Snakes are fairly well-represented in Europe, given the cool-to-temperate climate of the continent. Most occur in the southern parts, but snakes can be found as far north as Great Britain and even (one species) beyond the Arctic Circle.
The snakes of Europe belong overwhelmingly to the Family Colubridae, a situation actually found elsewhere as this is by far the largest snake family. The only major family not represented in Europe is the Elapidae, whose members are generally confined to tropics and deserts and which numbers such dangerous snakes as cobras, kraits and mambas. However, members of the Viperidae are found in Europe, although none are as dangerous as those venomous species found in North America or Australia.
It needs to be stressed again that the vast majority of European snakes are not dangerous in any way to humans and in fact perform a valuable role in keeping down the numbers of rodents, particular where grain is stored. Even the venomous species suffer from a greatly exaggerated toxicity in the public imagination, and in Britain the Adder in particular has often suffered the persecution of the ignorant. Many if not all of Europe's vipers are in fact protected by law, making it an offence to kill one. Most will avoid confrontation if possible, so if one is sighted it should be observed and photographed rather than picked up or antagonised. If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten, you should still seek medical treatment immediately, although with the possible exception of the last two or three vipers listed on this page, your life will probably not be in danger.
This is rather a lengthy page, but I have included as much information as possible to show just how many different species of snake there are in Europe. I hope that this page will raise the level of interest in our European serpents.
|Typlops vermicularis, Worm Snake
|Eryx jaculus, Sand Boa
|Eryx miliaris, Desert Sand Boa
|Malpolon monspessulanus, Montpellier Snake
|Coluber ravergieri, Ravergier's Whip Snake
|Coluber hippocrepis, Horseshoe Whip Snake
|Coluber algirus, Algerian Whip Snake
|Coluber najadum, Dahl's Whip Snake
|Coluber viridiflavus, Western Whip Snake
|Coluber gemonensis, Balkan Whip Snake
|Coluber jugularis, Large Whip Snake
|Elaphe situla, Leopard Snake
|Elaphe quatuorlineata, Four-Lined Snake
|Elaphe longissima, Aesculapian Snake
|Elaphe scalaris, Ladder Snake
|Elaphe hohenackeri, Hohenacker's Snake
|Elaphe dione, Rat Snake
|Natrix natrix, Grass Snake
|Natrix tessellata, Dice Snake
|Coronella austriaca, Smooth Snake
|Coronella girondica, Southern Smooth Snake
|Macroprotodon cucullatus, Hooded Snake
|Telescopus fallax, European Cat Snake
|Vipera ursinii, Meadow Viper
|Vipera berus, Adder/Common Viper
|Vipera aspis, Asp Viper
|Agkistrodon halys, Halys Viper
|Vipera latasti, Snub-Nosed Viper
|Vipera kaznakovi, Caucasian Viper
|Vipera ammodytes, Nose-Horned Viper
|Vipera xanthina, Ottoman Viper
|Vipera lebetina, Blunt-Nosed Viper
|S. Balkans, Gk. islands: N. Egypt, E. of Caucasus mtns
|The Typhlopidae genus are a primitive order of snakes resembling in some ways the amphisbaenians: their eyesight is fairly limited, capable of only distinguishing light and darkness, and they hide under stones or more usually underground in burrows that they excavate themselves. Unlike amphisbaenians, however, their skin is very smooth, being made up of many tiny scales, and the creatures themselves are very slim, less than half an inch in diameter. There are about 200 species of so-called "Thread Snake" but the Worm Snake is the only representative in Europe. However, within its range it is fairly abundant and can be found from sandy shores to moist areas in mountains, to dry steppes. A good place to find them is in or near anthills, since they prey almost exclusively on ant pupae. Their skin is thick to protect them against ant bites, but they are armed with teeth in the upper jaw only, and these are very small. The other defence mechanism of the Worm Snake is its tail, which being thicker than the head is more likely to be attacked by predators. Breeding season is May-June, when females lay 6-8 elongated eggs in specially dug burrows. Scales across body: 21-24. Clutch/Brood size: 6-8.
|Eryx jaculus turcicus
|SE. Balkans, Dobrogean (Rumania): N. Africa, SW Asia
|The Eryx genus is the only genus of the Family Boidae (boas and pythons) to inhabit Europe, and most of its 10 species live elsewhere or have extensive ranges outside as well as within Europe. As a genus Sand Boas are distinguished by short tails, a reasonably stocky body (in common with many other boas and pythons) and very small eyes. The Sand Boa tends to seek out the warmest areas in its area, such as bushy slopes in river valleys, or open scrubland thinly planted with shrubs. It utilises large stones or rodent burrows for shelter. Like many snakes it is nocturnal and in daylight will normally only be found first thing in the morning when basking for a short while. Preferred food is lizards and rodents, especially the young: prey is constricted. Breeding season is August-September, when females give birth to up to 20 young about 14 cm long. These babies feed on small lizards. Scales across body: 40-50. Clutch/Brood size: Up to 20, Aug-Sept.
