Black Sea viper (Vipera pontica)

GenusVipera (1)

The Black Sea viper is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The extremely rare Black Sea viper (Vipera pontica) is a striking snake with a dark brown and black zigzag band running along its back. It has an upturned, hornless snout and a yellow-green tail tip, similar to that of the asp viper (Vipera aspis). Its body is mostly dark brown and beige in colour (2).

There are four other similar species in the kaznakovi group which the Black Sea viper belongs to. The Caucasus subalpine viper (Vipera dinniki) has a similar head shape to that of the Black Sea viper (2).  

The Black Sea viper is found in northeast Turkey within the Pontic Black Sea Region (1).

The habitat of the Black Sea viper consists of rocky areas on forested mountains, and it is also associated with Mediterranean vegetation (1).

There is limited specific information on the biology of the Black Sea viper due to the rarity of this species. However, vipers, in general, are one of the largest and most highly evolved groups of snakes (3). Like the Caucasian viper, the Black Sea viper is camouflaged to help catch its prey, which mostly consists of small mammals (4). Vipers are typically slow moving, however, once their prey is sighted, they can strike rapidly. The fangs of vipers are typically folded back against the roof of the mouth, allowing the jaw to be closed (3) (4), but can be erected by muscles when needed (4). After being bitten, the prey is often released, leaving it to seemingly escape; however, the venom then acts on the prey’s blood or nervous systems, and the snake can then track down and consume the dead or dying animal (4).

It is estimated that there are probably fewer than 250 mature individuals of this rare and beautiful snake. Habitat loss is a potential threat to the Black Sea viper, with some land being cleared for motorway construction. The Black Sea viper is not known to be found in any protected areas (1).

This species has not yet been recorded as being sold in the pet trade (1).

There are no known specific conservation measures in place for the Black Sea viper. Protected areas in the range of the Black Sea viper need to be established to preserve this exceptionally rare snake. Known populations need to be monitored and more studies need to be carried out to determine the distribution and ecology of the species (1).

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  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
  2. Billing, H., Nilson, G. and Sattler, U. (1990) Vipera pontica sp.n., a new viper species in the kaznakovi group (Reptilia, Viperidae) from northeastern Turkey and adjacent Transcaucasia. Zoologica Scripta, 19: 227-231.
  3. Khanna, D.R. and Yadav, P.R. (2004) Biology of Reptiles. Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi.
  4. Hildyard, A. (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World: Volume 12. Marshall Cavendish, New York.