The Common European Viper
The common European adder
Species: vipera berus
It is an extremely widespread snake that can be found throughout the whole Europe and Asia. It is found in different terrains: prairies, woodlands, fields. Often they dwell near the water. It can live near residential areas too.
The availability of places suitable for brumation is a crucial requirement for the presence of this snake in the habitat.
This snake is not long – about 65 cm. Females are slightly larger than males. An adult viper can weigh from 50 to 180 gr.
The common European viper has a big flattened head with rounded snout. It is noticeably separated from the rest of the body with a short neck sinus. On the upper part of the head three large plates are clearly seen; one of them is almost rectangular and is located between the eyes; the two others are located right behind it. The nostril is located on the lower part of a nasal scale. The pupils are vertical.
The common European viper’s colouring is extremely variable: the main colour can be gray, yellow-brown, brown or red with the shade of copper. In some regions black specimens equal to 50% of the total amount of vipers. Most vipers have dark zigzag stripe pattern along their backs. The belly is usually gray or brown-gray or black, sometimes with white dots on it. The tip of the tail is yellow or orange, sometimes red.
The hatchlings often have copper-brown backs with zigzag pattern.
The common European viper is a timid snake, it is not aggressive and when threatened, it tends to move away and not to attack.
It is a diurnal species that hides in a hole at night. At daytime it enjoys sunbathing on hills or big rocks.
The common European viper is a good swimmer.
The common European viper needs a large horizontal enclosure about 60 – 100 cm long and 60 cm high. The enclosure should have air inlets both in the upper and in the lower parts. For substrate you can use pine tree bark or coconut cuttings. Your viper will need some branches to climb on. You can place a stub under the basking lamp. In one of the corners you can put sphagnum so the snake can bury itself there from time to time. A water bowl with fresh clean water is a must (water has to be changed daily).
Ambient temperature should be around 25 – 28°C at daytime and 2 – 3°C lower at night. For heating you can use a heat mat or a heat cord.
The air humidity should be about 70%. You will have to mist the enclosure and the snake itself daily.
The viper needs 9-10 hours of light daily. You can use fluorescent lamps.
In the wild the common European viper normally eats frogs, lizards, birds and small mammals.
In the captivity it eats mainly rodents – mice and rats that you should offer to the snake from the tweezers.
Adult snakes usually have good appetite, but youngsters can refuse from food. In this case you should try and tease them with the food in order to provoke aggression.
You have to add to the food vitamins and mineral supplements.
The venom of the common European viper is usually not dangerous for an adult.
About 70% of bitten people haven’t felt any symptoms at all. Others felt burning sensation in the place of the bite. Sometimes the bite gets red and swollen.
The common European vipers adapts well to the life in the captivity.
If the snake refuses to eat, it can be caused by stress, unsuitable food, or it can happen that the snake just is not hungry. You should not try and force the food into the snake: they can live without food for a long time without any damage for their health. You should only start worrying if your snake doesn’t eat for several months. Then you need to analyze its living conditions and the menu prior to this situation. In the worst case you can force-feed the snake.
Snakes can vomit because of stress, illness or if the prey was too big. Also they can vomit if it was fed during shedding or if the temperature in its enclosure is not suitable. After vomiting you mustn’t feed the snake for 7-10 days, and then you can offer it food taking into account the previous mistakes.
Shedding is not a disease, it is a necessary step in the snake’s growth. Its eyes get milky, their color grows paler and the skin starts coming off. During this time you should be extra careful about the humidity and clean water in the enclosure.
Mites are small parasites that live on the snake’s skin. They stick on the snake’s body between the scales and suck its blood. This can make the snake lethargic and it can turn down the food. To get rid of mites you need to use the weak solution of the same medicine which is used against ticks on cats and dogs. You will also have to disinfect the whole enclosure.
Respiratory diseases are usually caused by potentially pathogenic bacteria if the immune system of the snake doesn’t function properly either due to a stress or to unsuitable living conditions. The symptoms include gasping, open mouth, runny nose. These diseases are treated by the injections of antibiotic called Baytril.
In order to mate, the vipers need to hibernate first. In order to achieve this, you should gradually lower the temperature in the enclosure. When it goes down to 15 degrees, you should stop feeding the snakes. Then they have to be put into linen bags filled with moss that are placed in a cool spot, e.g. vegetable section in the fridge. After a couple of months the snakes are put back in the enclosure and you have to start to gradually increase the temperature and start feeding them.
The common European viper is ovoviviparous species (the eggs develop in the snake’s body and after a while the young snakes hatch). The shell resolves in the female’s genital tract.
Normally a female “gives birth” to 8-12 hatchlings that are 15-20 cm long. The hatchlings are venomous from the very beginning. Immediately after birth the hatchlings usually shed. Further on young and adult snakes shed 1-2 times a month. The hatchlings normally eat pink mice.
Average life span is 15 – 30 years.