Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)


It is a species with Eurasian geographic range, found in Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Georgia, Armenia and Turkey [5; 8; 12; 13].

Vipera ammodytes comprises seven subspecies: ammodytes, illyrica, meridionalis, montandoni, fuffoi, transcaucasiana, gregorwallneri. The recent research regarding this species taxonomy showed that only four of these subspecies are valid, the subspecies illyrica, ruffoi and gregorwallneri being associated to V. a. ammodytes [11; 12].

The Geographic Range of Vipera ammodytes in Europe [6]

The Geographic Range of Vipera ammodytes in Europe [6]

Two subspecies are known in Romania: Vipera ammodytes ammodytes and Vipera ammodytes montandoni. The former lives in the South-West – Banat Mountains, Oltenia, Hateg County and the South of Apuseni Mountains – while the latter has a more restricted geographic range, being present in some habitats of the continental Dobruja [1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 7; 8; 9; 10].

The Geographic Range of Vipera ammodytes in Romania [1]

The Geographic Range of Vipera ammodytes in Romania [1]

Vipera ammodytes is the largest viper in Romania, reaching a maximum length of 90 cm. Females are larger than males.

Morfology. It has a triangular, large head, distinctly separated from the neck. The sharp snout has a soft nasal horn, covered by two, three or four rows of transversal scales between the rostral and the apex. This is the main feature distinguishing the Sand Viper from the other vipers in Romania. What mainly differentiates V. a. ammodytes and V. a. montandoni is the rapport between the length and the width of the rostral (higher than both the one of V. a. ammodytes and V. a. montandoni) and the tail tip color (orange red for V. a. ammodytes and green for V. a. montandoni). The dorsal color of the two subspecies varies from grey to brown and it has a zig-zag continuous stripe [4; 5]. The dorsal scales are keeled and disposed in 21-23 longitudinal rows and the ventral scales are 143-161 for males and 147-160 for females [4; 5].

Color. Males are greyish, yellowish or whitish-yellow, while females are brownish or copper. The zigzag stripe is brown, sometimes black, being often curved or made of successive diamonds. It is rather indistinct for females and well contoured for males. The tail tip can vary from orange to brick red. Males have a distinct narrow brownish black spot on the head between the eyes and the mouth corner. During mating, males’ flanks are sometimes reddish [4; 5].

Ecology. Vipera ammodytes ammodytes inhabits rocky habitats with eruptive or calcareous rocks and shrubs on the riverbanks and deciduous forests, to the altitude of 2000 meters. It is sensitive to cold and in summer, when temperatures are high, it hides in the shadow under rocks or stones [4; 5; 8].

It moves rather slowly, but it attacks in a great speed. It feeds on small vertebrates, such as moles, mice, birds, frogs and even snakes. It kills its prey by using its venom and if this is not necessary it swallows it alive. The prayers of this species include birds, hedgehogs, ferrets and of course humans. It starts hibernating early in autumn and it gets out of the den late in spring. It mates in early spring (end of April – beginning of May). Females give birth to 4 – 18 young measuring around 20 cm and less colored than the adults at the end of August – beginning of September [4; 5; 8].

Legislation. In our country, this species is protected under the Law 13 from 1993 through which Romania ratifies the Berne Convention, European Directive 92/43/EEC, Natura 2000, and under the Law 462/2001 regarding the network of protected natural habitats, preserving natural habitats, wild fauna and flora. The species is also listed in Annex IVA of the Emergency Ordinance of the Government 57/2007 regarding the network of protected natural habitats, preserving natural habitats, wild fauna and flora, approved with further modifications and completions. It is considered a species of community interest, needing strict protection [14; 15; 16; 17].


1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Covaciu-Marcov S.D., Cicort-Lucaciu A.Ş., Dobre F., Ferenţi S., Birceanu M., Mihuţ R., Strugariu A., (2009): The herpetofauna of the Jiului Gorge National Park, Romania. North-Western Journal of Zoology 5 (Supplement 1). Ed. Universităţii din Oradea, Oradea.

4. Fuhn I.E., (1969): Broaște, șerpi, șopârle. Ed. Ştiinţifică, Bucureşti. [in Ro]

5. 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]

6. 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.

7. Ghira I., Venczel M., Covaciu-Marcov S., Mara Gy., Ghile P., Hartel T., Török Zs., Farkas L., Rácz T., Farkas Z., Brad, T., (2002): Mapping of Transylvanian Herpetofauna. Nympaea, 29: 145−201.

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

9. Sahlean T.C., Strugariu A., Zamfirescu Șt.R., Pavel A.G., Pușcașu M.C., Gherghel I., (2008): A herpetological hotspot in peril: Anthropogenic impact upon the amphibian and reptile populations from the Băile Herculane tourist resort, Romania. Herpetologica Romanica 2: 37-46.

10. Strugariu A., Sos T., Gherghel I., Ghira I., Sahlean T.C., Pușcașu C.M., Huțuleac-Volosciuc M.V., (2008): Distribution and current status of the herpetofaunã from the Northern Măcin mountains area (Tulcea county, Romania). Analele Științifice ale Universității ”Al. I. Cuza” Iaşi, s. Biologie animală LIV: 191-206.

11. Tomovic L., Dzukic G., (2003): Geographic variability and taxonomy of the nose-horned viper, Vipera ammodytes (L. 1758), in the central and eastern parts of the Balkans: A multivariate study. Amphibia-Reptilia 24: 359-377.

12. Tomovic L., (2006): Systematics of the sand viper (Vipera ammodytes, Linnaeus, 1758). Herpetological Journal 16 (2): 191-201.

13. Ursenbacher S., Schweiger S., Tomovic L., Crnobrnja-Isailovic J., Fumagalli L., Mayer M., (2007): Molecular phylgeography of the nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes, Linnaeus (1758)): Evidence for high genetic diversity and multiple refugia in the Balkan peninsula. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 46 (3): 1116-1128.

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

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

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

17. ***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]