Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus)


You have often seen the Aesculapian snake wrapped around a bowl representing the symbol of most pharmacies or pharmaceutical products.

There are some legends in antient Greek mythology referring to this symbol of medicine. One of these legends says that this snake has knowledge about medicine plants and their healing properties. This is the reason why the Greek god Asclepio (Aesculapius for the Romans) was represented with a snake wrapped around its rod. In order to find out about medicine plants Aesculap turned himself into a snake and then he returned to his human appearance.Thus he used these information to treat ill people. Aesculap became the Greek doctor on Mount Olympus and his snake (the Aesculapian snake) became the symbol of human medicine.

God Asclepio - [22]

God Asclepio – [22]

Zamenis longissimus was previously known as Elaphe longissima. The genus – Elaphe and the species – longissima don’t represent a correct enunciation because the masculine name of the genus (in this case Elaphe) must be accompanied with a masculine name of the species as well (the name of longissima was later replaced by longissimus). Hence, both the names of the genus and the species are masculine [2; 5; 13]. Recent studies have placed this species in the Zamenis genus [16].

It can be found in Central and Southern Europe, the Caucasus, Asia Minor and Northern Iran [6; 7; 10].

The Gographic Range of Zamenis longissimus in Europe [8]

The Gographic Range of Zamenis longissimus in Europe [8]

In Romania it can be sporadically found in various localities throughout the country. It can found more frequently in Dobrogea, Banat and the Apuseni Mountains [1; 4; 6; 7; 9; 10; 11; 14; 15].

The Gographic Range of Zamenis longissimus in Romania [3]

The Gographic Range of Zamenis longissimus in Romania [3]

Morphology. The Aesculapian snake is one of the most elegant snakes in the Roumanian fauna, having a long shinny body (reaching up to 2 meters long in places where it finds favourable conditions). It is slender with a small and narrow head, cylindrical body and a thin long tail. The rostral is bearly visible from the dorsal side being more developped in width than in hight and the frontal scale is shorter than the parietal scales. The nostril is situated between two plates; it has a single preocular scale; the postocular scales are in number of two and they are superposed; the 4th and 5th supralabial scales have contact with the superior inframaxilar scales and the supralabial scales are in number of 8 [6; 7].

The scales on the dorsal side are neat and slightly keeled in the posterior part of the body. The scale arrangement includes 23 transversal scale rows and 212 – 248 ventral rows. The anal is divided and the subcaudal pairs vary between 60 and 69 [6; 7].

Color. The color of the dorsal side of the Zamenis longissimus species is light brown, dark brown or grayish brown, most of the scales being provided with white stripes. Light yellow spots can be observed on the sides of the head and black stripes stretch from the eye to the edge of the mouth. The ventral side is entirely yellowish-white. The dorsal side of the juveniles is yellow and black with dark brown spots. There are also entirely black specimens [6; 7].

Ecology. The Aesculapian snake is a thermophilic species which prefers dry forests with sunny areas (clearings, bushes), rocky terrains with trees and shrubs and ruins invaded by vegetation [6; 7; 10]. It is the best climber of all the snakes in Romania. Even if it is a slow snake it furiously bites when attacked but the wound is nothing but a scratch. Zamenis longissimus feeds on lizards, rodents, moles and rarely on birds and eggs [6; 7; 12]. It hibernates from October to April hiding in burrows, galleries, under tree trunks and under rocks.

Reproduction takes place in May-July and 5-8 white, elongated eggs are depositted approximately one month later. The babies hatch in September and they exceed 20 centimeters [6; 7].

Legislation. In Romania the species is protected by Law no.13 of 1993, by which Romania ratifies the Berne Convention (Annex II), European Directive 92/43/EEC (Annex IV), Law no. 462/2001 regarding the state of natural protected areas, the conservation of natural habitats, of the wild flora and fauna (Annex IV) and also by Government Emergency Ordinance no. 57/2007 regarding the state of natural protected areas, the conservation of natural habitats, of the wild flora and fauna, approved with subsequent amendments and supplements (Annex IVA), being considered a community interest species which requires strict protection [17; 18; 19; 20].

According to the IUCN classification, at a global level, this species has a Least Concern status (LC), and in the Red Book of Vertebrates of Romania it is marked as vulnerable (Vu) [10; 21].


