Added 22 May 2005: completely updated and made separate page.

Venomous Snakes of Europe

Vipers, Adders



This page includes all the vipers of Europe but excludes the mildly venomous and usually harmless (to a human) back-fanged European colubrid snakes, who are included on the colubrid page. There are no European relatives of the cobra, mamba or death adder.

With one exception, all the vipers of Europe belong to the subfamily Viperinae, and until recently were all considered to be members of the genus Vipera. Thus they are all fairly closely related to one another, from the British Isles to Russia and the Caucasus. The sole exception is Gloydius halys, which is a member of the subfamily Crotalinae (pitvipers, ie vipers with heat sensitive pits in their snouts) and which is found on the easternmost fringes of Europe. This snake is more closely related to the American and Chinese copperhead snakes.

Despite the rather fearsome reputation of vipers (and some members of that family are indeed dangerous in the tropics), the European and Eurasian vipers are not on the whole very dangerous. Most are not aggressive and most do not have the toxicity to deliver a fatal bite to humans. Nevertheless, care should be taken when in the proximity of one. The safest rule is not to antagonise them. Furthermore most if not all European vipers are protected by law. Like all snakes, vipers perform a vital part in the ecology of life and should be treated as such. My advice to those travelling in European areas where vipers may be present is simply to wear suitable footwear and clothing and to be aware of where you are putting your feet or placing your backside. There is no need for paranoia as very few people in Europe are bitten by vipers and even fewer have suffered. I have included further advice and guidelines on human-venomous-snake relationships here.

G. halys, Halys/Caucasian Pitviper M. lebetina, Levantine Viper M. schweizeri
V. ammodytes, Nose-Horned Viper V. aspis, Asp Viper V. barani, Turkish Viper
V. berus, Adder, Common/Northern Viper V. darevskii, Darevsky's Viper V. dinniki, Dinnik's Viper
V. kaznakovi, Caucasus Viper V. latastei, Lataste's Viper V. lotievi
V. magnifica V. monticola, Mountain Viper V. nikolskii, Nikolsky's Viper
V. orlovi V. pontica, Black Sea Viper V. raddei, Caucasus Viper
V. renardi V. seoanei, Portugese Viper V. transcaucasiana
V. ursinii, Meadow Viper, Orsini's Viper V. xanthina, Coastal Viper  

Species Common Name Origin Adult size Notes
G. halys Halys Pitviper [D: Halys-Otter] S Russia, C Asia, Iran, Mongolia, China 28"  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. This is a slow-moving snake, dependent upon camouflage rather than speed [Engelmann et al]. Winter brumation may last up to 6 months and may take place communally. 4-12 young are born in summer: these prey on young lizards, crickets and grasshoppers. Adults take mice, ground-dwelling nestlings and the eggs of those species. Scalation: 9 large shields on head. Scales across body: 23. Ventral scales: 149-174. Subcaudal scales: 31-44. Coloration: variable, but usually some variation of or between sandy yellow on brown and red on black. Engelmann et al stress the non-uniformity of most individuals. Clutch/Brood size: 4-12. 
G. h. caraganus Caraganda Pitviper Russia (mouth of Volga to Caspian Sea), N Iran, C Asia, China    
G. h. caucasicus Caucasian Pitviper  Transcaucasus?    Apparently rare in its range [Engelmann et al]. 
M. lebetina Levantine Viper [D: Levanteotter] Cyprus, NW Africa, Middle East, C Asia and Indian subcontinent 80"  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 M. 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. 
M. schweizeri   Greece (Milos, Syphnos, Kimolos, Polynos) 24-32"  Formerly considered the smallest subspecies of M. lebetina. 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.
V. albizona   C Turkey    No information yet available. 
V. ammodytes Nose-Horned Viper [D Europäische Hornotter/ Sandotter]




Austria, W Hungary, N Italy, Slovenia, Croatia (inc. some islands), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece (inc. Corfu, Tinos, Paros, Antiparos, Strongylo and Andros), Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, poss. Syria and Lebanon 24-32" 





