Leopard Snake

Zamenis situla (Linnaeus, 1758)

Coluber leopardinus Bonaparte, 1834: Kovachev, 1905: 10-11; Elaphe situla: Buresch & Zonkov, 1934: 142-144.

Order Squamata

Family Colubridae

Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Endangered EN [B1, C2a(i)], BDA-II, III; International: IUCN-LC, BeC-II, HD-II, IV.

General distribution. The western coast of the Balkan peninsula, continental and island Greece (including Crete), Macedonia, Southern Bulgaria; it is also found in Southern Italy, Sicily, Malta, the southern coast of the Crimean peninsula and along the western coast of Turkey.

Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. It has been registered in the Petrich-Sandanski valley, the Kresna gorge [1, 2, 3, 4] and around Sozopol [5]. The habitat near Asenovgrad [6] has not been confirmed for about a century and at present almost with certainty it does not exist. The numbers and the density of the populations are unknown. In 1971-1975 around the village of Gorna Breznitsa (Kresna municipality), the leopard snake takes fifth place in the number of individuals found among 11 species of snakes registered in the region [3]. Around Sozopol the species is very rare. In Southwestern Bulgaria during the last five decades the numbers do not show any visible changes.

Habitats. It inhabits dry, warm places, mainly rocky and stony, with a well-developed microrelief and transitional-Mediterranean herbaceous and shrub vegetation. It has been found at altitudes of up to about 650 m.

Biology. It lays 2-4 eggs, most often during the first half of July. It feeds on rodents and shrews that it catches usually in their underground shelters. Mainly nocturnally active. It is not poisonous. It rarely reaches a length of up to 110 cm.

Similar species. In Bulgaria none. It is the only snake in Bulgaria with red spots on the back and an abdomen coloured with black and white fields.

Negative factors. Use of lands for agricultural needs; building on the land and the tourist invasion near the Rupite localite near the town of Petrich and the coast near Sozopol; death by cars on the roads (especially in the Kresna gorge); killing by local people; collection by poachers (in 1981-83 foreign poachers collected 85 individuals, around Sozopol, probably by digging up a wintering place); the quarry exploitation of Kozhuha near Petrich.

Conservation measures taken. Included in the Bulgarian Red Data Book, 1985, in the endangered category. The habitats in the Tisata reserve and near the Rupite locality are included in protected territories; it has been popularized many times in press editions with a large circulation; a poster was published for the protection of reptiles (1998). Almost all habitats fall within the Natura 2000 network of protected territories.

Conservation measures needed. Promotion of the nature conservation status of the species, especially in the places it is found; strict control over the activities of poachers, especially in Kresna gorge and near Sozopol; ban on the building of a motorway in the Kresna gorge; discontinuation of the quarry development of Kozhuha near Petrich.

References. 1. Beshkov, 1961; 2. Beshkov, 1974; 3. Beshkov, 1978; 4. Beshkov & Dushkov, 1981; 5. Buresch & Zonkov, 1934; 6. Kovachev, 1912.

Author: Vladimir Beschkov

Leopard Snake (distribution map)

Leopard Snake (drawing)