|Prof. Dr. Bayram GÖÇMEN|
Zoologist, Herpetologist, Protozoologist/Parasitologist, Nature Photographer
10. SNAKES IN CYPRUS
10.1. Family: Typhlopidae
Typhlops vermicularis MERREM, 1820 (Worm Snake)
Identification: A slender snake rather like an earthworm. Head inconspicuous, not easily distinguishable from the tail; mouth subterminal; very short tail wide as long, with a small spine at tip. Eyes underneath scales, visible as two small black dots; Rostral plate approximately 1/3 of the head width, reaching up to the level of eyes on top of head; nasal partly divided; preocular present; 4 supralabials. Dorsal and ventral scales quite similar and cycloid shaped, in 21-24 rows around body, a dark spot at the posterior edge of each scale. Total length of the cylindrical snake around 25-35 cm, diameter may up to be 1 cm. The dorsum is pinkish or yellowish-brown; the venter yellowish.
Habitat & Biology: Mainly subterranean, inhabits damp soils or found under stones, fossorially preys on insect larvae and ants. When handled, tries to sting with the small spine at the end of its tail. No detailed data on its breeding biology, a female lays 4-8 eggs.
Distribution: Westwards from Afghanistan, widespread in Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, E Bulgaria, Albania and the southern parts of former Yugoslavia; with a vertical distribution to 1500-1600 m (Böhme & Wiedl, 1994; Göçmen et al., 1996a; Baran & Atatür, 1998).
10.2. Family: Colubridae
Coluber jugularis LINNAEUS, 1758 (Large Whip Snake)
Current scientific name: Dolichophis jugularis
Identification: Head well defined; total length up to 300 cm, being the longest snake of Cyprus. Pupils round. Usually 2 preoculars, the upper one bigger; usually 2, rarely 3 postoculars; usually 8, rarely 7 supralabials. 19 rows of smooth dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 189-215 and 99-128 respectively.
The dorsum of young gray brown with dun-coloured and black maculations, in adults bright black. Under of head in adults yellowish-red, without maculations. The venter is red with roundish black markings (in the nominate race on Turkey and Aegean islands) . In young the venter is yellowish-white, with blackish markings only at the edges.
Habitat & Biology: Lives in dry, open places, meadows, rocky river banks, rocky-stony slopes, fields and swamps; can also be seen in gardens, vineyards and cemeteries. Hides under stones and in rodent galleries. Feeds on rodents, birds, chicks and lizards; sometimes even on other snakes.
Not poisonous, but bites readily. Usually does not retreat and tries to defend itself by producing a hissing sound. A female lays 7-11 eggs. Quite useful in agricultural pest control, consuming crop-harming rodents.
Distribution: Widespread in Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Iraq,
Lebanon, Jordan and Israel; with a vertical distribution to 1000 m. Occurs in Cyprus
anywhere (Böhme & Wiedl, 1994; Göçmen et al., 1996a; Baran & Atatür,
It is represented with the race, C. jugularis cypriacus Zinner, 1972 characterized with mostly black venter, anteriorly speckled with some red, on Cyprus. It is an endemic subspecies for Cyprus (Osenegg, 1989; Schätti & Sigg, 1989; Böhme & Wiedl, 1994; Göçmen et al.,1996a).
Coluber cypriensis SCHÄTTI, 1985 (Cyprus Whip Snake)
Current scientific name: Hierophis cypriensis
Identification: Head well defined, it has a long and slender body reaching in length up to 110 cm. It is an endemic and apparently uncommon species from Cyprus.
Generally resembles juveniles of the Large Whip Snake, Coluber jugularis. Usually 2 preoculars, the upper one bigger; usually 2 postoculars; usually 8 supralabials; typically 17 rows of smooth dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals vary between 202-204 and 124-132, respectively.
The dorsum is black, dark brown or olive-brown with dun-coloured and black maculations, and also a well-defined white ring around the eyes.
Habitat & Biology: This snake species was identified recently and therefore, little information is known about its habitat. It prefers rocky areas covered with vegetation, is a diurnal species and feeds mainly on lizards.
It has a relatively large mouth with small sharp teeth without venom. The Budak’s Snake-eyed Skink, Ablepharus budaki Göçmen et al., 1996 is an appropriate pray for this species. Judging from its body, it must be a good climber.