|E. j. familiaris
|Desert Sand Boa
|Differs from other Eryx species in that its eyes are situated closer to the top of its head. It is found mainly in sandy regions near the Caspian.
|Malpolon monspessulanus monspessulanus
|Iberia: NW Africa
|This snake is one of the back-fanged colubrids which have a certain venomous capability: not usually enough to kill a human, but certainly enough to dispatch its prey (lizards, snakes or small rodents) and bad enough to inflict a good deal of pain on a person. Owing to its prey preferences it inhabits dry stony areas heavily populated by lizards, such as piles of stones on the edges of fields or near ruined buildings. When hunting it will occasionally rear up and look around, making it somewhat resemble the cobra. If it feels threatened it hisses loudly and attacks with the mouth closed. Unusually for a snake, this colubrid possesses good vision. One of its distinguishing features is in fact the prominent ridge above its eyes, giving it a frowning appearance. Females lay up to 20 eggs in the latter part of April, usually in spaces within stone piles so as to maintain the moisture level for the embryos. The young feed mainly on insects. Scales across body: 17 or 19. Ventral scales: 160-189. Subcaudal scales: 68-100. Clutch size: 4-20, April.
|M. m. insignitus
|S. Europe (not Italy), Transcaucasia, lower Volga
|Coluber ravergieri ravergieri
|Ravergier's Whip Snake
|Caucasus: C. Asia
|This species also possesses weak venom. The nominate subspecies sometimes produces black-headed individuals.
|C. r. nummifer
|Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos
|Very rare. Now treated as separate species, C. nummifer, by some authorities: see EMBL database entry for further details.
|C. r. chernovi
|C. r. plumbeus
|See remarks on nominate subspecies about venom.
|Coluber hippocrepis hippocrepis
|Horseshoe Whip Snake
|SE Iberia, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily: NW Africa
|This snake's common name derives from the markings on the sides of its neck: the species itself is variably coloured. The two subspecies can only be told apart visually by the different number of dorsal scales per transverse row: the nominate subspecies has the larger range. Within its range it is usually found in dry stony areas sparsely dotted with scrub. Basking takes place in the morning and late afternoon, otherwise the snake usually shelters within rodent burrows, under stones or in loose stone embankments. Although terrestrial, it can climb well. If threatened it will usually flee, but will occasionally hiss loudly in an attempt at intimidation. Preferred diet is lizards, small mammals and birds. Females lay 5-10 eggs in early spring which they hide in warm sandy soil beneath stones. The young hatch in early summer: their initial diet is normally lizards. Scales across body: 25-29. Ventral scales: 214-258. Subcaudal scales: 77-107. Clutch size: 5-10 early spring, hatching early summer.
|C. h. intermedius
|Algerian Whip Snake
|Malta: NW Africa
|Another colubrid with an extensive range in N Africa that crosses into Europe, but even on Malta the Algerian Whip Snake is very rare. However, this snake has good vision and can move quickly over uneven ground: like many European snakes it likes stony areas or bush-covered slopes that catch the sun. When hunting, it will rear up to survey the area for prey, mainly lizards and small rodents. Although quick, it does not usually chase for very long. Its form of passive defence is very interesting: the oscillation of the snake's body cause the dark bars on its back to produce a sort of stroboscopic effect upon a would-be predator, which often deters the latter. Scales across body: 25. Ventral scales: 210-225. Subcaudal scales: ?. Clutch size: ?
|E Turkey, Iraq, W Iran, S Russia (between Black and Caspian Seas), Dagestan, SE Georgia, S Armenia, Azerbaijan
|Both these snakes are similar in their size and diet, which is invertebrates, especially insects. E. modestus has been considered a synonym of E. collaris: see EMBL database entry. Both species may be listed as Contia in older literature.
|E. c. collaris
|E. c. macrospilotus
|Asia Minor Dwarf Snake
|Israel, Syria, E Turkey, Greece (incl. Lesbos, Chios, Samos) Russia (Caucasus), Dagestan , Armenia, E Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran
|A slender snake, feeding mainly on insects and the occasional small lizard. Dorsum is a shade of grey or light brown, sometimes with anterior spotting and "m"-shaped dark head markings (Buttle). Hellmich describes a subspecies from the island of Alazomisi as E. m. werneri (WERNER), but this does not seem to be recognised today.
|E. m. modestus
|E. m. cilicius
|E. m. semimaculatus
|Coluber najadum najadum
|Dahl's Whip Snake
|Very fast snake with excellent vision and whose body and movements are reminiscent of the tropical whip snake genus Ahaetulla. Favoured habitats are stony sunny slopes on lower hills and mountains with evergreen vegetation or tall grass: it has been found at up to 1,700 m high. It is diurnal and at night retires under stones or into rocky clefts. Hibernation commences in about October, when it hides in deep crevices: it awakens in March. Diet is the usual one of lizards, small rodents and insects chiefly of the Orthoptera family. In June-July the female lays 3-6 eggs (but sometimes up to 12) in holes in the ground. The young are almost 12" long on hatching and feed initially on insects and lizards. It should be noted that occasionally this snake grows to greater lengths of up to 52". The two subspecies do not normally occur together, but can be differentiated by the greater number of spots down the body in the case of C. n. dahli. C. n. najadum occasionally produces the variant of plain glossy black specimens with grey-white bellies in Caucasian mountain forests. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 205-235. Subcaudal scales: 98-132. Brood size: 3-6 (occ. 12) Jun-Jul.
