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European Viper Facts You'll Never Forget

Mice, voles, rats, lizards, shrews, and other small mammals

If you are looking for the only true species of venomous snake in Europe, then you must learn about the common European viper. The common European viper, also known by its scientific name of Vipera berus, is a type of snake native to Britain and can be found all over Europe. The population is also well distributed in areas such as Russia, Mongolia, China, and North Korea in Asia. There are two more recognizable subspecies, the Balkan cross adder (Vipera berus bosniensis) and the Sakhalin Island adder (Vipera berus sachalinensis). Owing to their widespread distribution, these reptiles are known by different names in different places and have a plethora of common names. We have tried to cover all those names in this article. Despite vipers being known for their bites, the common adder's venom is not fatal.

Read on for more information on these snakes. For facts on other reptiles, take a look at our articles about gaboon viper and mangrove snake.

European Viper Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a European viper?

The common European viper (Vipera berus) is a venomous snake species that is found throughout Europe, even to the north of the Arctic Circle and in some parts of Asia. They are also known by the name of the common European adder.

What class of animal does a European viper belong to?

The common European adder (Vipera berus) is a species of snakes with venom that belongs to the class of Reptilia and to the family Viperidae.

How many European vipers are there in the world?

Although the total number of European viper (or the European common viper as it is also called) species is not known, scientists and researchers who have worked with these vipers believe that their numbers run well into several thousand. This is due to the fact that common European adders (Vipera berus) have been found to range over a large area in Eurasia and Scandinavia.

Where does a European viper live?

The common adder (Vipera berus) is found in wetlands and moorlands with thick vegetation cover. This snake species range all over the continent of Europe, especially the western part. Countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany are common areas where these snakes can be found. Astonishingly, it is considered to be the only venomous snake native to Britain. Additionally, the common European viper is the only species of snakes with venom found north of the Arctic Circle. The common adder is also found in Eastern Europe such as in Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece. Further east, these common European viper snakes are found in areas such as Russia, especially the Sakhalin Island. These adders also inhabit areas like Mongolia and the northern parts of China.

What is a European viper's habitat?

The common European viper habitat depends on the area it inhabits and can range from meadows, moors, woodlands, stone quarries, and glades that receive an ample amount of sunlight. They are also found roaming around rocky hillsides and in wetlands with a nearby source of dry grounds. Adders need an area where they can stay undisturbed from humans, forage easily in the vegetation looking for prey, can practice their hibernation, and protect themselves from predators. The common adder especially looks for areas that receive sunlight because they have a tendency to bask. These snakes are primarily diurnal in nature, however, areas of southern Europe have been home to snakes that forage and are active after sunset.

The common European viper snake is also an adder species that hibernates in the cold winters. The hibernation period for these adders lasts between five to six months and starts from the months of September and October. This period may increase for adders that are found in cold Scandinavian countries like Sweden where the snake usually hibernates for 240 to 270 days of the year. In contrast, viper adders inhabiting an area of warm and mild environment can be active without hibernation all year round.

Who do European vipers live with?

The common European viper (Vipera berus) is generally a solitary animal that forages and hunts for prey on its own. The solitary nature of this species is only broken during the period of mating between males and females and during hibernation. Interestingly, when common adders hibernate together, they do so in numbers of around 100 adders. Apart from these exceptions, you will hardly find two or more common adders together in any environment.

How long does a European viper live?

The common adder snake has a lifespan that can range from 10 to 15 years. However, according to some sources, some adders can live for 25 years in the wild. There are also unsubstantiated claims that in captivity these snakes are known to live for just a meager two and a half years.

How do they reproduce?

The reproduction and mating period of the common adder is one of the two occasions that these solitary snake species are found together. The breeding takes place once a year and adders are polygynous in nature. The mating season starts as soon as the snake comes out of hibernation in the spring, around April. Males choose their females via competition from other males. These can lead to a physical fight which is known by the name 'the dance of the adders'. Courtship rituals between males and females include body quivering, vibrations, and flicking of the tongue. Interestingly, more than two male adders can be involved in the fight for breeding rights.