Distribution: This is an another endemic reptile species of Cyprus Island. Occurs in Akamas, the Paphos forest and in a few other areas of the Paphos district. No record from Northern Cyprus yet (Schätti, 1985; Böhme & Wiedl, 1994; Göçmen et al., 1996a).
Coluber najadum (EICHWALD, 1831) (Dahl’s Whip Snake)
Current scientific name: Platyceps najadum
Identification: A slender snake with a total length up to 140 cm. Eyes large, with round pupils. 2 preoculars, rarely 1 or 3; 2 postoculars; usually 8, sometimes 9 or 7 supralabials. Usually 19, rarely 17 rows of smooth dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 200-236 and 100-140, respectively. The dorsum is gray or bluish-brown anteriorly, yellowish or reddish-brown posteriorly. Sides of neck with a row of roundish black markings, the rims of which are lighter coloured; these get smaller posteriorly and disappear before reaching the body. The front and back edges of the eyes are surrounded with a thin yellowish band. The venter is immaculate, yellowish-white.
Habitat & Biology: Usually found in dry, stony and bushy places; also seen in gardens, at the edges of cultivated fields and quite near to houses. Can climb on bushes and trees. Feeds on lizards and insects. Very quick moving, keeps anterior part of its body above ground while speeding along, hence nicknamed as “arrow snake”. A poisonless diurnal species, females of which lay 3-5 eggs.
Distribution: Known from Northern Cyprus, the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula, Turkey, Syria and Iran; with a vertical distribution to 1800 m. First record on the presence of this snake in Cyprus was reported by Boulenger (1910). An alcohol material dated from 1962 collected from K. Kaymakli-Nicosia (Northern Cyprus) is present in the ZDEU (Zoology Department of Ege University, Izmir, Turkey) collection. Recently seen in Lapethos-Kyrenia (Northern Cyprus) by Göçmen in 1996 (Göçmen et al., 1996a). Apparently, this snake species faces a serious threat of extinction in Cyprus as the Schneider’s Skink, Eumeces schneideri and the Grass Snake, Natrix natrix.
Coluber nummifer REUSS, 1834 (Coin Snake)
Current scientific name: Hemorrhois nummifer
Identification: Head large and distinct; total length up to 140 cm. Pupils round. Usually 3 preoculars; usually 2, sometimes 3 and rarely 4 postoculars; usually 9, sometimes 8 or 10 supralabials. 23-25 rows of keeled dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 196-214 and 79-89 respectively. The dorsum is yellowish or gray brown, usually with roundish dun-coloured maculations, which sometimes join together. Dark markings on top and sides of head. Flanks with two rows of dark blotches. Dorsal and lateral markings form stripes or lines on tail. The venter is yellowish-white with blackish spots.
Habitat & Biology: Prefers rocky areas with scanty vegetation. Usually feeds on lizards, small mammals, birds and chicks; also on gekkonids, occurring at the cearthen roofed houses. A quick moving and readily biting species, but poisonless. A female lays 5-10 eggs.
Distribution: Widespread in Cyprus Island, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Aegean islands; with a vertical distribution to 2000 m (Göçmen et al., 1996a; Baran & Atatür, 1998).
Eirenis modestus (MARTIN, 1838) (Dwarf Snake)
Current scientific name: Eirenis levantinus
Identification: A slender bodied species with a total length up to 70 cm. Pupils round; usually 1 rarely 2 preoculars; 2 postoculars, rarely 1 or 3; 7 supralabials, rarely 8. Usually 17, rarely 19 rows of dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 143-189 and 51-81, respectively.
The dorsum is yellowish-brown; black blotches on the head and nape distinct in young, not so or completely lacking in mature and old specimens. The dorsum usually immaculate, but in some with more or less dun-coloured markings. The venter is yellowish-white, without maculations.
Habitat & Biology: Lives in rocky areas with sparse vegetation. Shelters under stones. Feeds on insects and spiders, even earthworms etc. A female lays 3-8 eggs.
Distribution: Is widespread in Cyprus, the Caucasus, NW Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and in some Aegean islands; with a vertical distribution to 2000 m.
In Cyprus, it is apparently an uncommon species and so, only once was seen in Lapethos-Kyrenia (Northern Cyprus) by Göçmen in 1997 (Schmidtler, 1984; Osenegg, 1989; Baran & Atatür, 1998).