|C. n. dahli
|Adriatic (Yug.), Balkans
|Coluber viridiflavus viridiflavus
|Western Whip Snake
|NW Spain, C & S France, S. Switzerland, NW & C Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, Elba
|This snake is fairly catholic in its diet, taking not only the usual mammals, birds and lizards, but also snakes, frogs, tadpoles, beatles and slugs and snails. This may account for its reasonably wide range from Spain to Yugoslavia. It is found in low-lying country in dry areas with a thin scattering of shrubs. It is somewhat more aggressive than some of the other European colubrids, as it will hiss loudly at a perceived threat and sometimes attack it, and if picked up it will try to bite. It is diurnal and at night resorts to the cover of stones or the burrows of small mammals. Hibernation is usually within a deep hole in the ground or beneath the roots of a bush. Females lay 8-15 eggs elongated eggs which take 6-8 weeks to incubate: the hatchlings measure about 1". The two subspecies can be mainly differentiated by colour: C. v. viridiflavus is black with greenish-yellow markings, while most specimens of C. v. carbonarius are a shiny black from the third year of their life: the yellow markings remain however on the eye and lip scales [Hellmich]. The belly in both subspecies is always yellow-brown. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 180-219. Subcaudal scales: 85-113. Brood size: 8-15, mid-Sept.
|C. v. carbonarius
|S. Alps, NW Yug, NE & S Italy, Sicily, Malta, Pelagos
|Balkan Whip Snake
|Balkans, inc. Alb, Yug and S. Greece
|A tan-coloured snake that likes dry stony areas but also like more cover than most colubrids, frequenting also vineyard terraces, olive groves and areas of evergreen scrub. The black spots at the head end gradually disappear towards the middle of the body. Favoured prey is largely lizards, but young birds and small mammals are taken. It can also be cannibalistic and in captivity should always be housed singly. Interestingly, this snake itself often falls prey to the legless lizard Ophisaurus apodus. It is however quick, with very inconspicuous undulations, and will fight back if cornered, coiling its body into loose loops and striking at the perceived enemy from a distance. The Balkan Whip Snake is found in those areas where the Large Whip Snake (C. jugularis) is absent and vice-versa, except for one small section of the Albanian coast. In appearance it is very similar to C. viridiflavus. Specimens from the island of Gioura in the Cyclades are usually black with a greater number of ventral scales (196-203). Scales across body: 17-19 (usually 19). Ventral scales: 162-186 [Gioura 196-203]. Subcaudal scales: 80-111. Brood size: up to 15, mid-Sept.
|Coluber jugularis jugularis
|Large Whip Snake
|Turkey, Syria and Israel
|The longest and one of the largest snakes in Europe, this species has a wide distribution from the Balkans via the Middle East and Caucasia to Central Asia. 70-100 years ago it was reported in Czechoslovakia, but none have been sighted there since. Although found at up to 1,500 m in Hungary, in Bulgaria it seems to prefer open pasture, where it is found near groups of trees and bushes. It is strong and a good climber, but prefers attack as the best form of defence: like many colubrids, it coils, hisses and then strikes with an open mouth, attempting to bite. The recurved teeth are apparently very difficult to remove if lodged in the skin. Hellmich notes that this species is very hard to tame in captivity. Unsurprisingly it has a varied diet, adding snakes, large insects and even the odd amphibian to the usual serpent fare of birds, small mammals and lizards. In June-July females lay 6-18 eggs which normally hatch in early September: the hatchlings are 11-12" long and feed on insects and lizards. Normal colouring is bluish-green with a yellow belly, but the subspecies C. j. schmidti is often red in colour, with conspicuous spotting on the head. [NB the subspecies C. j. caspius and C. j. schmidti are not recognised by the EMBL database]. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 189-215. Subcaudal scales: ?. Clutch size: 6-8 Jun-Jul, hatching early Sept.
