Vipera aspis
Natural history
ASP. VIPER, Vipera aspis (Linnaeus).
Identification: Head more triangular than in European viper, snout slightly but distinctly unturned at tip; shields of crown fragmented, usually only 2 or 3 enlarged.
Colour similar to European viper but generally more apt to be reddish or brown; pattern of dark spots more or less fused, sometimes forming zigzag band; dark head mark not well defined; belly dark grey with lighter flecks; underside of tail tip yellow or orange.
Size about the same as European viper, 18 to 24 inches; males average larger than females.
Distribution: The western part of southern Europe. Found mostly in hilly or mountainous country to an altitude of 7,800 feet in the Pyrenees.
Remarks: Disposition generally more sluggish than European viper. Venom of about the same toxicity.
Vipera aspis francisciredi
Homoeopathic name and abbreviation: Vipera aspis; Vip-a; and Vipera redi; Vip-r.
Common names: Asp viper
Distribution: Europe
Range: Northeastern Spain, France, Switzerland, Extreme Southwestern Germany, Italy and Nortwestern Slavonia.
Distribution: Southern Switzerland, Northeastern and Central Italy, Island of Elba and Northeastern Slavonia.
Authority: Linnaeus, 1758 and Laurenti, 1768
(T F Allen) (G H G Jahr)
Journal of the International Herpetological Society, Herpetile 18:4 December 1993, p. 159-164
Viper bite in France – A cautionary tale, Richard Clark
Journal of the International Herpetological Society, Herpetile 18:4 December 1993, p. 159-164
Vollenetoppen 3, 4800 Arenda l, Norway
In the period that I have been actively engaged in herpetology, some 40 years now, I have collected and handled hundreds of venomous snakes and my travels have taken me to many European countries as well as to the Khyber Pass on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have only been bitten twice, on both occasions through oversight and carelessness, and the purpose of this article is to warn other herpetologists that one can never be too careful. The circumstances around the incident to be related may also interest readers as a follow on to Paul Orange’s contribution to the June 1993 edition of The Herpetile.
My first mishap was back in the `605 with a small Vipera ammodytes, the long-nosed viper, in Greece. This occurred while examining a captive specimen and resulted in very little envenomation. An antihistamine injection was given shortly after the bite, serum was administered after about four hours and the symptoms were negligible – a mildly swollen forearm which soon returned to normal. This in itself is quite interesting for Vipera ammodytes is reckoned to be one of the worst of the European vipers. There is evidence that the virulence of the venom varies considerably between populations. According to Otto Wettstein (1953) long-nosed vipers on the Cycladean island of Sikinos are regarded by the inhabitants as virtually harmless, the bite causing only a few hours of discomfort The totally harmless Sand boa, Eryx jaculus, is considered highly dangerous! In my case only one fang penetrated but it is worth comparing my experience with that of Donald Street who received a one-fanged bite from this species in (former) Yugoslavia. Despite almost immediate hospitalisation and treatment he was kept in hospital for a week, and even after 18 months the bitten finger still felt numb and tender (Street, 1979). It is possible that on some of the Greek islands, where the vipers live largely on insects, the venom is not nearly so toxic as in other parts of their range
My second accident was far more serious and occurred in France in the summer of 1992. This took place near Limoges and involved a smallish Asp viper, Vipera aspis, not much over 55 cm. in length. In common with many other herpetologists the annual summer vacation was used to look for reptiles and we had been camping in the Plateau de Millevaches which lies on the western side of the Massif Central. This area of high ground lies around the 600 – 900 metres level and is a refuge for more northerly species such as the Common lizard, Lacerta vivipara, and the Common Adder, Vipera berus. It was primarily to look for the latter species that I visited the area since it is reputed to occur only locally and the overlap zone with the Asp viper is rather uncertain.
The summer of 1992 in France was unusually wet, and after camping in the rain for the best part of three days, and with no prospect of the weather improving, we decided to leave and head back to our holiday cottage near Nontron which had formed the base for earlier herpetological investigations in France (Clark, 1990. Clark, 1991). As we approached Limoges (about 25 km east) the weather began to improve. We pulled into a lay-by which had been part of the old road before it had been improved. There were a lot of bramble clumps between the lay-by and the road itself and the countryside was hilly, partly cultivated with areas of woodland, meadows and hedgerows. Despite the lower latitude, around 500 m, I was still hopeful of finding the Common Adder. The time was 10.30, temperature about l8 degrees C, muggy and with the sun starting to come through.
