The steppe viper, at first glance, differs little from its relatives. But the snake has a number of features that distinguish it from other vipers. In addition, the steppe viper is often found in various parts of the CIS countries, so it is important to understand what this venomous snake looks like and what are the features of its behavior.
Origin of the species and description
Steppe viper belongs to the genus real vipers (vipera) of the viper family. Representatives of the genus can be found in almost all countries of the world that do not differ in excessively low temperatures. Vipers are reptiles that are also widely distributed throughout the world.
The genus of vipers is incredibly diverse, which makes it difficult to classify them. It is highly likely that the genus will soon be divided into several subgenera due to the strong differences between snakes of the genus from each other. Also adding to the controversy is the fact that some genera can interbreed with each other, producing completely new offspring.
Video: Steppe viper
Real vipers are small scaled snakes. In some vipers, the head is slightly different from the body: it is covered with plates that provide protection to the snake. Without exception, all vipers are nocturnal predators, and during the day they prefer to lie in a secluded place, curled up in a ball.
Vipers feed only on warm-blooded animals – it is important for them to feel the blood circulation with their sense of smell. They chase prey slowly, preferring to lie in ambush. Male vipers are smaller than females, have a shorter and thinner body – their length is about 66 cm, while females can reach 75 or even 90 cm. As a rule, the eyes of vipers are red, and you can identify the viper by the characteristic patterns on its scales.
All vipers are poisonous, but to varying degrees. The bite of some can be survived, but the bite of another snake of the same kind will be fatal if first medical aid is not provided. As a rule, the poison is sucked out of the wound, if there are no wounds in the mouth – otherwise the poison will again enter the bloodstream.
An interesting fact: the Portuguese believe that a person bitten by a viper should be given as much strong alcohol as possible in order to neutralize the effects of the poison on the body.
Appearance look and feel
The female plain steppe viper can vary in length from 55 cm to 63 cm, including the length of the tail. The length of the viper's tail is on average about 7-9 cm. The head of the snake has an elongated flat shape (pointed oval), the edge of the muzzle is pulled up. The outer surface of the head is reinforced with small irregularly shaped shields, which also cover the nasal opening, which is located in the lower part of the nasal shield.
It is believed that the average viper has approximately 120-152 ventral scutes, 20-30 pairs of undercaudal scutes and 19 rows of scutes in the middle of the body. The color of the snake is camouflage: the back is painted brown or gray, the middle of the back is slightly lighter than the rest of the body. A zigzag strip runs along the center of the body, which in some subspecies is divided into small spots. There are subtle spots on the sides of the body that allow the snake to go unnoticed in the grass.
The outer part of the viper's head is decorated with a dark pattern. Her belly is gray or milky in color. The eyes of the viper are red or dark brown, brown, with a thin fixed pupil. They are protected by superciliary plates. The whole color of such a viper is aimed at camouflaging and confusing prey: in movement, its spots and stripes merge in such a way that it is difficult to keep track of the snake.
Interesting fact: albinos, and completely black individuals.
The viper moves like an ordinary snake, wriggling with its whole body and pushing off the ground with strong muscles. But its musculature is not sufficiently developed to easily climb steep hills and climb trees, and this largely determines the snake's lifestyle.
Where does the steppe viper live?
This type of viper is mainly found in southern European countries, namely:
- the territory of the former Yugoslavia;
You can also meet it on the territory of Russia in the steppe and forest-steppe zones. A large number is observed in the Perm Territory, the Rostov Region, in the territory of Southern Siberia. Sometimes you can encounter a steppe viper in the northern and eastern parts of Russia – the Volga-Kama Territory and Altai.
The places where you can meet the steppe viper most often are flat areas. This aspect in many ways distinguishes the steppe viper from other representatives of the genus of true vipers, which prefer to settle in mountainous areas, hiding in the holes of stones. The steppe viper is unpretentious in terms of habitat: it settles in small depressions in the ground or crawls under rare boulders.
It is not uncommon to see the steppe viper near the seas, less often in rocky areas. She prefers to crawl out into an open field or steppe at night, where she disguises herself and waits for prey. This viper is especially dangerous when building its nests in pastures and fields, because it can take an approaching person for a threat, as a result of which it will immediately attack.
An interesting fact: Steppe vipers, unlike ordinary vipers, do not form large snake nests, distributing evenly over the territory, and not concentrating in one place.
In the southern snake habitats, it can also be found in deserts and semi-deserts: the snake feels comfortable at high temperatures, and in case of overheating, danger or ambush, it burrows into the sand, merging with it with the help of patterns.
What does the steppe viper eat?
The diet of the steppe viper is varied, but they eat only live food. Because vipers are scent and sound orientated, they choose prey based on blood circulation and how pleasant it smells to the snake. But the peculiarity of the steppe viper is that it prefers to eat insects, rather than birds or mammals.
In the summer, the steppe viper catches grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, fillies. Hiding among the sand, earth or stones, she makes a quick accurate throw, grabs her prey and immediately swallows it whole. Unlike other vipers, which feed on larger animals, the viper needs to eat several times a day, so the snake often moves from place to place in search of new prey.
Interesting fact: Due to the small size of prey, steppe vipers almost never use poison, simply swallowing the victim whole.