|C. j. caspius
|Balkans, E Aegean islands, Hungary, Black Sea and as far as Caucasus
|C. j. schmidti
|Transcaucasia, C. Asia
|C. j. asianus
|NE Syria, Iraq
|S. Italy, Sicily, Yug. Adriatic coast, Aegean islands, Asia Minor, Crimea (rare), poss. Caucasus
|The beautiful Leopard Snake is strikingly similar to the well-known N. American Corn Snake, Elaphe guttata, but has not fared so well. Despite its wide range it is not abundant, and it may be that its conspicuous markings have made it an easy target for ophidophobes. Its egg-laying rate is also quite low compared to other colubrids (see below). Ironically it is more placid than many of the colubrids listed here. Prey is small rodents, nestling birds and lizards. The Leopard Snake favours dry stony areas, deep shady valleys with flowing streams through the bottom and roadside ditches. It is very much a lowland snake, not being found above 600 m. Hibernation is November until mid-April. In June females lay 2-7 eggs in holes in the ground: the hatchlings measure about 12-13". Leopard Snakes have a distinguishing V-shaped mark on their heads and black-ringed "saddles" along the back: those young which are born with stripes rather than spots usually see the stripes break up into spots by adulthood: adult striped specimens are rare. Scales across body: 27 (occ. 25). Ventral scales: 220-60. Subcaudal scales: 68-89. Clutch size: 2-7
|Elaphe quatuorlineata quatuorlineata
|Italy, Sicily, Yugoslavia, Albania, S. Bulgaria, Greece, Cycades
|Another of the larger European snakes, and very predatory: one captured specimen in Macedonia disgorged a turtledove, a magpie and a small tortoise, and others do not shy from hunting rats. In fact, unusually for European colubrids, rodents form the main portion of this snake's diet, plus birds and their young and eggs. Despite its predatory nature, however, the Four-Lined Snake is reported to be fairly gentle by disposition (Buttle). Four-Lined Snakes are found in steppeland, semi-arid and shrubbed areas, or on the edges of open deciduous woods. They are terrestrial but are good climbers. Shelter is usually taken in rodent burrows, deep crevices or piles of stones. Ironically, given their predatory nature, Four-Lined Snakes are not much bothered by disturbance and do not try to bite. They are not abundant over their range. In July-August females lay 3-18 eggs: the young hatch in September-October. The snake derives its name from the four narrow stripes running down its back, although this is replaced in E. q. sauromates by rows of spots. Ground colour varies from yellow to orange to brown: as usual the belly is always lighter. Like many reptiles, older species seem to lose colour contrast. There are three other subspecies but their ranges are extremely small and isolated. The Four-Lined Snake is very similar in appearance to the N. American Yellow Rat Snake, E. o. quadrivittata. Scales across body: 25 (occ. 23 or 27). Ventral scales: 195-234. Subcaudal scales: 56-90. Clutch size: 3-18, July-Aug, hatch Sept-Oct..
|E. q. muenteri
|E. q. praemetura
|Aegean island of Jos (Cyclades)
|E. q. sauromates
|Bulgaria to Caucasus, Asia Minor, Iran
|Elaphe longissima longissima
|NE Spain, C. & S. Europe, up to Iran
|Not the longest snake in Europe, despite its species name ("longissima" means 'longest'). The common name is derived from the old Greco-Roman god of healing whose symbol was the snake. It is somewhat arboreal, being a good climber, and will often rest inside a tree or on a shady branch. It is also quite active and hunts mainly during the afternoon. Prey is voles, mice, moles, lizards and nestling birds. Favoured habitats are warm wooded grasslands, small deciduous woods, rocky areas and often abandoned or broken buildings. In June-July females lay 5-8 eggs in a hole in a tree or a stump. The young hatch in September and are about 4-5" long. Aesculapian Snakes are normally a shade of brown, with lighter bellies: the young have light collar-like marks behind their heads. Interestingly there are isolated pockets of this species in Northern Europe, believed to have been separated by the Ice Ages in Europe. Specimens in these northern pockets normally only reach 64".
|E. l. romana
|C. Italy to Sicily
|Iberia, France, Iles d'Hyères, Minorca
|The Ladder Snake derives its scientific and common name from the markings of its young, which in addition to the pair of dorsal stripes running down the back (found in adults) have dark bars running across their backs. Apart from these markings the snake is usually a simple overall shade of brown. It inhabits coastal regions in its range, where it is usually found in sunny areas: stony slopes with some shrubs, deserted orchards, vineyards, open deciduous woods or dry rocks. It is diurnal, and shelters in rodent burrows, hollow trees or a pile of stones. Prey is mainly rodents and nestling birds. Mating takes place in May-June: 6-12 eggs are laid between late June and early August, and the young hatch in September-October. The young prey on lizards and insects. Scales across body: 27 (occ. 25 or 29). Ventral scales: 201-220. Subcaudal scales: 48-68. Clutch size: 6-12 Jun-Aug, hatching Sept-Oct.
|Asia Minor, NW Iran, Transcaucasia, E. Caucasus
|One of Europe's smaller snakes, Hohenacker's Snake is found in a variety of habitats within its range. As much of this area is mountainous it is unsurprisingly found at altitudes up to 2,500 m. It does not seem too fussy about humidity levels as it will favour either dry slopes or moist stream valleys, and can also be found within dense forests. Unusually it will also take up residence near human habitations, where it will shelter among stones or in stone walls. Colouring is a silver-grey with brown-red bars running across the back. Up to 7 eggs are laid in June-July: incubation takes about a month.