After about 10 minutes searching a viper was found on the margin of a field and woodland. in all respects this resembled Vipera berus with a definite zig-zag pattern, dark brown well set off against a yellow-brown ground. The belly was entirely black and the tail tip yellow. Subsequent examination of the head scaling showed that this was in fact Vipera aspis and a male. Shortly afterwards, in a field of long grass I nearly stepped on another viper lying on a damp grassy tussock. This was not so strikingly marked being a dull fawn-brown with a broad vertebral stripe with rather darker cross bars. The belly was dark grey and dull orange and the tail tip yellow. This was rather smaller (the male was about 65 cm.) and turned out to be female. Both snakes were bagged without incident, neither having reacted particularly. Further searching produced no more snakes and I returned to the car.
The weather was now quite warm and sunny, and as I approached the car I saw another viper lying on the gravel edge of the tarmac lay-by. It moved off swiftly but I pinned it down with a stick and grasped it with my right hand. The snake reacted instantly and I was rewarded with a sharp jab on the second joint of my index finger. My initial response was one of surprise as the fangs had penetrated the glove I was wearing.
These were leather but with fabric finger pieces and the fangs had found a weakness in the material. Apart from an initial burning sensation I felt no pain. On getting to the car my wife applied a tourniquet and mechanical suction was applied to the bite. This was a patent device on sale in French pharmacies for use in such cases and also for bites and stings by other venomous creatures. The suction was very powerful and probably had some effect. Going by the name of “Aspivenin” it comes in a neat little container with four suction cups of different sizes as is well worth the 40-odd French francs.
The bite was received at 11.55 and by 12.05 I was perspiring somewhat but put this down to the weather. Certainly I felt no panic as I understood the Asp viper to be not especially dangerous. My wife began to drive to Limoges which was about 20 minutes away along a fast road. At 12.10 I was perspiring heavily and having difficulty in focusing. The marked deterioration in vision only 15 minutes after the bite was rather disconcerting. Vomiting started to occur shortly after, by which time we were at the edge of Limoges and my wife started to look for a pharmacy. This was in the prolonged French lunch break and nothing was open. A customer in a cafe at which we’d stopped to ask for directions escorted us to a doctor. It was now 12.30 and having located the doctor diarrhoea set in accompanied by violent vomiting but an improvement, albeit marginal, in my vision. The doctor telephoned the toxicology department at Limoges University hospital who prepared admission and on arrival I was given initial treatment by an efficient team of doctors and nurses.
On admission I was vomiting violently with heavy perspiration and the skin was cold and clammy. There was further diarrhoea and I felt quite ill. By 13.30 vision was normal but severe pains developed in the lower part of the legs causing acute discomfort. This was relieved by intravenously administered paracetamol. By 15.00 I was more comfortable and at 15.30 I was declared out of danger by the head of the team treating me. ECG tests showed normal heart beat and renal tests indicated no kidney damage.
There was no swelling of the finger or hand until later on the first day. On the morning of the second day swelling had extended to the forearm. By the afternoon the fingers started to reduce in size but the hand remained swollen and swelling extended some way above the elbow. The swelling was not painful but quite tender. There was no discoloration or bruising. My condition was closely monitored to see if there was any indication that the swelling was extending onto the chest but this did not occur.
On the morning of the third day I was allowed out of bed but I couldn’t stand for long before the lower limbs became painful. hand and fingers had more or less returned to normal but were still stiff, sore, and difficult to move.
I was discharged in the afternoon of the third day and suffered no relapse. The fingers, hand and forearm remained sore for a couple of days and it was difficult to flex my fingers and driving was not possible.
Thereafter there was a gradual improvement. Treatment had involved 5% glucose and 40 mg heparine by drip and penicillin as an antibiotic. Antiserum, administered in the buttocks, was not given until allergy tests had been conducted. Tetanus is a problem in France and a shot was given before discharge followed by a second a month later on return to Norway, and the third and final injection a year later. I was on oxygen during the time of my hospitalisation. I attribute my full and relatively rapid recovery to the excellent and prompt treatment. Limoges hospital reckon to treat several cases of snake bite every year. This is an area where vipers are plentiful and there are a number of accidents. Although there were no after effects as such, I was stung by a nettle on the right hand five days after my discharge from hospital. This caused instant swelling of the fingers and hand which took several days to return to normal.
Some interesting points emerge from this account. The first obviously is that one cannot be too careful. Despite long experience in catching and dealing with vipers of many species it was a lack of due care and attention that I was bitten. The second is that it is rash in the extreme to depict a snake as “generally placid and non-aggressive”. Individuals react very differently and although Vipera aspis is often docile and placid on being caught, I have encountered a number of individuals with extremely aggressive tendencies and not only on the occasion of my mishap. I have caught Vipera berus which have displayed no reaction at all, but others that held their ground and strike out boldly simply upon being detected. Whereas a snake that is well “warmed up” due to environmental conditions is likely to be more aggressive than one that is not it does not always follow and individuals vary considerably both within populations and between.
