Meadow Viper

Vipera ursinii rakosiensisMehely, 1893

Order Squamata

Family Viperidae

Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Extinct EX; International: IUCN [EN B1 + 2abcd, C2a]; BeC-II; EE 92/43-II, IV; BDA-II, III.

General distribution. In Western and Central Europe it has a sporadic distibution, in small habitats, very distanced one from the other in Southeastern France, Central Italy, Austria, Hungary, the Krk island and the mountains in the western part of the Balkan peninsula; singular findings in Romania, Bulgaria, Pind mountain in Greece, in Southwestern Asia Minor. Many of these habitats have not been confirmed for tens of years, in others the species is on the brink of extinction or entirely extinct. To the east of the Danube delta, from Moldova to Northwestern China, the area is continuous and the populations have a high density. According to some contemporary authors [1], the Bulgarian individuals are close to Vipera ursinii moldavica Nilson, Andren et Joger, 1993.

Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. The species has not been found in Bulgaria since 1934. Only 4 individuals are known, found in two distanced habitats: the forest plateau over the town of Shumen, where 2 individuals were collected in the first years of the 20th century, and Lyulin mountain, from where the other two individuals originate: one collected in 1927 near the village of Verdikal (near Bankya), and the other one in 1934, near Saint Kral monastery (today St. St. Cyril and Methodius monastery) near Knyazhevo [2], [3], [4]. The reports about the finding of one individual along the southern slopes of the Ludogorie plateau [5] are not truthful, as they pertain to an individual brought from another part of the area.

Habitats. Mainly grassy and steppe sites: from Alpine and sub-Alpine pastures (in Western Europe) to steppe and semi-desert landscapes (in Central Asia).

Biology. It gives birth to between 3 and 16 (most often 4 6) young ones. The Lyulin individual from 1934 gave birth in terrarium conditions to 4 young ones [3]. It feeds on lizards, grass-hoppers, crickets, small rodents, etc. It rarely reaches a length of 55 cm. So far, truthful lethal cases of people as a result of its bite have not been registered.

Similar species. It resembles the common viper (Vipera berus), found in Bulgaria mainly in the high mountains. The dark zig-zag line of the meadow viper is narrow and wavy, and the cross-section of its body is rounded and trapez-like; in the common viper the line is large and strongly broken up, and the cross-section is elliptic-oval.

Negative factors. The acquisition of lands for agricultural purposes, pasture, mowing, burning down herbaceous and shrub places, intensive tourism. Probably the reasons are not only of an anthropogenic nature.

Conservation measures. Included in the Bulgarian Red Data Book, 1985, in category EX. The habitat near Shumen is partially included in the Shumensko plato Natural Park.

References. 1. Nilson et Andren, 2001; 2. Kovachev, 1912; 3. Buresch & Zonkow, 1934; 4. Beschkov, 1973; 5. Hristov et al. 2004.

Author: Vladimir Beschkov

Meadow Viper (distribution map)

Meadow Viper (drawing)