|S. Ukraine eastwards to the Pacific
|Very widely distributed snake across Russia and Asia. Although preferring steppeland, it is also found up to 3,500 m high in the mountains. Diet is very catholic, with small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, toads and snakes being taken: it will even enter the sea to catch fish. It resembles the African Egg-eating Snake Dasypeltis scabra in its method of crushing eggs, and like that snake has vertebral projections in its gullet. Colouring is usually a golden yellow with three darker yellow-brown spotted stripes running down the back, but occasionally darker specimens are found. When annoyed or afraid the Rat Snake vibrates its tail very rapidly. Females lay 5-16 eggs in July-August. Scales across body: 25-27. Ventral scales: 188-202. Subcaudal scales: 63-75. Clutch size: 5-16 eggs, July-August.
|Natrix natrix natrix
|Rhine to Siberia, Scandinavia up to Balkans
|Very widely distributed and most common European snake. The Grass Snake almost invariably lives near water and is found by rivers, marshes, pools, lakes and ponds and even on seashores. In mountainous areas it is also found up to 2,000 m high. In keeping with its favoured habitats its diet is mainly fish and amphibians, plus occasional small mammals. It is not fast but can swim. Like some N. American colubrids associated with water, if it is picked up it may secrete an unpleasant odour from a gland next to its cloaca, but it rarely bites. Despite their closeness to water, Grass Snakes may travel some distance away from it in order to find a suitable hibernation site, usually a deep rodent burrow, hollow tree or similar. Interestingly they usually hibernate in small groups and often together with other species. They awaken in March-April. In summer a female lays up to 50 eggs, often in a communal site: incubation is two months, and the hatchlings measure about 5-6". In addition to their normal prey the young take invertebrates, mainly earthworms. Colouring and markings vary among the nine subspecies, but the overall colour is usually yellow, brown or grey-brown. Some subspecies, including the nominate subspecies, have a black neck with two orange markings across it.
|N. n. persa
|S. C. Europe up to Caspian
|N. n. scutata
|E. of R. Dnieper
|N. n. helvetica
|England across to Alps, Italy, Istria
|N. n. astreptophora
|Iberia, Morocco, Algeria
|N. n. cetti
|N. n. corsa
|N. n. fusca
|N. n. gotlandica
|N. n. lanzai
|N. n. sicula
|N. n. scutata
|E. of Dniepr
|N. n. schweizeri
|Iberia, Balearic islands, Sardinia, N. Italy, NW Africa
|Like all members of its genus, the Viperine Snake is aquatic and is found near ponds, rivers, mountain streams and in brackish water. It is not found above 1,400 m. It is an extremely good swimmer and catches most of its prey (fish, amphibians and their larvae) in the water. Mating takes place in March-April, and in June females lay up to 20 eggs in loose soil or under stones. The young hatch in August and are about 8" long: in addition to the adult diet, they also feed on earthworms. Apart from the characteristic zig-zag rows of spots down its back, rather like the markings of a true viper, the Viperine Snake is extremely varied in colouring, but despite this no subspecies have been described. Scales across body: 21 (occasionally 19 or 21). Ventral scales: 147-164. Subcaudal scales: 46-72. Clutch/Brood size: Up to 20, Jun: hatching Aug.
|Dice Snake (aka Tessellated Snake)
|Italy, SE Europe, Asia Minor to C. Asia, Black Sea and Middle East
|A truly aquatic snake, seldom moving away from the water, the Dice Snake is also an excellent diver and able to spend up to 15 minutes below the surface. It preys entirely on small fish. Outside of its normal range there are a few isolated pockets in N. Europe: these are always in river valleys with rocky sides. These conditions apparently create a warm microclimate essential to the snake. In southern Europe it lives in large lakes and is also found along the coasts, while central Asian specimens live beside small mountain torrents in loess mountains. In some places this snake even inhabits thermal waters. Like other aquatic snakes, the Dice Snake will often congregate in large numbers. Although not a biting snake, the Dice Snake has the defence mechanism of emptying its cloacal contents if picked up together with the emission of an unpleasant odour from a secretory gland next to its cloaca. Hibernation takes place from October to April in dry holes near the water. Mating is in May-June, and about 4 weeks later the females lay 10-25 eggs, usually in piles of organic debris by the water or in loose soil under stones. Interestingly these leathery eggs are joined together by strings of a mucous-like substance, perhaps another aquatic adaptation. The young hatch in early September and are 8-9" long. Colouring is very varied: the most common form in C. Europe is grey green with black zig-zag-like markings down the back, but in S. Europe completely black forms or straw-coloured variants with a red belly are often found. Specimens from the extreme north also have fewer plates on their heads, but so far no subspecies of this snake has been described. Apparently the Dice Snake has a small area of overlap with the Viperine Snake in NW Italy, and in this area the two species more closely resemble one another. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 160-187. Subcaudal scales: 48-79. Clutch size: 10-25, Jun-Jul.
