Hungarian Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensi)

The Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) is one of the rarest subspecies of snake in the world and is the most endangered reptile in Europe.[1]

The snake is yellow in colour and identified by a zigzag dorsal pattern on a greyish-brown base. On the back of the head is a butterfly-like pattern.2 Adults average 40-50 cm (16-20 inches) in total length, although specimens of 63-80 cm (25-31½ inches) have been reported. Females are larger than males. [2] With its typical viper-like markings and appearance this species resembles its more dangerous European relatives.  Not surprisingly, therefore, persecution by humans is often a threat to this species, although it actually has a mild venom and very docile temperament.[3]

Outside of Hungary, only one remaining population can be found in Romania and is considered to be Europe’s most endangered snake. Approximate estimations put surviving numbers below 500.

A single, tiny population of was discovered in 2002 on the Transylvanian Plain near Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) by members of the Romanian Herpetological Society.  Although a reasonable population of snakes were present, they occupied a very small area.  The area is surrounded and isolated by agricultural land and was imminently threatened by planned ploughing for maize (ironically by an EU grant to instigate cattle grazing obtained by an absentee).  The Romanian Herpetological Society were successful in their urgent attempts to safeguard this remaining population and, fortunately, the grant was stopped and a LIFE grant[4] approved instead.[5]

3. Mallow D, Ludwig D, Nilson G. 2003. True Vipers: Natural History and Toxinology of Old World Vipers. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida. 359
4. LIFE is the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU, as well as in some candidate, acceding and neighbouring countries.
5. Action Plan for the Conservation of the Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii) in Europe, Council of Europe, 2006, 19