Vipera aspis

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Vipera aspis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Subfamily: Viperinae
Genus: Vipera
Species: V. aspis
Binomial name
Vipera aspis
(Linnaeus, 1758)
  • [Coluber] Aspis - Linnaeus, 1758
  • Vipera Mosis Charas - Laurenti, 1768
  • Vipera vulgaris - Latreille In Sonnini & Latreille, 1801
  • Vipera ocellata - Latreille In Sonnini & Latreille, 1801
  • Coluber Charasii - Shaw, 1802
  • [Vipera (Echidna)] Aspis - Merrem, 1820
  • C[hersea]. vulgaris - Fleming, 1822
  • Vipera aspis - Metaxa, 1823
  • Aspis ocellata - Fitzinger, 1826
  • [Pelias] Col[uber]. aspis - F. Boie, 1827
  • Berus Vulgaris - Gray, 1831
  • Vipera aspis var. ocellata - Bonaparte, 1834
  • Vipera aspis var. ocellata - Massalongo, 1853
  • V[ipera]. (Vipera) aspis - Jan, 1863
  • Vipera berus subspec. aspis - Camerano, 1888
  • Vipera aspis - Boulenger, 1896
  • Vipera aspis var. lineata - Düringen, 1897
  • [Vipera aspis] var. Delalande - Phisalix, 1902
  • Vipera aspis aspis - Mertens, 1925
  • Mesovipera aspis - Reuss, 1927
  • Mesovipera maculata - Reuss, 1930 (nomen nudum)
  • Mesovipera maculata aspis - Reuss, 1930 (nomen nudum)
  • Vipera ammodytes aspis - Schwarz, 1936
  • Vipera aspis delalande - Phisalix, 1968
  • Vipera (Rhinaspis) aspis aspis - Obst, 1983
  • Vipera aspis - Golay et al., 1993[1]

Common names: asp, asp viper,[2] European asp,[3] aspic viper.[4]  
Vipera aspis is a venomous viper species found in southwestern Europe. Five subspecies are currently recognized, including the typical form described here.[5]


Grows to an average length of 60-65 cm. Males reach a maximum of 85 cm, females rarely more than 75 cm. Males, however, are a little slimmer than females. The tail is very short: one-seventh to one-ninth of total body length in females, and one-sixth to one-eighth in males.[2]

The head is broad, triangular and quite distinct from the neck. The tip of the snout is slightly but distinctly upturned. The rostral scale is generally higher than it is wide, touching 2 to 3 scales on the upper side of the snout. Dorsally, the snout is flat with distinct and slightly raised sharp margins. The nasal scale is single (hardly ever divided) and separated from the rostral by a single nasorostral scale. The crown is covered with numerous small and irregular scales of different sizes that are mostly smooth, but sometimes slightly keeled. Frontal and parietal scales are usually not present, but if so, they are small and irregularly shaped, with the frontal separated from the supraoculars by 2 scale rows. The supraocular scales are large and distinct, separated by 4-7 scale rows. There are 10-12 (rarely 8-18) small circumorbital scales below the supraocular. The eye is separated from the supralabials by 2 (rarely 3) scale rows. The vertical diameter of the eye is about the same as the distance between the eye and the mouth. There are 9-13 supralabials. The 4th-5th supralabials (rarely 4th-6th or 5th-6th) are separated from the eye by 2 (rarely 3) rows of small scales, but sometimes there is a single scale between the 4th supralabial and the eye. Generally, the temporal scales are smooth, but sometimes slightly keeled.[2]

Midbody, there are 21-23 (rarely 19 or 25) rows of dorsal scales. These are strongly keeled, except for the outermost rows that vary and are sometimes smooth. There are 134-170 ventral scales. Subspecies V. a. aspis averages fewer than 150 ventrals, while V. a. atra averages more. The anal scale is single. Males have 32-49 subcaudals, females 30-43.[2] The subcaudal scales are paired.[4]

The dorsal markings vary strongly, but only rarely take the form of a clear zigzag, as in V. berus.[2]

Geographic range

Found in France, Andorra, northeastern Spain, extreme southwestern Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, the islands of Elba and Montecristo, Sicily, Italy, San Marino and northwestern Slovenia. The original type locality was listed simply as "Gallia." However, Schwarz (1936) proposed that it be restricted to "Poitou [Frankreich]" (Poitou, France).[1]

In August-October of 2006, a number of specimens were discovered in a wooded area near the town of Portugaal in the Netherlands (south of Rotterdam). Although they were doing quite well, the species is not native in this country. It is likely that one or more escaped or were set loose in the area.[6][7]

Conservation status

This species is classified as Least Concern (LC) according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v3.1, 2001). So listed due to its wide distribution, tolerance of a broad range of habitats, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.