|GB, Scandinavia, Europe to N. Iberia and east to Urals
|Smallish but very widely distributed snake. It is diurnal and is only out in early evening during high summer. Grass Snakes are found in grasslands, wooded steppes, on the edges of forests, in hedges, rubble at the foot of steep rocks, on rocky outcrops and sometimes in gardens. They are solitary creatures and their dull-brown colouring and subtle markings make them hard to see. They feed mainly on lizards and snakes, including young vipers, and young rodents. Hibernation begins in September-October (depending on the weather) and ends in April, when the snakes emerge and mate. Incubation is ovoviviparous: the females give birth to up to 15 live young, which are 5-7" long. Occasionally eggs will emerge at the same time, from which the hatchlings emerge almost immediately. Although not naturally aggressive, if it feels cornered a Smooth Snake will hiss threateningly first and then attack, attempting to bite. The small recurved teeth latch into flesh very efficiently! A distinguishing feature of this species is its head, which widens behind the eyes. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 153-199. Subcaudal scales: 41-70. Clutch/Brood size: 3-15.
|Southern Smooth Snake
|W. Austria, Italy, Sicily, S. France, Iberia, NW Africa
|Although closely related to the Smooth Snake, the Southern Smooth Snake is different in several ways: it is less aggressive, lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young, and is slower and more secretive. Unlike the preceding snake, it also has no subspecies. The main visible differences are in the markings on the underside of the belly and the configuration of the head plates. C. girondica has two black bars on most of its ventral scales, whereas those of C. austriaca are darker and a uniform colour. The rostral plates and some small plates in the upper jaw are the other difference. The Southern Smooth Snake is considered the older of the two species. The areas of the two species do overlap. Although normally found in lowlands, C. girondica has also been found at up to 3,200 m. It prefers the usual stony sunny areas with some bushes. Prey is usually lizards and snakes, although captives adapt quickly to a diet of mice. Mating takes place in April-May, and up to five young hatch in August-September: these prey on small lizards and insects. Scales across body: 25-29. Ventral scales: 170-200. Subcaudal scales: 55-72. Clutch size: 5-7?
|C. & S. Iberia, Balearic islands, Lampedusa: Africa N. of Sahara, Morocco to Egypt
|The only member of the genus Macroprotodon and not a very well-known snake, a fact partly attributable to its small size, nocturnal behaviour and daytime concealment. Its habitat is always dry and stony and has dry loose soil. Its prey is usually lizards, which it attacks while they are sleeping and paralyses with a mild venom (harmless to man). The Hooded Snake can move quickly and if surprised will throw its head back to show the underside before fleeing for shelter. Females lay 5-7 eggs. The species is a light brown overall colour with small black spots down the back and usually a black or dark brown collar behind the head which sometimes extends along the top to cover the crown. The population in SE Morocco may possibly constitute a subspecies as the number of scales across the body differs (23-25 as opposed to the usual 19-23). Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 153-192. Subcaudal scales: 40-54. Clutch size: 5-7
|Telescopus fallax fallax
|European Cat Snake
|Balkans, Malta, Cyclades, Asia Minor
|There are 11 species in the genus Telescopus, but this is the only one living in Europe, and four of its seven subspecies are found outside the continent, eg in Arabia. Although mainly a lowland dweller, it has been found at up to 1,800 m. high. It frequents the usual dry, warm and stony habitats, partly for shelter and partly because it preys almost entirely on small lizards. Its venom is not dangerous to humans but kills small lizards in 2-3 minutes. Mating takes place in early spring: females lay 6-9 eggs in June-July and the young, 6-8" long, hatch in September. They feed initially on insects. The European Cat Snake is variable in colour. If it feels threatened it coils itself into a flat disk, hisses and tries to bite. Unusually for a colubrid its pupil is vertical, a testimony to its nocturnal behaviour. Scales across body: 17-23. Ventral scales: 186-222. Subcaudal scales: 48-73. Clutch size: 7-8
|T. f. squamatus
|Kufonesi island (SE of Malta)
|T. f. pallidus
|Crete and neighbouring islands
|Vipera ursinii renardii
|Meadow Viper (aka Orsini's Viper)
|E. Europe to Caucasus and C. Asia
|A threatened and very rare snake that in Europe only occurs in scattered pockets but is reasonably abundant further east. The Meadow Viper is the smallest European viper and in fact the subspecies V. u. rakosiensis preys mainly on orthopteran insects. Specimens observed in the wild also have been seen to seize sand lizards by the tail: the lizard then sheds its tail, which the snake eats. This trick is known among other snakes and predatory lizards. Although venomous, the poison of this viper is not considered dangerous to humans, and in addition it is rather placid. Perhaps unusually for snakes, Meadow Vipers shun high temperatures and as daily temperatures rise they switch to a nocturnal pattern of behaviour. Habitats vary: some subspecies are found at both low and high altitudes, others only in the mountains, while V. u. rakosiensis in Hungary was observed to frequent low sandy mounds surrounded by damp meadows. This species in fact seems to favour open meadows, which is unusual for a viper. In September the females give birth to up to 6 live young, 4-5" long. Scales across body: 19 (E Rom. & Russ. 21). Ventral scales: 153-199. Subcaudal scales: 41-70. Clutch/Brood size: 3-15.