Natrix natrix (LINNAEUS, 1758) (Grass Snake)
Identification: A distinctly slender necked snake, with a total length up to 150 cm. A single preocular, rarely 2; 3 postoculars, rarely 2 or 4; 7 supralabials, rarely 6 or 8. Usually 19, rarely 17 or 18 rows of keeled dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 162-184 and 50-80, respectively. The dorsum is gray or buff-brown, rarely black. Over this ground colouration, usually two light coloured longitudinal lines present, but sometimes not distinct or absent. Between and lateral to these lines, black blotches are seen. Yellow half-moons usually distinct at posterolaterals of head. A row of black markings on flanks. The venter is yellowish-white, more or less with black markings.
Habitat & Biology: Prefers grasslands and rocky-stony places close to a water body; also seen in calm waters or streams, in gardens and cultivated fields, barns or houses. When handled does not bite, but secretes an evil smelling liquid from anal gland; sometimes plays dead, lying on back with mouth open. Feeds on frogs and toads, small fish and rodents. A female lays 6-13 eggs, sometimes a lot of eggs are laid in the same nest by more than a few females.
Distribution: Its range extends from Europe, NW Africa towards east to Middle Asia, including Cyprus; with a vertical distribution to 2400 m. It is the rarest snake of Cyprus and, due to its adaptation to aquatic habitats, also the most vulnerable and endangered one. Believed to be extinct since the sixties (Schmidtler, 1984; Osenegg, 1989; Schätti & Sigg, 1989). Wiedl & Böhme (1992) rediscovered a seemingly intact, reproducing population in the northern foothills of Mt. Troodos (District Nicosia). The subspecific status of this population in the southern part of the Island is not clear (N. natrix cypriaca?). However, among the few voucher specimens of this snake known from Cyprus, there is a record from Gönyeli-Nicosia (Northern Cyprus) (ZDEU 117/1960). This indicates a formerly wide distribution rather than a restriction to higher and therefore cooler elevations. This specimen belongs to N. n. persa (Pallas, 1814) (Göçmen et al., 1996a).
Telescopus fallax (FLEISCHMANN, 1831) (Cat Snake)
Identification: A slender necked and broad headed snake with a total length up to 70-80 cm. Eyes small, with vertical pupils. A single preocular; 2 postoculars, rarely I or 3; 8 supralabials, sometimes 7 or 9. 19, rarely 21 rows of smooth dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 169-243 and 47-78 respectively. The dorsum is gray brown with black maculations, which become faded towards the posterior of body. A dark temporal stripe present. A row of maculations also on flanks. The venter is yellowish-white, with dun-coloured marblings.
Habitat & Biology: Prefers stony areas, sunny rocky slopes, sandy places with bushy plant cover adjacent to roads and ruins. Feeds on lizards and small mammals. Forages at dawn and dusk, killing its prey with venom, then swallowing. Has fangs at back of upper jaw, so not dangerous to man. A female lays 7-8 eggs.
Distribution: Widespread in Cyprus, SW Asia, Balkan countries, Turkey and Aegean islands; with a vertical distribution to 1600 m. It is one of the most frequently encountered snake species in Northern Cyprus and represented with an endemic subspecies, T. f. cyprianus (Baran, 1976; Göçmen et al., 1996a).
Malpolon monspessulanus (HERMANN, 1804) (Montpellier Snake)
Current scientific name: Malpolon insignitus
Identification: A slender bodied narrow headed snake with a total length up to 200 cm. Eyes large, with a longitudinal depression or groove between them. A single preocular; 2, rarely 3 postoculars; 8, sometimes 9 supralabials. 17 or 19 rows of slightly grooved dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 155-190 and 67-102, respectively. The dorsum of adults greenish-gray brown and without maculations; in young, gray or brown, with small blackish blotches, the edges of which are lined in white. The venter is whitish or yellowish-white, with black or gray spots.
Habitat & Biology: Prefers open, sparsely vegetated, rocky and dry habitats, also seen around irrigation ditches in gardens. Feeds on lizards, small mammals and birds. Prey animals are killed within minutes by its venom, however its fangs are small and at back of upper jaw, so not very effective on humans, but still can produce numbing, stiffness and swelling. A female lays 4-12 eggs.
