Home page » Flora & fauna » Species of the month » Steppe viper (Vipera renardi Christoph, 1861)

Steppe viper Vipera renardi Christoph, 1861

Steppe viper is a small venomous snake, widely distributed across steppes of Eurasia from Ukraine to China. This gray with dark zig-zag band on dorsal side snake inhabits open habitats – usually different kinds of steppes, sometimes semi-deserts; in southern forest-steppe zone it also occurs in meadows and forest margins. It is typical steppe species, however it had dispersed there only recently, not more than several hundred thousands years ago from mountain steppes of the Northern Caucasus, where its’ closest relatives – Lotievs’ viper and Armenian steppe viper live until now.

Steppe viper is well adapted for vast steppe plains. Viviparity is one of traits had helped in that. Owing to viviparity steppe viper can live in comparatively cool climate and reach the limits of distribution of steppes in the north. Wide spectrum of potential prey, which includes lizards, rodents and arthropods, helps in successful colonization as well. By the way, it differs from most other small vipers by feeding with insects, mainly orthopters, which are so abundant in steppes.

Steppe viper was once very common, but now is becoming more and more rare because of steppes transformation, populations fragmentation, direct persecution by humans and death on the roads, also perhaps due to unlimited use of pesticides in agriculture. In Ukraine it is listed in the Red Data Book. Steppe viper is still abundant only in some regions of Southern Ukraine and Steppe Crimea.

Bite of steppe viper is painful, but does not cause serious health problems. It is shy and wary snake, randomly seen by human and bites only in case of emergency.

A. Zinenko