But the snake does not pay attention to insects that are too small – it is only interested in adult, more nutritious individuals. Therefore, in the spring, when the insects have not yet grown up, the viper hunts small rodents, lizards, chicks (which it can get without climbing trees), eats bird eggs, and feeds on spiders and frogs. During the spring period, many snakes refuse to eat, which is why they do not survive until the summer. Some large prey can be digested for up to four days, leaving the snake full and lazy for this period.
Character and lifestyle features
The steppe viper lives mainly in the flat area or near it, going there for hunting. She builds her nests in bushes, under stone ridges, boulders, among dense thickets. Rarely, due to lack of food, it can rise to hilly areas up to 2700 meters above sea level.
Steppe vipers are solitary snakes, but occasionally you can find clusters of up to several tens per hectare of land. On summer days they sleep in their nests, curled up in a ball, and at night they come out to hunt nocturnal insects. In search of food, she can climb low bushes. In spring and autumn, she crawls out to hunt more often, she can be found in the middle of the day.
Wintering occurs as follows: singly or in small groups, vipers choose a crack in the ground, a rodent hole or a gentle pit, where they curl up. They do not tolerate too low temperatures, so many snakes die during wintering. But at the same time, they are very sensitive to thaws, so if the temperature rises to +4 degrees in winter, the snakes crawl out.
In a calm state, the viper is slow, but on a flat surface it can develop high speed. She is a good swimmer and strong enough to swim against the current for a long time.
By themselves, vipers are not aggressive, and when confronted with a person or a large predator, they prefer to flee. However, it is dangerous to get involved in the chase, as the snake can turn around and get into a defensive posture, raising its upper body off the ground. If you get close enough to her, she will strike. The Viper can tense its body muscles in such a way that it will make a long enough jump to reach the enemy.
Also, vipers are aggressive during the mating season and during the period of being on the masonry. Viper venom is not lethal, but dangerous to health. Redness, swelling is observed at the bite site; possible nausea, dizziness, blood in the urine. When bitten, you need to suck out the poison from the wound for 5-7 minutes, give the victim plenty to drink and deliver to the medical center.
Social structure and reproduction
In early or mid-April, the mating season begins for vipers – this is the approximate time to exit hibernation. Before the mating season, snakes live alone, rarely in large groups, but during it, males seek out females in small flocks.
There are 6-8 males per viper female who arrange mating games. They huddle around the female into a ball and wriggle their bodies. There are no winners and losers in this game – the female herself will choose the male she likes the most.
Sometimes male steppe vipers arrange tournaments. They get into fighting poses with their heads held high and leaning on their tails, and then hit each other body and head. These are not bloody tournaments, as snakes do not bite each other and do not seek to kill – the strongest snake will simply wear down his opponent and bow his head to the ground.
Interesting fact: Such ritual fights among snakes are called dances.
After such dances, the snakes prefer to rest for a day or two in the open, just basking in the sun. At this time, snakes most often come across to humans, but during this period they are the least aggressive, because they rest.
Depending on the habitat, the pregnancy of the steppe viper lasts:
- 90 days in the southern regions;
- 130 days in Russia and the northern regions.
The female brings live cubs, which are born in a softened shell and immediately hatch from it. In one clutch, as a rule, there are only 5-6 cubs, about 12-18 cm long. Under the supervision of the mother, they feed on small insects, and soon they have a skin change – molting. Already in the third year of life, vipers grow up and can bear offspring.
Interesting fact: Sometimes a female can lay up to 28 eggs in a clutch.
Natural enemies of steppe vipers
The steppes are full of predators, and vipers are also threatened by many dangers, in addition to the human factor.
The most common enemies of steppe vipers are:
- owls, which often attack snakes during night hunting. Birds attack snakes imperceptibly, quickly diving from a great height, so death often occurs instantly;
- steppe eagles – they often hunt snakes for lack of other food;
- black storks that migrate to these territories in the spring and summer;
- hedgehogs attack cubs and weakened medium-sized snakes;
- wild boars;
- steppe ferrets.
Despite the fact that the viper develops high speed in open areas, it is rather slow relative to many predators that threaten it. When faced with danger, the first thing the steppe viper does is crawl away, trying to hide in a crack in the ground or find a suitable stone or hole. It crawls, writhing intensely in an S-shape.
If the viper fails to escape, it turns towards the predator and contracts into a tight zigzag. When an enemy gets close enough, she makes a well-aimed quick lunge towards them. Often, steppe animals are taught to hunt vipers, so the snake loses. There are times when, having bitten a predator, she still gets it for food, but he soon dies.
Population and species status
In the 20th century, the viper was used to obtain poison, but this practice has now been discontinued due to the high mortality of individuals after the procedures. In recent years, the number of steppe vipers has dropped noticeably, but so far the snakes are not on the verge of extinction. This is due to the anthropogenic factor: the development of land for agricultural crops leads to the destruction of these snakes.
With the exception of some territories, this snake is almost exterminated in Ukraine due to plowing. In Europe, steppe vipers are under the protection of the Berne Convention as a species that is subject to extinction. In Europe, the viper disappears due to a rare change in climate, which is also a consequence of human activity. Not so long ago, the steppe viper was in the Red Book of Ukraine, but the population was restored in the southern territories.
In areas where the steppe viper is widespread, the number of individuals per square kilometer can reach 15-20. It is difficult to name the exact number of snakes in the world, but the steppe viper is not endangered and successfully breeds in European countries.