Herpetofauna of Europe : nw italy (july 2016)
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Herpetological trip to northwestern Italy – the hunt for Walser
1st-4th of July 2016

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.

A surprising new viper species was discovered in NW Italy, north of Biella. The European herper elite was gathered and immediately jumped at it, hitting one of the areas where Walser Viper Vipera walser should be.

I was part of a sub-crew that drove from Belgium. We took off in the later afternoon on Friday and stopped at a well-known spot in Switzerland at first light to successfully look for Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra (along with more widespread species like Slow Worm Anguis fragilis, Viviparous Lizard Zootoca vivipara, Alpine Newt Ichthyosaura alpestris, Common Frog Rana temporaria and Common Toad Bufo bufo).


first light


Alpine Salamander Salamandra atra - I love salamanders but photographing them…

We reached our hotel a couple of hours later. Some of our friends, who arrived the night before, were having breakfast. Shaking hands and a hug and a kiss here and there; such a pleasure to meet so many friends together!

Here’s a group picture made later that day, with faces speaking of viper hunt success.


Frank, me, Paul, Morgane, GJ, Anniek, Patrick, Bobby, Peter, Bert, Benny, Jan, Malacka, Matthijs, Wouter (with interesting book) – © nameless tourist

We soon headed uphill to start the highly anticipated search in a beautiful mountain valley. Even though the weather turned nasty and we had to stop searching because of a heavy downpour, a decent number of animals turned up rather quickly, including Italian Slow Worm Anguis veronensis, Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis (at very high abundance during the lower parts of the hike), Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca, Asp Viper Vipera aspis, Viviparous Lizard Zootoca (vivipara) carniolica and some Walser Vipers Vipera walser including a pretty one Morgane found and which resulted in all happy faces.


it’s going to rain and rain and rain …


after two chunky asps, Jan caught this first, not too attractive juvenile Vipera walser


Walser Viper Vipera walser - strong female Peter spotted


Walser Viper Vipera walser

The next day, sunny skies and fairly hot weather, but several of the three snake species popped up again.


viper hunting – Wouter and Bert


Asp Viper Vipera aspis - a fairly aspis-like ‘atra’


a smoothie each – Wouter and Peter with Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca


one of many – Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca


Viviparous Lizard Zootoca (vivipara) carniolica


Patrick demonstrating the principle of “think before you climb”


Matthijs, Peter and Wouter up on the beautiful plateau




descending buddies – Matthijs and Wouter


picture time with Patrick, Matthijs, Wouter and Bert


Walser Viper Vipera walser - Morgane’s beauty


this is probably a real stunner after shedding – Asp Viper Vipera aspis


GJ found this walser that was surprisingly similar to the one Morgane found


Walser Viper Vipera walser


Walser Viper Vipera walser

We decided to start earlier on day n°3, which was already our final day. Heavy cloud cover, however, so we (i.e. the four who drove from Belgium) took our chances to drive to a great spot in Switzerland, rather than to wait for weather conditions that might never come. Soon, we were in Switzerland, where sunny weather was the norm. Already fairly late in the day and hot when we reached a famous aspis walhalla, but we fortunately still managed to find a few.


back at a great spot


Asp Viper Vipera aspis - I really love those heavy-patterned animals


Asp Viper Vipera aspis


Asp Viper Vipera aspis


Asp Viper Vipera aspis


Asp Viper Vipera aspis


tired, happy, sad – home again with Patrick and Wouter, ‘bye snake heaven!

What we’ve learned

* The (very) high wall lizard numbers at lower elevation do not seem to be replaced with Viviparous numbers higher up at all, even in swampy, boggy areas.

* Asp Viper is everywhere. Everywhere, really. Everywhere.

* Walser Viper looks exactly like certain Adder Vipera berus, but/so can be pretty.

* Too short a visit to get a hang of potential niche segregation between the two viper species, as we found them very close together in both drier, sunnier as well as wetter and more shady places. But with only 9 Walsers and 10-15 Asps, it is hard to draw conclusions. The ever changing weather plays such an important role, and you just cannot scrutinize steep mountains slopes as you would scan a heathland or similar habitat closer to our home.

* Walser does not seem to be particularly rare, but we were a big team. With variable dedication and skill, though, but most of us found at least one snake, whereas one hero found 24.

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Last update: July 06, 2016 08:51:13