Herpetofauna of Europe : nw italy (july 2016)
Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

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