|V. u. rakosiensis
|Isolated parts of E. Europe and Balkans
|Vipera berus berus
|Adder, Common Viper
|Great Britain through Europe to R. Amur (not S. France, most of Iberia, S. Italy or SE Balkans)
|The most common member of its family and indeed one of the most common European snakes, being found not only in mainland Europe but also in Great Britain, Scandinavia and even beyond the Arctic Circle. Its success, like that of many wide-ranging species, can be attributed to its catholicity of habitats and altitudes. Adders are found from sea level to up to 3,000 m high, in the edges of woods or in clearings, in peat-bogs or hedgerows or near water. Like many European lacertids an individual will always remain in the same location. They do not require a great deal of heat, and in fact during the warmest parts of the year adders switch from diurnal to crepuscular (dusk and dawn) or nocturnal behaviour. They shelter in vole burrows or beneath piles of stones or roots, especially bushes. They are also good swimmers and can cross wide rivers and lakes. Prey is mainly small rodents, frogs and toads, plus nestling birds and lizards, notably the Viviparous Lizard which often occurs in the same sort of habitat and at similar cool latitudes. Like all vipers, adders are venomous, and while the poison is not normally dangerous to humans medical attention should be sought if bitten. It is largely this poison factor that led until recently to the persecution of this beneficial animal, at least in the UK. Hibernation is from October to April, dependent on the weather: adders may hibernate singly or in small groups, or occasionally in very large congregations of up to several hundred. Mating takes place in spring and about three months later 8-12 young, about 6" long, are born. These prey on earthworms, insects and smaller lizards. It is noteworthy that in the northern part of its range, the adder does not breed every year. Adders display a degree of sexual dichroism in that males are normally black while females have been described as "russet red". Both usually carry the characteristic zigzag markings down the back, but some plain black or red individuals occur. Scales across body: 21 (occasionally 19 or 23). Ventral scales: 132-158. Subcaudal scales: 24-26. Brood size: 8-12, summer.
|V. b. bosniensis
|V. b. sachalinensis
|Sakhalin island (Siberia)
|V. b. seoanei
|May be classified as a distinct species, V. seoanei.
|Vipera aspis aspis
|A mountain-dwelling snake of Central Europe that occurs at up to 2,600 m. This viper prefers warmer haunts than those of the adder but is similar in inhabiting one area of territory all its life. Favoured habitats are dry stony slopes or open mountain meadows. Hibernation takes place in rocky crevices, caves or underground caverns. The snakes emerge in March and April and mate, and females give live birth to 4-18 young about 7-8" long at the end of summer. These prey initially on lizards and insects, but by adulthood are taking mainly small rodents or insectivores. Sexual maturity takes about four years. The Asp Viper is diurnal. It is active all day in spring and autumn, but spends the warmer hours of summer concealed beneath a stone. Their mountainous distribution has led to the isolation and eventual subspeciation of the species into six different forms, distinguished mainly by ground colour and the pattern of spots. V. a. aspis is normally a brown colour with dorsal bars or narrow zigzags down its back. Scales across body: 21-23 (occasionally 19 or 25). Ventral scales: 134-169. Subcaudal scales: 30-49. Brood size: 4-18, end of summer.
|V. a. hugyi
|Usually reddish colour, with distinctive reddish-orange saddles down the back.
|Agkistrodon halys caraganus
|Russia (S Volga) as far as E Kazakhstan
|Also known as Gloydis halys caraganus, this is the only pit viper found in Europe There are nine subspecies, the remainder being found eastwards as far as Mongolia and NC China. Scales across body: 23. Ventral scales: 149-174. Subcaudal scales: 31-44. Clutch/Brood size: ?.
|Vipera latasti latasti
|Iberia (except extreme north)
|V. latasti normally has a distinct nose-horn, as seen in some other vipers (and rattlesnakes). Its range overlaps slightly in NE Iberia with V. aspis but can be distinguished from the latter by its narrower rostral scale. It is found in low-lying hill areas (up to 1300m) in rocky or forested areas and occasionally sandy habitats. Although diurnal by nature it may also be nocturnally active if the weather is warm. Preferred prey is small mammals and sometimes young birds: also lizards and invertebrates when juvenile. The venom from its bite is not seriously dangerous. Scales across body: 21. Ventral scales: 125-147. Subcaudal scales: 32-43. Clutch/Brood size: ?.