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 young are 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. ammodytes Italy, Austria, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia
V. a. meridionalis Albania, Greece (inc. Corfu, Paros and Tinos), S Serbia, Romania, S Bulgaria, Turkey W of Bosphorus 
V. a. montandoni Turkey, E Bulgaria 
V. a. ruffoi Italy (Alto Adige mtns) 
V. aspis Asp Viper [D Aspisviper; E vibora aspid] NE Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, poss. Austria  24-30?"  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. aspis France, NW Switzerland, SW Germany    
V. a. atra W Switzerland, NW Italy, SE France     
V. a. balcanica SE Bosnia, S Bulgaria   Now considered a synonym of V. ammodytes: see EMBL database entry. However Beschkov still appears to regard it as a valid taxon.
V. a. francisciredi S Switzerland, N/C Italy, Slovenia, NW Croatia      
V. a. hugyi Italy (inc. Sicily)    Usually reddish colour, with distinctive reddish-orange saddles down the back. 
V. a. zinnikeri NE Spain, SW France (Pyrenees)     
V. barani Turkish Viper [D Barans Otter] NW Turkey    No information yet available.  
V. berus Adder, Common/ Northern Viper [D Kreuzotter] N Europe inc. Scandinavia, C Europe, Balkans, E Europe, Baltic states, Russia, Mongolia, NW China, N Korea  24-32" 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 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. berus Great Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, N Italy, Austria, Czech, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Mongolia, NW China, N Korea
V. b. bosniensis Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, N Albania, N Greece 
V. darevskii Darevsky's Viper [D Darevski-Kreuzotter/Darevskis Kaukasusotter Georgia, Armenia, poss. Turkey    No information yet available.  
V. dinniki Dinnik's Viper [D Westkaukasische- Kreuzotter, Dinnikis Kaukasusotter]  S Russia (Caucasus), Georgia, Azerbaijan   No information yet available.  
V. kaznakovi Caucasus Viper [D Kaukasusotter]  S Russia, W Georgia, NE 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.
V. latastei Lataste's Viper [D Stülpnasenotter; E vibora hocicuda] 



Portugal, Spain, N Morocco, N Algeria, N Tunisia  24-30"  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. latastei Spain, N Portugal 
V. l. gaditana S Spain, S Portugal, N Morocco, Algeria, N Tunisia
V. lotievi   Russia (N Caucasus), Georgia    No information yet available.  
V. magnifica   W Caucasus    No information yet available. 
V. nikolskii Nikolsky's Viper [D Waldsteppen-Otter] Ukraine, C & S Russia    No information yet available. 
V. orlovi   W Caucasus    No information yet available.  
V. pontica Black Sea Viper  Turkey, Georgia    Status questioned: see EMBL database entry
V. raddei Caucasus Viper [D Armenische Bergotter, Raddes Otter]     V. raddei was formerly considered a subspecies of V. xanthina. 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. 
V. r. raddei      
V. r. kurdistanica      
V. renardi   Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, China    Originally a subspecies of V. ursinii, and still considered as such by some.
V. seoanei Portugese Viper [D Nordiberische Kreuzotter;E vibora de Seoane] N Portugal, NW Spain, SW France  75cm 



Formerly a subspecies of V. berus. Reminiscent in appearance of V. berus and V. aspis, and may be confused in the southwest of its territory with V. latastei. However, in contrast with V. berus it prefers damp areas with a fairly high rainfall. Hibernation lasts 3-4 months: 3 months after emergence, females give birth to 3-8 young. The young prey on lizards and young brown frogs, whereas adults hunt mice and frogs.
V. s. seoanei N Portugal, N Spain, SW France 
V. s. cantabrica NW Spain 
V. transcaucasiana   Georgia, NW Azerbaijan, N Turkey, Iran    Formerly a subspecies of V. ammodytes
V. ursinii Meadow Viper, Orsini's Viper [D Wiesenotter]









SE France, Italy, E Austria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Montenegro, Serbia, N Albania Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, W Turkey, NW Iran, Armenia, Russia, Moldovia, Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, China (W Xinjiang) 16-24"









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 such as monitors. 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. There is currently uncertainty over the validity of the subspecies ebneri, graeca, macrops and wettsteini: see EMBL database entry. Scales across body: 19 (E Rom. & Russ. 21). Ventral scales: 153-199. Subcaudal scales: 41-70. Clutch/Brood size: 3-15.


V. u. ursinii C Italy 
V. u. anatolica S Turkey 
V. u. ebneri  
V. u. graeca  
V. u. macrops  
V. u. moldavica Romania
V. u. rakosiensis E Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, S Romania, N Bulgaria
V. u. wettsteini SE France
V. xanthina Coastal Viper [D (Kleinasiatische) Bergotter] Greece (Lesbos, NE Makri, Chios, Samos, Patmos, Lipsi, Leros, Kalymnos, Symi, Chalki), W Turkey 48" 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: ?.


Snakes of the World, Chris Mattison, Blandford. Very concise and useful guide to the general biology, natural history and classification of snakes, including an overview of virtually all the world's species.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996. Outstanding review of N African herpetofauna giving detailed account of each species. I gratefully acknowledge their details for the N African species.


EMBL reptile database - the best Internet resource I have found for up-to-date taxonomy and bibliographies for reptile species.


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