The 'Asp Viper' (Vipera aspis) is the most commonly found poisonous snake in Italy. It is also sometimes known as the 'Asp", 'European Asp', 'Aspic Viper' and 'Jura Viper'.
Male Asps can be up to 85 cm long whereas females are rarely more than 75 cm. Males are a little slimmer than females.
The head is broad, triangular shape with an upturned snout. The colouring varies from a light grey to a reddish-brown, with a great variety of different markings which rarely take the form of a clear zigzag. They can be also a uniform colour, even black. Generally, the males tend to be more grey in colour and females browner.
In Italy, it is mainly found in low mountain or hilly areas, where there are streams, shrubs or wooded areas. However, it has also been found down on the plains and above 2,000 metres. Above all, it needs warm areas that are exposed to the sun, which are not hard to find in Italy!
The 'Asp Viper' is responsible for 90% of all snakebites in Italy. It has large, tubular, hinged fangs located in the front of their mouth which can be folded back when not being used. The bite is deep and very painful and its venom is stronger than that of the Adder. The effects of a snake bite from an 'Asp' include acute pain which spreads rapidly, followed by swelling and discoloration. It can cause impaired vision, paralysis of the bitten area, difficulty in breathing and swallowing and in extreme cases can cause renal failure and death. Healthy adult humans can overcome the effects of a snake bite relatively easily and only 4% of untreated bites are fatal. However, anyone bitten by a snake should go immediately to hospital emergency (Pronto Soccorso) to be treated with anti-venom.
Although the Asp Viper thrives well in Italy, the species generally is listed as protected and should be treated with respect.
© Understanding Italy 2008
This article has been especially commissioned for Understanding Italy. Any reproduction of this material, all or in part, is strictly forbidden.