However, subspecies V. a. aspis is categorized as Critically Endangered in Switzerland, V. a. atra is categorized as Vulnerable, and V. a. francisciredi is categorized as Endangered (Monney and Meyer, 2005).[8][9]

In general, the species is also listed as protected (Appendix III) under the Berne Convention.[10]


This species has a few clearly defined and relatively specific habitat requirements. It needs warm areas that are exposed to the sun, structured vegetation and comparatively dry soils. In Italy and France, it is often found in areas with low mountains or hills, notably in limestone regions, but sometimes occurs in lower plains. It has a preference for vegetated areas or environments with at least some cover.[2] Here it can be found on sunny slopes, on scrublands, in glades, in mountain meadows, forest clearings, at the borders of woods, in rubbish dumps and in stone quarries.[4] In Italy, it occurs in mesic chestnut/oak woodlands and often near streams.[2] Although it is not really associated with high altitudes, in the Pyrenees it has been found at well over 2,100 m above sea level.[11]


A bite from this species can be more severe than from V. berus and is very painful. According to Stemmler (1971), about 4% of all untreated bites are fatal. Lombardi and Bianco (1974) mention that this species is responsible for 90% of all cases of snakebite in Italy.[4]

The toxicity of the venom varies. Stemmler (1971) states that the population in Passwang district, Switzerland have the strongest venom.[4] Compared to venoms from other species, it is relatively toxic. Brown (1973) gives LD50 values of 1.0 mg/kg IV and 1.0-2.0 mg/kg SC.[12] Tu et al. (1969) reports 4.7 mg/kg IM. Venom yield is relatively low. Boquet (1964) reported a daily extraction figure of 9-10 mg.[2]

Envenomation symptoms include rapidly spreading acute pain, followed by edema and discoloration. Severe haemorrhagic necrosis may occur within a few hours. Vision may be severely impaired, most likely due to degradation of blood and blood vessels in the eyes. The venom has both coagulant and anticoagulant effects. Anticoagulant activity is apparently stronger than that of Daboia russelii. The venom may also affect glomerular structure, which can lead to death due to renal failure.[2]

According to Cheymol et al. (1973), the venom does not affect neuromuscular contractions in in vitro preparations. Lack of this neurotoxic affect would indicate that fatal cases involving the cardiovascular system are the result of direct muscle injury or reduced oxygen exchange. On the other hand, Gonzalez (1991) reported that in two cases the victims developed neurotoxic symptoms, including difficulty in breathing and swallowing, as well as paralysis of the bitten limbs.[2]


Subspecies[1] Authority[1] Geographic range[2]
V. a. aspis (Linnaeus, 1758) Found in most of France, except those areas bordering the English Channel. On the Atlantic coast, it is found in Île de Ré and Oléron, but not south of the Gironde estuary. Mostly absent east of the Moselle River and from much of the Mediterranean region, but does occur near Montpellier and in Alpes-Maritimes. A disjunct subpopulation exists in the Pyrenees, notably in Spain southwest of Bilbao. In Germany it occurs in the southern Black Forest along the Swiss border, bus is rare in this area. It is common northwestern Italy and western Switzerland.
V. a. atra Meisner, 1820 Parts of Switzerland.
V. a. francisciredi Laurenti, 1768 Central Italy.
V. a. hugyi Schinz, 1833 The south of Italy.
V. a. zinnikeri Kramer, 1958 Gascony, Andorra and nearby Spain.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, vol. 1. Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Mallow D, Ludwig D, Nilson G. 2003. True Vipers: Natural History and Toxinology of Old World Vipers. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida. 359 pp. ISBN 0-89464-877-2.
  3. Vipera aspis at Munich AntiVenom Index
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Street D. 1979. The Reptiles of Northern and Central Europe. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd. 268 pp. ISBN 0-7134-1374-3.
  5. Vipera aspis (TSN 634986) at Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Accessed 25 June 2007.
  6. Uitheemse adder in Portugaal at Reptielenzoo "Serpo". Accessed 17 October 2006.
  7. Giftige slangen gesignaleerd in valckesteynse bos at Staatsbosbeheer. Accessed 17 October 2006.
  8. Vipera aspis at IUCN Red List. Accessed 6 October 2006.
  9. 2001 Categories & Criteria (version 3.1)IUCN Red List. Accessed 6 October 2006.
  10. Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, Appendix III at Council of Europe. Accessed 9 October 2006.
  11. Steward JW. 1971. The Snakes of Europe. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Press (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press). 238 pp. LCCCN 77-163307. ISBN 0-8386-1023-4.
  12. Brown JH. 1973. Toxicology and Pharmacology of Venoms from Poisonous Snakes. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas. 184 pp. LCCCN 73-229. ISBN 0-398-02808-7.