The Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes) naturally occurs in southern Europe through to the Balkans and parts of the Middle East. The species name, ammodytes, comes from the Greek words “ammos” meaning “sand” and “dytäs” meaning “diver”. This name “sand-diver” is not really a good name as the snake is not a sand-diver at all. It has until rather recently been called “Sand Viper”, but is now called Long-nosed Viper, although you will find the names “Sand Viper”, “Sand Adder” and “Long-nosed viper” in literature too.
These are heavily built snakes, which will grow to around 80cm in the wild. In captivity they are more likely to reach sizes of around 95cm and more. Males tend to grow longer than females, although they are more slender. It has a typical triangular head and both males and females have a diagonally forward-facing horn on their snout. The horn is soft and can be bent in all directions. The purpose of this horn is as yet unknown.
Both males and females have a dorsal zigzag-band, running from the neck to the cloaca on the back, and both genders have spots on both sides of the body, often in the same colour as the zigzag-band. Males are brighter in colouration than females and have sharper markings on the dorsal zigzag-band and on the face, making it fairly easy to see the gender of an individual. The species has a large variety of colours, from light grey to almost black in the ground colour to really beautiful colours ranging from beige, lemon yellow and orange to red and brown. The tail is red, green, orange or yellowish and sometimes tells the subspecies apart. Melanistic and patternless snakes have been recorded as well as striped ones, and even albino specimens have been found.
Subspecies and spreading
European nose-horned viper Vipera ammodytes ammodytes): (Linnaeus 1758) Austria, north-eastern Italy and Slovenia.
Southern nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes meridionalis): (Boulenger 1903) Southern Macedonia, southern Albania and Greece to western European Turkey.
Dobrudja nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes montandoni): (Boulenger 1904) Romania, Northern Bulgaria (to the Black Sea) to European Turkey.
South Tyrol nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes ruffoi): (Bruno 1968) Only found in the surroundings of Bolzano, Alto Adige Italy.
Please note that the taxonomy regarding the subspecies is still under investigation.
The natural habitat of Horned-vipers in is dry and warm areas, like rocky and bushy slopes. The species lives in coastal areas as well as in mountainous regions and can be found from sea-level to as high as 2000 meters above sea-level.
The question everyone asks: how venomous is it? The venom of Nose-horn Vipers is probably the strongest of the European vipers, except maybe for Macrovipera schweizeri and Montivipera xanthina. The bottom line is this snake should only be kept by experienced venomous snake keepers – no one else!
Vipera ammodytes’ venom is used in the production of antivenin for the bite of other European vipers. The snake is farmed for this purpose. The venom has both proteolytic (directed degradation of proteins by cellular enzymes) and neurotoxic components (a toxin that acts specifically on nerve cells). It contains hemotoxins (toxins that destroy red blood cells, disrupt blood clotting, and/or cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage) with blood coagulant properties. These are similar to, and almost as powerful as, crotalid venom. Other properties include anticoagulant effects, hemoconcentration and hemorrhage.
In some areas the snake is at least a significant medical risk. In the past, fatalities were relatively frequent in the Balkans because the peasants there had a habit of walking barefoot and working with naked hands. Life threatening or deadly bites are expressed as rare today, usually it comes to local symptoms of intoxication. Pain is usually strong, a swelling occurs within 2 hours of a bite.
General symptoms of intoxication: vomiting, heart palpitations, cramps, anaphylactic shock, and possibly unconsciousness.
There are fewer than 10 recorded deaths by bites of this species since 1970 in Europe according to information collected by Mario Schweiger.
This snake is not normally aggressive in the wild, but will in case of disturbance defend themselves by hissing loudly and sometimes bite. In captivity they are quite calm and seem to be curious, coming forward to look when you walk up to them. They’re often stretched out in full body length or curled up fully visible on a flat stone, and not in a defensive “s”-shaped way.
The enclosure for these should be medium sized, which is around 70cm long x 50cm high x 50cm wide – this will be suitable for a pair. Substrate can be a sand mixture but for hygienic purposes newspaper also works well. I think it is good to have some hides, rocks and plastic plants to help make the snakes feel secure. A water bowl with fresh water is needed at all times. Ambient temperatures should be kept at around 24-26°C with a basking spot of around 32-35°C. It is recommended that you put your hot spot, whether it be heating cables or a heat lamp, on a timer and turn it off for 12 hours at night and allow the temperature to drop to around 20°C. This will provide a natural day-night temperature cycle. It is recommended to spray animals lightly in the mornings. When we say light it must be light and should dry out in a few hours. No UVB or special lighting requirements are needed for this species.
Make sure that your enclosure is set up in a way that allows you to see the whole interior area just from changing your angle of view without opening the terrarium. That way you can always “count-in” your animal/s. You don’t want to be surprised by a hiding snake.
Always handle this species with a hook or tongs. Do never “free handle”, as it is really powerful!
Nose-horn Vipers will eat mice, young rats and Gerbils and will easily adapt to eating frozen/thawed pray. In nature they eat rodents, and sometimes lizards and birds.
Feed young animals with 1-2 pinkie mice once every 10-14 days, and adults with 1-2 adult mice once every 14-21 days. Feed more in the autumn because they need to put on some weight before hibernation, especially females as they ovulate in the autumn.
Sexual maturity is reached at about two and a half to three years of age for captive bred animals and they can produce one clutch of snakes per year if all their requirements are met. To breed Nose-horned Vipers they will need to be put through an 8-10 week hibernation period. Temperatures need to be cold, from around 3 – 7°C, in a dark and relatively dry environment. Spray them lightly once every two weeks to give them an opportunity to drink. Do not offer any food during this hibernation period.
In their natural habitat mating season is from April to May, in captivity mating occurs 1-3 weeks after hibernation is over and the males have shed their skin. After about 3 months of gestation 5 – 18 babies are born measuring 15 – 22 centimetres. Babies will shed their skin soon after birth and are much more aggressive then the adults. Tease feeding them to eat is often straightforward and after about a week they are ready to eat a pinkie. I would recommend you to raise them separately as cannibalism is quite common.
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