1. Ardelean G., Trifonof P., (2000): Vertebratele din Ţara Făgăraşului. Satu Mare – Studii şi comunicări, Muzeul Judeţean Satu Mare, 1, 333-363. [in Ro]

2. Böhme W., Köhler J., (2004): Do Endings of Adjective Flectible Species Names Affect Stability? A final note on the gender of Podarcis Wagler, 1830 (Reptilia, Lacertidae). Bonner Zoologische Beiträge 53(3/4): 293-295.

3. Cogălniceanu D., Rozylowicz L., Székely P., Samoilă C., Stănescu F., Tudor M., Székely D., Iosif R., (2013): Diversity and distribution of reptiles in Romania, ZooKeys 341: 49-76.

4. Covaciu-Marcov S.D., Ghira I., Cicort-Lucaciu A.Ş., Sas I., Strugariu Al, Bogdan H.V. (2006): Contributions to knowlenge regarding the geographical distribution of the herpetofauna of Dobrudja, Romania. North-Western Journal of Zoology 2 (2): 88-125.

5. Crochet P.A., Dubois A., (2004): Recent changes in the taxonomy of European amphibians and reptiles in: Gasc, J.-P. et al. (eds.). Atlas of amphibians and reptiles in Europe (second reprinted edition). Museum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. Collection Patrimoines Naturels 29, 496.

6. Fuhn I.E., Vancea Şt., (1961): Fauna R.P.R. Reptilia (Ţestoase, Şopârle, Şerpi). Vol XIV, fasc. 2, Editura Academiei R.P.R., Bucureşti, 338 pp. [in Ro]

7. Fuhn I. E., (1961), Broaşte, şerpi, şopârle, Ed. Sport – Turism, Bucureşti. [in Ro]

8. Gasc J.P., Cabela A., Crnobrnja-Isailovic, Domen D., Groessenbacher K., Haffner P., Lescure J., Martens H., Marinez Rica J.P., Maurin H., Oliveira M.E., Sofianidou T.S., Veith M., Zuiderwijk A., (1997): Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe. Societas Europaea Herpetologica & Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris.

9. Ghira I., Venczel M., Covaciu-Marcov S. D., Mara Gy., Chile P., Hartel T., Török Zs., Rácz T., Farkas Z., Brad T., (2002): Mapping of Transyllvanian herpetofauna, Nymphaea 29: 145-201.

10. Iftimie A., (2005): Reptilia. In: Botnariuc & Tatole (eds): Cartea Roşie a Vertebratelor din România. Ed. Academiei Române, Bucureşti. [in Ro]

11. Mara G., Ghira I., Frankas L., (1999): Preliminary report on herpetofauna of the upper and middle Olt river basin. Transylv. Rev. Syst. Ecol. Ers., 1: 169-18.

12. Nejbar B., (2007): Food habits of Zamenis longissimus (Laurenti, 1768) (Reptilia: Serpentes: Colubridae) in Bieszczady (south-eastern Poland), Vertebrate Zoology, 57 (1): 73-77.

13. Sos T., (2008): Review of recent taxonomic and nomenclatural changes in European Amphibia and Reptilia related to Romanian herpetofauna. Herpetologica Romanica, 2, 61-91.

14. Strugariu A., Sos T., Gherghel I., Ghira I., Sahlean T.C., Puşcaşu C. M., (2008): Distribution and current status of the herpetofauna from the northern Macin Mountains area (Tulcea County, Romania). Analele Ştiinţifice ale Universităţii “Al. I. Cuza” Iaşi, Biologie Animală, Tom LIV: 191 – 206.

15. Török Zs., (1998): Date privind ecologia şi protecţia amfibienilor şi reptilelor din Munţii Igniş, Studii şi comunicări (Muz. Judeţean Satu Mare), 1, 160-170. [in Ro]

16. Utiger U., Helfenberger N., Schätti B., Schmidt C., Ruf M., Ziswiler V., (2002): Molecular systematics and phylogeny of old and new world ratsnakes, Elaphe Auct., and related genera (Reptilia, Squamata, Colubridae). Russian Journal of Herpetology 9: 105-124.

17. ***Legea 13 din 1993 prin care România ratifică Convenţia de la Berna. [in Ro]

18. ***Directiva Europeana 92/43/EEC. [in Ro]

19. ***Legea nr. 462/2001 privind regimul ariilor naturale protejate, conservarea habitatelor naturale, a florei şi faunei sălbatice. [in Ro]

20. ***Ordonanţa de Urgenţă a Guvernului nr. 57/2007 privind regimul ariilor naturale protejate, conservarea habitatelor naturale, a florei şi faunei sălbatice, aprobată cu modificări şi completări ulterioare. [in Ro]