The third point I would like to make is the nature of the symptoms experienced. There was little local reaction to the bite. The swelling of tissues, characteristic of viper bite, was slow to develop and relatively insignificant. On the other hand the rapid development of general symptoms was uncharacteristic of haemotoxic envenomation. The indication is that there was a strong neurotoxic element involved. Vipers of the species Vipera aspis from this part of France are assigned to the nominate form, Vipera aspis aspis. I have already commented on the patterning of the vipers I found near Limoges which were quite different from Vipera aspis aspis, resembling Vipera berus in the zig zag vertebral marking. This patterning is much closer to Vipera aspis zinnikeri which occurs in Gascony and Andorra. This subspecies has a more neurotoxic venom than in the nominate subspecies.
It is possible that Vipera aspis zinnikeri has a northward range extension towards Limoges, possibly replacing Vipera aspis aspis at somewhat higher altitudes. The possibility of hybridisation with Vipera berus needs to be taken into account since, as indicated, this species is also found in the immediate area. A characteristic of Vipera aspis zinnikeri is that the dark vertebral zig- zag is paler down the centre (Arnold. Burton and Ovenden, 1978). This was not the case in the strikingly patterned male I caught from near Limoges. Without wishing to be technically pedantic it may be that there exists a form of the Asp viper In the Limoges area that needs resolving taxonomically
France is a most Interesting country for the herpetologist. Just be on your guard when looking for vipers!
Arnold. E.N. , Burton, J.A. and Ovenden, D.W. , 1978. A field guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain and Europe. Collins, London.
Clark, R.J. , 1990. A report on the reptile life of south central France. Brit. Herp. Soc. Bulletin, 31, 11-17.
Clark, R.J. , 1991. Herpetological notes from France. The Herptile, 16(4), 158-165. Journal of the I.H. S.
Street, 0. , 1979. Reptiles of northern and central Europe. Batsford, London.
Wettstein, 0. v. , 1953. Herpetologia aegaea. Sitz.-ber. Ost. Akad. Wiss. Math.- Nat. wiss. 162, 651-833.
Materia medica
Vermeulen’s concordat
Vipera aspis. Aspis adder.
The Aspis adder is widely distributed in central and southern Europe. A vertical spot on the nose distinguishes it from the common adder. The triangular to heart-shaped head clearly stands out from the rather cumbersome body. The body ends in a short and thinnish tail. The colour of the aspis adder is quite varied. For example, some are ash-coloured and others even pitch-black, although shades of yellowish-grey to reddish are also quite common. There are darker spots on the back, which are not always in zigzag lines. In the greyish eyes, the pupils are vertical. The aspis adder is timid and fearful by nature and makes off with great haste when threatened. It lives on steppes, grassy plateaus and stony slopes up to 2000 metres in altitude. Its usual food consists of small mammals, lizards and small snakes. It swallows its prey whole and then returns to its hideout in the shade to digest its meal for the rest of the day. The poison that it injects into its victim plays an important role in the digestion of its prey. Its natural enemies include badgers, hedgehogs and nocturnal birds of prey, which are partly immune to its poison.
Vipera berus. Lachesis. Naja. Aranea ixobola. Buthus australis.
Heart, blood and bloodvessels. Nerves. * Left side.

M Pessimism.
M Nervousness; irritability; disposition to contradict.
Impatience. “Nerves on edge.”
M Dreams of death.
G Chilly.
G { Warm, damp weather.
G Intense thirst for cold drinks.
G Sleepiness during daytime.
G Worse: Warm room.
G Worse: Pressure.
G Better: During menses.
G Better: Gentle motion.
G Throbbing pains.
(head; ears)
G Dryness.
Dry mouth before menses.
G Menses with small, very dark clots or with big red clots.
P Throbbing headache.
Worse: Heat.
Worse: Evening.
Worse: Before menses.
P Heavy sensation in eyes.
Dazzling when raising eyes.
P Dryness of mouth, with pasty tongue, on waking in morning.
P Palpitation of heart at night.
Worse: Lying on left side.
P Spontaneous ecchymoses on arms. (Julian)
P Veins of thighs distended.
Marbled, mottled appearance of thighs.
and Painful heaviness in legs, worse walking.
Better: Raising legs.
Desire: Cold drinks (1).

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