Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)

Dolichophis caspius-foto

Dolichophis caspius is the fastest and the most aggressive snake in Romania. Its bite can only be painful as it isn’t a venomous snake.

Dolichophis caspius used to be known by the name of Coluber jugularis. The present name has been accepted since 2004 [11; 15].

It can be found in Asia Minor, the Balkans, Hungary, the South and South-East of Romania, the Republic of Moldavia, Ukraine, the South of Russia (Caucasus) and the West of Kazahstan [8; 9; 16; 18; 20].

The Geographic Range of Dolichophis caspius in Europe [13]

The Geographic Range of Dolichophis caspius in Europe [13]

In Romania it can be often found in the South of Banat, the South of Oltenia and Muntenia, the South-East of Moldavia and in many locations in Dobrogea [1; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 10; 12; 16; 17; 19].

The Geographic Range of Dolichophis caspius in Romnia [2]

The Geographic Range of Dolichophis caspius in Romnia [2]

Morphology. It is the fastest and the most aggressive snake in Romania and it can grow up to 2 meters. The head is elongated, separated by the neck, the snout is round, the eyes are relatively large with a round pupil and a well differentiated canthus. Maxillary teeth are not equal in length, the ones in the posterior part being longer. The tail is long and thin. The rostral is distinct, the frontal can be equal or shorter than the parietals. The nostril is situated between two plates, the preocular scale is high and it is situated on the small subocular, the temporal scales can be 2+2 or 2, 8 supralabials and two pairs of inframaxillary scales. Dorsal scales are smooth with 19 transversal rows, rarely 17 or 21. It has 160-211 ventral plates, the anal is divided and it also has 87-131 pairs of subcaudal scales [6; 7].

The Colour on the dorsal side is brown, yellowish brown or greyish brown. The center of each scale is lighter in colour than the edges. The ventral side is yellow and the sides of the neck are sometimes yellowish orange. The colour of the juveniles’ dorsal side is brown or grey with dark spots [6; 7].

Ecology. Dolichophis caspius is a species adapted to dry and warm areas, being found especially at the edge of the forest, near bushes, on rocky slopes [6; 7; 8; 14]. It feeds on lizards, rodents, mice and rats [6; 7]. The Caspian whipsnake is the fastest snake in Romania, it easily climbs rocks and trees. It is probably one of the most frequent victims of road traffic and deliberate killings, its natural habitat being under reduction[13; 20].

Reproduction takes place at the end of May; the male grabs the female by the neck and puts his tail around her. They lay 5-12 eggs at the end of June or at the beginning of July. Males are larger than females and they also have a larger head and a smaller number of ventral scales (under 196) [6; 7]. Birds and various meat-eating mammals can be found among their predators [8].

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) 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 IV A and IV B),  being considered a community and national interest species which requires strict protection [21; 22; 23].

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) [8].


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2. 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.

3. Covaciu-Marcov S.D., Sas I., Cicort-Lucaciu A.Şt., Peter I., Bogdan H., (2005): Notes upon the herpetofauna of the county of Caraş-Severin , Romania. Revue Roumaine de Biologie, serie de Biologie Animale, 49 (1-2): 47-56.

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

5. Covaciu-Marcov S.D., David A., (2010): Dolichophis caspius (Serpentes: Colubridae) in Romania: New distribution records from the northern limit of its range. Turkish Journal of Zoology. 34: 119-121.

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

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

9. Kletečki E., Lanszki J., Trocsanyi B., Mužinić J., Purger J. J., (2009): First record of Dolichophis caspius (Gmelin, 1789), (Reptilia, Colubridae) on the island of Olib, Croatia. Nat. Croat., 18/2: 437-442.

10. Lazăr V., Covaciu-Marcov S.D., Sas I., Pusta C., Kovacs E.H., (2005): The herpetofauna in the district of Dolj (Romania). Analele Ştiinţifice ale Universităţii „Al. I. Cuza” Iaşi, sectiunea Biologie Animală 51: 169-178.

11. Nagy Z. T., Lawson R., Joger U., Wink M., (2004): Molecular systematics of racers, wipsnakes and relatives (Reptilia: Colubridae) using mitochondrial and nuclear markes. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 42: 223-233.

12. Sahlean T.C., Meşter L.E., Crăciun N. (2010): First distribution record for the large whip snake (Dolichophis caspius Gmelin, 1789) in the county of Teleorman (Islaz, Romania). Biharean Biologist 4 (2): 181-183.

13. Sahlean T.C., Gherghel I., Papeș M., Strugariu A., Zamfirescu Ș.R., (2014): Refining climate change protections for organism with low dispersal abilities: a case study of Caspian whip snake. Plos One, 9, e91994.

14. Schcherbak N.N., Bo¨hme W., (1993): Coluber caspius Gmelin, 1789– Kaspische Pfeilnatter oder Springnatter. In: Bo¨hme W, editor. Handbuch der Reptilien und Amphibien Europas, Band 3/I, Schlangen (Serpentes) I. Wiesbaden: AULA-Verlag. 83–96.

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

16. Strugariu A., Gherghel I., (2007): New record on the occurance of Dolichophis caspius (Reptilia: Colubridae) in Romanian Moldavia. North-Western Journal ofZoology 3: 57-61.

17. Strugariu A., Gherghel I., (2008): A preliminary report on the composition and distribution of the herpetofauna in the Lower Prut River Basin (Romania). North-Western Journal of Zoology 4 (1): S49-S69.

18. Szczerbak N., (1997): Coluber caspius Gmelin, 1789. pp. 328-329. In: Gasc, J.P. (ed), Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle, Paris.

19. Şerban M., (1972): Contribuţii la studiul herpetofaunei din judeţul Mehedinţi. Stud. Cerc. Ses. Subcom. Mon. Nat. Olteniei Cons. pt. Ocrot. Nat. Jud. Gorj, 2: 171 −180. [in Ro]

20. Zinner H., (1972): Systematics and evolution of the species group Coluber jugularis Linnaeus, 1758 – Coluber caspius Gmelin, 1789 (Reptilia, Serpentes). Jerusalem: Hebrew University. 62 p.

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

22. *** Directiva Europeană 92/43/EEC. [in Ro]

23. ***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]