The asp viper, poisonous snake present throughout the territory


You’re afraid snakes, but do not know how to distinguish between them. We often meet in our country during walks. Some are dangerous and some are not. On the other hand, all snakes have a utility in the animal chain. It is therefore important to respect them and to know how to recognize them when crossing their path. Among the poisonous, one of the most common in our territory is the asp viper. It is also found in Italy, Switzerland, Spain and a few other European countries. Here are all the characteristics of this snake to teach you how to familiarize yourself with and especially not to disturb it.

Description of the asp viper

The asp viper has a size varying between 50 and 70 cm when it is adult. It can still reach 90 cm, but it is quite rare. The male is taller and thicker than the female. The head is flat and triangular, the pupils are vertical and the scales of its body are keeled. Its muzzle is recognizable because it is turned up, but does not have a horn. The coloring of the scales is very variable. The colors are :

  • Light beige
  • Brown
  • Olive green
  • Yellow
  • Copper
  • Brick red
  • Orange

Males have a more contrasting color than females who are paler. In addition to the dominant background color, a darker ornament is always added, the dominant color of which is brown or black. This ornament comes in the form of a dorsal zig-zag and stains on the sides. The asp viper has on the sides of the head, two lateral bars going from the eyes to the sides. Usually the tip of the tail is brighter in color.

Where do we find the asp viper?

The asp viper is present almost everywhere in our country, but remains more frequent in the south, below the Loire, but is non-existent on the edge of the Mediterranean and in Corsica. In its natural environment, the asp viper resides on rough terrain, in dry conditions, on rocky and bushy hillsides or in woods. She also likes to take refuge in wasteland and dry stone walls. She still lives in high mountains, always near torrents.

Asp viper subspecies

The asp viper is a protected species. There are subspecies in our country and in Europe which are:

  • The asp viper everywhere in France below the Loire
  • The Meisner aspic atra viper living in the Alps, France, Italy and Switzerland
  • The asp viper francisciredi Laurenti living in Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia
  • The asp viper hugyi Schinz in Italy
  • The asp viper zinnikeri Kramer in France and northern Spain

Asp viper behavior

The asp viper is a daytime snake, but sometimes active at dusk. It can be seen between February and November, as it overwinters the other months in a shelter. This snake warms up in the sun to reach a body temperature of around 30 °.

The mating season for the asp viper

During the mating season, the males confront and fight. The reproduction is done every 2, 3 or 4 years depending on the regions where she lives. When mating takes place, the male wraps around the female and adjusts its cesspool in that of the female. The female mates with several males in the spring. If weather conditions allow, another mating takes place in the fall.

The feeding of the asp viper

The asp viper feeds on field mice, voles, small lizards and shrews and sometimes birds. It kills its prey with its venom and ingests them as they appear. They can be up to four times the size of its head.

Asp viper moult

As soon as the asp viper is born, it molts. During her active period, she then goes molt two to three times each year throughout its existence.

The poisonous apparatus of the asp viper

The asp viper wears movable venom hooks in the front of his jaw. When they are at rest, they are folded up. The venom injected deep into small animals allows the asp viper to kill its prey, but also to help them digest. These hooks can break, but grow back and start working again immediately.

The venom of the asp viper and man

Bites from the asp viper to humans are rare. This snake is not aggressive in nature, but rather fearful and prefers to flee from human presence. If it is surprised and cannot hide, it puts itself in a defense position by standing up and forming an S. In this case, it can bite a human if it is provoked, but be aware that it is not not dangerous for humans at a distance greater than its length. She bites especially if you step on her. By wearing shoes and pants, the risk is greatly limited.

Effects of asp viper venom on humans

If a human being is bitten by an asp viper, be aware that this bite is not very serious in most cases and rarely fatal. On the other hand, a doctor must be consulted as quickly as possible in the event of a bite, because the venom destroys the cells of tissues, tendons and muscles. When it enters the bloodstream, it causes edema which can spread throughout the body in severe cases. Anaphylactic shock and bleeding disorders are only rarely seen.

The asp viper, a protected snake

The asp viper is a threatened species because of intensive agriculture and the destruction of its habitat. It is often also killed by the man who is afraid of being bitten. It is therefore cited in Annex III of the Bern Convention and therefore protected by law in France and Switzerland.

Photo credit: Harold van der Ploeg