Once the male and female adders have mated, males do not stay and return to their solitary lives. The gestation period of the common adder is around 90 to 120 days. The litter size can range from five to 20 young ones. The average litter size of the venomous common adder ranges around the number 12. Females do not give birth to eggs, instead, they give birth to live young adders. These live young adders usually spend the first few months of their existence in hibernation. Generally, the young snake will sexually mature at the age of three years.

What is their conservation status?

Due to the introduction of pheasants and partridges that bite and eat the common adder in Britain, many experts say that the common viper may be facing extinction in the next few years. This fear has not yet been reflected in the Red List maintained by the International Union For Conservation Of Nature where the common adder has been listed as Least Concern.

European Viper Fun Facts

What do European vipers look like?

Even though they bite and have venom, the common adder isn't too menacing in its appearance. They are usually quite thick with a large head. The eyes in comparison are smaller and they have scale patterns over them in a V-shape on the head. The scale pattern which is a distinct zig-zag in shape extends all the way across their body. The color of common adders varies between pale yellow, whitish, dark brown, melanistic black, and gray. Sometimes, there may be a stunning melanistic black-colored adder. Most of the time, these black vipers are females.

The feature that can also strike you as distinct is the low ridge into which the snout has been elevated. Like most other vipers and adders, the common adder has fangs which it uses to bite and inject venom into its prey causing death.

A European common viper has many different names.

How cute are they?

Despite the fact that these adders have venom and will bite their prey causing death, the zigzag patterns and the coloration on their body may actually be cute to look at. This melanistic snake with an entirely black body and no pattern is absolutely beautiful to look at. On top of that, these snakes actively avoid humans and will only ever bite if you disturb their natural habitat.

How do they communicate?

These snakes are known to communicate via both physical and chemical cues. During the mating season, their sense of smell plays a vital role. Due to the emission of pheromones, males and females can easily find each other. The breeding season also finds male adders intimidating each other through a specific dance ritual. These adders can also sense danger through feeling vibrations. Plus, they have great eyesight that helps them track their prey and bite them into submission and death.

How big is a European viper?

European viper size varies based on the region they are in. The common adder can grow anywhere in size between 22-31 in (56-79 cm). Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have some of the biggest specimens of the common European viper. British snakes like the smooth snake are of a similar size to the common adder.

How fast can a European viper move?

Although the exact speed of the European viper is not known, they are quite agile and fast. They are known to quickly strike their food and can travel a short distance in seconds.

How much does a European viper weigh?

Despite being a flat-bellied snake, the common adder is not too heavy. The average common European viper weighs around 1.8- 6.3 oz (51-179 g). UK snakes, like the grass snake and the smooth snake, also weigh in the same range. Interestingly, females are bigger than males.

What are their male and female names of the species?

There is no distinct name for males and females of this species.

What would you call a baby European viper?

A young common adder can be called a snakelet or a neonate.

What do they eat?

The diet of the European viper consists of mice, voles, rats, lizards, shrews, and other small mammals. The adder usually catches these animals by biting and injecting their venom. The European adder venom usually results in death and the adder then uses its sense of smell to track the food.

Are they aggressive?

This snake is generally aggressive to humans only when their home range is disturbed. A European adder bite was earlier supposed to be dangerous and cause death but now there are around seven different anti-venoms available. Still, their bites can lead to death in humans if there is a delay in medical attention.  

Would they make a good pet?

Due to their wild habitats and venomous bites, we wouldn't suggest keeping the European adder as a pet.

Kidadl Advisory: All pets should only be bought from a reputable source. It is recommended that as a potential pet owner you carry out your own research prior to deciding on your pet of choice. Being a pet owner is very rewarding but it also involves commitment, time and money. Ensure that your pet choice complies with the legislation in your state and/or country. You must never take animals from the wild or disturb their habitat. Please check that the pet you are considering buying is not an endangered species, or listed on the CITES list, and has not been taken from the wild for the pet trade.

Did you know...

Unfortunately, there is a statistic that tells us that around 15% of adults of this species die during hibernation.

What are vipers known for?

Vipers are generally famous for their fangs. Bites from these fangs inject venom and can cause fatality.

How do these vipers compare with other European snakes?

In comparison with other European snakes, the common European viper is the most venomous of the lot. Most snakes in Europe are non-venomous in nature.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles including cottonmouth snake, or copperhead snake.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our european viper coloring pages.

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