Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Europe’s Most Endangered Viper


Vipera ursinii macrops from Mount Dinara,
Croatia. Photo credit: Zwentibold
The Meadow Viper’s (Vipera ursinii) wide distribution is heavily fragmented. The small viper is found in Italy, France, Hungary, Romania and the Balkan Peninsula. And, it is thought to be extirpated from Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova and Austria; making it the most endangered viper in Europe. Its ecology has been studied in several locations but, a population in Romania’s Danube Delta has been neglected. Alexandru Strugariu and colleagues have now examined the Danube Delta population and estimate it contains 321 individuals in a 62 hectare area. Juveniles were present in their sample, and gravid females composed half the specimens captured. They found microhabitats and activity patterns varied with age and sex of the individuals and suggest these are linked to changes in feeding and reproductive activity. Gravid female viper were active in the early morning, in low areas and in microhabitats that were open with salt-tolerant vegetation; while non-gravid females were more active during later hours and only in bush grass habitats that were dense. 

The Romanian Danube Delta population of the Meadow viper coincides with the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve so it is at least in part protected. The population is recognized as V. u. moldavica, a subspecies known from Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova.

Citation
Strugariu, A., S. R. Zamfirescu, I. Gherghel, T. C. Sahlean, V. Moraru & O. Zamfirescu. 2011. A preliminary study on population characteristics and ecology of the critically endangered meadow viper Vipera ursinii in the Romanian Danube Delta. Biologia 66:175-180.

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