climatic extremes. In general, vipers are considered sedentary, but sometimes they migrate to new habitats, crawling up to five kilometers. Even the water element is not an obstacle for them; snakes can easily swim long distances. Ordinary vipers do not avoid human settlements and are often found in parks, on personal plots, cultivated fields, they can settle in basements and all kinds of abandoned, destroyed or unfinished buildings.
What does the common viper eat?
Viper menu can be call it quite varied. For the most part, it absorbs the food that is available in a particular area.
The common viper eats:
- field mice;
- medium-sized birds (warblers, buntings, skates) and their chicks;
- various lizards ;
It is young reptiles that often snack on all sorts of insects: locusts, butterflies, beetles, earthworms, slugs, ants .
An interesting fact: Among vipers, such an unpleasant phenomenon as cannibalism sometimes happens. The female can eat her newborn cubs. This is usually due to lack of food.
Regarding nutrition, the common viper can go from one extreme to another. On the one hand, she has a good appetite and is very voracious, which allows her to eat two pairs of frogs or mice at once in one sitting. On the other hand, a reptile may not eat for more than six months (from 6 to 9 months), and there is no particular harm to the body. Such periods of starvation occur in the winter, when the viper enters a kind of stupor, slowing down all body processes, feeding on the fat accumulated over the summer season. Another reason for such a long diet is forced, it is due to the scarcity of food supplies in the viper’s territory.
The common viper is an excellent hunter, attacking its potential prey with lightning speed, without any delay. The attack ends with a venomous bite. After that, there comes a moment of waiting for death or weakening of the victim, only then the viper starts the meal. Having eaten enough, she retires to her shelter to digest what she has eaten, this process usually lasts several days. The snake also has enough moisture in food, but sometimes it drinks dew or rainwater.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Vipers begin to become active in spring, this period falls on March-April. The males are the first to come out of their stupor, then the ladies are also pulled up. For males, it is enough for the air to warm up from 19 to 24 degrees, while females prefer a warmer temperature – about 28 degrees with a plus sign.
Vipers love to soak up the first spring sun, so they often crawl onto heated stones, stumps, deadwood, they can sit right on the path where the sunbeam falls. Of course, in the hot summertime, they hide from the unbearable heat in their secluded shelters. Relaxed, the viper basks in the sun, spreading its ribs to the sides, so it looks flattened, like a ribbon. If something bothers the reptile, then its body becomes elastic, rounded and ready to throw, resembling a spring.
When a collision with an ill-wisher is inevitable, the viper groups with lightning speed, twisting into a spiral, from the very core of which a curved neck and head are visible. The enraged snake person hisses menacingly, putting forward one third of her flexible body, in a compressed ring she approaches the enemy.
The reptile comes out for hunting at dusk. It is noticeable how she is transformed, becoming the most dexterous, curious, purposeful, compared to the daytime hours, when the snake behaves imposingly, lazily and a little clumsily. During the search for food, the viper is engaged in a thorough examination of holes, all kinds of manholes, deadwood, bushy growth. An excellent sense of smell and excellent eyesight are the main assistants in twilight hunting.
The equanimity and nerves of steel of the viper are sometimes simply amazing, it can lie for a long time without a single movement, waiting for its snack. It happens that even a rodent does not notice it, climbing right on the body of its destroyer. The viper waits until potential prey comes within range of its venomous throw to perform an insidious bite. If the attack is unsuccessful, the viper does not pursue, but begins to patiently wait for the next prey.
If the snake is not busy hunting, then it does not have much aggressiveness and will not be the first to bully itself. Seeing a person, she tries to retreat if he does not provoke her in any way. Vipers are very prudent, therefore, they settle in their winter shelters in advance, before frost has set in, they stay in them until warm spring days. Many other snakes freeze in large numbers during the harsh winter period, but vipers are an exception.
There is more than one explanation for this:
- For winter shelters, vipers choose burrows belonging to mice and moles, but they do not freeze, being at a sufficient depth;
- often reptiles hibernate as a whole team, weaving into a large ball, thereby warming each other;
- vipers are very sensitive and can anticipate the onset frost.
Snakes hibernate for about half a year, and with the onset of spring, vipers emerge from their hiding places to warm thawed patches to once again soak up the warm and pleasant sunshine.
Social structure and reproduction
Common vipers become sexually mature closer to four or five years of age. They breed offspring every year, but individuals living in northern latitudes, where the summer period is very short, give birth to cubs a year after fertilization by the male. Viper wedding season is in May, it lasts about twenty days. During this period, vipers not only walk in pairs, but often twist into whole balls of a dozen snakes. Male individuals detect potential partners by smell.
The conquest of the lady of the heart is accompanied by mating duels of gentlemen, reminiscent of ritual dances. The duelists stand opposite each other, shaking their heads before throwing. When the fight begins, then, intertwining, the reptiles try to press the opponent to the ground. The one who wins gets the right to mate with the chosen female.