|V. l. gaditana
|Atlas mtns (N. Africa)
|W. Caucasus, Turkey
|Extremely rare, even within its limited range. Turkish specimens live at low altitudes but those in the Caucasus normally are found above 2,000 m. It seems to like cover, since favoured habitats are rocky, wooded hillsides, subalpine meadows and fern-covered stony slopes. Interestingly it also dislikes hot weather, since it seeks shelter among stones at temperatures above 15 deg. C. Main food is orthopterous insects, although rodents and lizards are also taken. Colouring is variable, but there are usually either stripes or patterns down its back as an aid to cryptic camouflage. Otherwise little is known about this snake.
|Vipera ammodytes ammodytes
|Italy, Austria, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia
|A widely distributed snake and one of the few dangerous European species. Regardless of subspecies or area, the Nose-Horned Viper is always found in dry, sunny and stony habitats with moderate to sparse vegetation. It has been encountered at heights of 2,000 m in the mountains but can equally be found on seashores, although interestingly never on sand dunes. Nose-Horns hibernate in rock fissures or underground cavities, often communally in groups of up to several dozen. The males emerge first in March-April, while females follow about two weeks later. Mating takes place mainly in May, and 4-20 (dependent upon size and age of the female) live young are born about 3-4 months later. The youngare about 6-8" long and feed on small lizards or mammals: the adult diet is mainly mammals, with occasional birds, lizards and snakes. The nominate subspecies is usually light slate brown with chocolate brown zigzag/diamond markings down the back, but the different subspecies differ not only in colouring but also in size and the arrangement and number of head plates. The fangs of this viper are 5mm long and capable of injecting a fairly potent and abundant venom deep into skin tissue, so this snake should not be approached lightly. Scales across body: 21-23. Ventral scales: 132-162. Subcaudal scales: 24-38. Brood size: 4-20
|V. a. meridionalis
|Albania, S. Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Asia Minor
|V. a. montandoni
|V. a. transcaucasiana
|V. a. ruffoi
|Alto Adige mtns (Italy)
|V. a. gregorwallneri
|N. Yugoslavia, Austria
|Vipera xanthina xanthina
|S. coast of European Turkey, Aegean islands
|The Ottoman Viper is a potentially dangerous snake, but is rare. Nevertheless it is unpredictable, and an untreated bite can be fatal.V. x. palestinae is encountered at up to 2,000 m and seems to favour loose stony ground, but is also found on cultivated land, pastureland and near marshes. All the subspecies are nocturnal and prey mainly on small rodents and birds. In March-April the snakes awake from hibernation and mate soon afterwards. In August-September young are born about 8" long: these feed mainly of lizards, small rodents and grasshoppers. Scales across body: 23-25. Ventral scales: ?. Subcaudal scales: ?. Clutch/Brood size: ?.
|V. x. palestinae
|Jordan, Israel and Syria
|V. x. raddei
|Considerably different to nominate subspecies: some consider this to be a separate species, V. raddei. It is found in mountains at altitudes of 1,000-2,500 m, on stony slopes. In pastureland it is found in the vicinity of piles of stones, which provide both food (ie other sheltering animals) and shelter.
|Vipera lebetina lebetina
|The Blunt-Nosed Viper is not only the largest European viper but also one of the largest in its genus worldwide. It is widely distributed, mainly over North Africa and Asia, in seven subspecies and found in a wide range of habitats: stony hillsides, shrubs, grassy meadows and dry infertile ground. It is also an able climber of trees. Hibernation does take place, but studies of V. l. obtusa in Azerbeijan showed that on mild winter days the vipers would emerge from their communal quarters and bask nearby, being capable of activity at only 9-10 deg. C. Mating takes place in April-May and (unusually for vipers) females lay 15-20 eggs at the end of summer. Incubation takes about 40 days: the young prey mainly on lizards, adults chiefly on rodents and birds. The danger from this snake lies mainly in the extreme speed of its attack and the method of biting: rather than bite and withdraw, it keeps its teeth lodged in its target and works its jaws to pump more venom in. Again, not a snake to be approached lightly, although it generally makes a loud hissing before attacking, thus giving some warning. Scales across body: 23-27. Ventral scales: 147-180. Subcaudal scales: 35-58. Clutch size: 3-15-20.
|V. l. obtusa
|V. l. schweizeri
|Milos, Kimolos, Sifnos and Cyclades
|This is the smallest subspecies: males are always the smaller sex. Colouring is a slate brown with subtle orange-brown mottling that make it more inconspicuous, but there are occasionally overall orange-brown individuals. The young are brighter but fade somewhat with age.
I would like to acknowledge the crucial part played in this page by Lanka and Vit's Amphibians and Reptiles, from which accounts of the more obscure snakes were sometimes lifted almost verbatim.
Collins Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins, London 1978. An invaluable guide, although a few of the taxonomic details are in need of revision.
Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe, Walter Hellmich, Blandford Press, London 1962. Taxonomy is rather outdated but useful on details of appearance, habitat and subspecies.
Snakes of the World, Chris Mattison, Blandford Press.
"An Introduction to Reptiles and Amphibians of the Greek Islands", David Buttle, Reptilian 3:7. Very useful article not just for the distribution of herps in the area but also for ecology and details of lesser-known species.
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