Interesting fact: Surprisingly, during mating battles, fighting males do not inflict poisonous bites on each other.
After fertilization of the partner, the male leaves her, and the expectant mother is waiting for the offspring to appear all alone. Common vipers are ovoviviparous snakes, they do not lay eggs, they mature and develop in the mother’s womb. Usually, the number of intrauterine eggs varies from 10 to 20, however, some embryos dissolve, so the viper acquires 8 – 12 cubs. Pregnancy lasts about three months. Outwardly, newborns are completely similar to their parents, only much smaller, their length does not exceed 16 cm.
An interesting fact: Just born babies of an ordinary viper are already completely independent, they are defend and bite.
Sometimes within a few hours, and sometimes after a few days, the molting process begins in the babies, so they do not crawl far from the nest. As soon as the scales are replaced, the snakes disperse in search of food, catching all kinds of insects. The young growth intensively develops throughout the remaining warm period of time, and then, together with mature relatives, plunges into hibernation. In natural wild conditions, vipers live up to 15 years, although in captivity they can live much longer.
Natural enemies of common vipers
Although the viper is dangerous and poisonous, it has many enemies in nature who are not afraid of its poison and are not averse to eating snake meat. Surprisingly, one of the ill-wishers is an ordinary hedgehog, he fearlessly enters into battles with a viper, because he is immune to its poison. In a fight, hedgehogs have their own unsurpassed tactics: the prickly one manages to bite the reptile on the body, and then instantly twists into a ball, exposing its sharp spikes that the snake cannot handle. This is repeated until the viper weakens and dies.
In addition to hedgehogs, among snake enemies you can see:
- foxes ;
- wild boars (they also have immunity and are not afraid of poison).
Not only animals, but also some birds successfully catch vipers, these are: owls, serpent eagles, herons, storks. Do not forget that sometimes the vipers themselves eat each other, suffering from cannibalism.
Nevertheless, the most dangerous and insurmountable enemies for vipers are people who interfere in their snake life, destroying permanent places of deployment . People catch vipers for terrariums, kill snakes illegally because of the collection of their poison, which is used in medicine. Based on everything described, you understand that the life of reptiles is not easy and it is not easy to save it.
Species population and status
As we have already found out, the area of settlement of the common viper is very extensive, but the number of individuals of this interesting reptile is steadily declining. The fault is the notorious human factor. Breeding violent activity, people do not think about their smaller brothers, causing damage to many populations, including the common viper. The sprawl of cities, the laying of new roads, the draining of swamps, the plowing of vast territories for cultivated agricultural land, the destruction of forests – all this leads to the death of a large number of reptiles, which lose their habitable places and rich food supply. Entire snake populations are disappearing from those places where they previously lived permanently.
In addition to human invasion of snake territory, vipers also suffer damage due to their own poison, which is widely used in medicine, because it counteracts inflammation, dissolves abscesses , excellent pain reliever. In the cosmetic industry, viper venom is also in demand.
As already mentioned, in our country the viper is unevenly settled: in some regions its density is high, in others it is completely negligible. In some places, it gradually completely disappears. This is due to favorable conditions for the life of reptiles in a particular area, which often depend on people.
It is bitter to realize, but the viper population is decreasing every year, therefore in Russia the snake is listed in the Red book of some regions and republics. In European countries, the situation regarding the number of common vipers is much worse.
Protection of common vipers
We found out that the common viper population is subject to many negative factors, primarily from humans, as a result of which its numbers are steadily declining. Man is pushing the viper out of its places of permanent residence due to the development of various areas of its sometimes thoughtless and selfish activity. Snakes are forced to move and settle in new places, which leads to the death of many individuals.
In Europe, vipers are often illegally destroyed and caught for resale in private terrariums. In Romania, snakes are illegally harassed, collecting their poison, which is useful in medicine and cosmetology. Although the viper has managed to settle almost throughout the entire European territory, it is under threat as a species. As a result of this reason, the snake has been protected in Germany for more than a year.
In our country, the common viper also began to disappear from many areas where it used to be often found, so the reptile is listed in the Red Book of Samara, Moscow, Saratov , Orenburg and Nizhny Novgorod regions. Also, it is listed in the Red Book of such republics as Mordovia, Tatarstan and Komi. The status of the viper is listed as “vulnerable species, declining in numbers.” People should think more often about the consequences of their actions, which turn out to be disastrous for many representatives of the fauna.
In conclusion, it remains to add that the common viper is not so scary and angry as they think. This reptile brings considerable benefits by regulating the number of harmful rodents, often carriers of dangerous diseases. In addition, the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries widely use the poison of this snake for good purposes. You should not be afraid of an ordinary viper, because without a clear reason, its attack is a rarity.