Distribution: Its range includes Cyprus, S Europe, Turkey, N Africa and W Asia; with a vertical distribution to 1500 m. In Cyprus, can be encountered everywhere. The race inhabited in Cyprus and adjacent mainlands is M. m. insignitus (Geoffroy-St. Hilaire, 1827) (Osenegg, 1989; Schätti & Sigg, 1989; Böhme & Wiedl, 1994; Baran & Atatür, 1998).
Vipera lebetina (LINNAEUS, 1758) (Blunt-nosed Viper)
Current scientific name: Macrovipera lebetina
Identification: A stout snake with a total length up to 130-180 cm, the most stout and dangerous snake species of Cyprus. Top of the head covered with small, keeled scales, including over the eyes. Pupils vertical; the ring of scales around the eyes consists of 14-18 scales. Usually 3, rarely 2 rows of scales between eyes and supralabials. 10 supralabials, sometimes 9 or 11. 25, rarely 27 rows of keeled dorsal scales at mid-body. Ventrals and subcaudals between 155-180 and 35-58 respectively. The dorsum is gray or dun-brown, usually with distinct large blackish maculations, which are sometimes two pieced, and their edges surrounded with dun-coloured bands, their middles brick-red. Temporal stripes faded; a row of dark maculations on flanks. The venter is slightly pinkish-yellow or white, with black spots.
Habitat & Biology: Frequents flat meadows or pastures without trees and rocky places; seen also in ruins, cultivated fields and gardens. Largely nocturnal, feeds on small rodents, birds, lizards and snakes; swallowing its prey after striking and killing it. A poisonous species with a venom which may be dangerous to man, or fatal if not treated, but does not strike if not disturbed. The ovoviviparous females give birth to 5-7 young.
Distribution: Its range includes Cyprus, N Africa, Cyclades, Turkey, W and Middle Asia; with a vertical distribution to 2000 m. This venoumous snake species of Northern Cyprus, is frequently seen in the vicinity of Geçitköy (Panagra), Karsiyaka (Vasilia) and Lapta (Lapethos) (District Kyrenia) and also in Karpaz District. It is represented with the nominate race, V. lebetina lebetina which is an endemic subspecies for Cyprus (Osenegg, 1989; Schätti & Sigg, 1989; Böhme & Wiedl, 1994; Göçmen et al.,1996a). Böhme & Wiedl (1994) detected a specimen from the vicinity of Paphos, which had a markedly raised superciliary edge on the right side only, form a small but distinct, anterodorsaly-directed “horn”.
Figure 35: Typhlops vermicularis specimens, photo by M. K. Atatür.
Figure 36: A Typhlops vermicularis specimen from Gönyeli (Nicosia), photo by B. Göçmen.
Figure 37: An adult Coluber jugularis (ssp. jugularis) specimen, photo by M. K. Atatür.
Figure 39: A juvenile specimen of Coluber jugularis, photo by S. C. Anderson (from Leviton et. al., 1992).
Figure 40: A Coluber cypriensis specimen from Southern Cyprus, photo by Teschner (from Schätti & Sigg, 1989).
Figure 41: Head of a Coluber cypriensis from Southern Cyprus, photo by A. Demetropoulos (from http:// www.cosmosnet.net /cyprus/ explore/ 3snake.htm).
Head of a Coluber najadum specimen, Photo by B. Göçmen.
Figure 42: A Coluber najadum specimen, photo by S. Üçüncü.
Figure 43: A Coluber nummifer specimen from Serdarli (Nicosia), photo by B. Göçmen.
A close-up appearance of the head of Eirenis modestus, photo by B. Göçmen.
Figure 44: An adult and a juvenile specimen of Eirenis modestus, photo by M. K. Atatür.
Figure 45: A Natrix natrix specimen, photo by S. Üçüncü.
Figure 46: A Telescopus fallax specimen from Gönyeli (Nicosia), photo by B. Göçmen.
Figure 47: A detail from the specimen in fig. 46, photo by B. Göçmen.
A close-up appearance of the head of an adult Malpolon monspessulanus from Cyprus photo by B. Göçmen.
Figure 48: A Malpolon monspessulanus specimen, photo by B. Schätti (from Schätti & Sigg, 1989).
Figure 49: A Vipera lebetina specimen from Geçitköy (Kyrenia), photo by B. Göçmen.
Figure 50: A general view of Lapethos (Kyrenia) from the mountain, a biotope of Vipera lebetina and Ophisops elegans, photo by B. Göçmen.
©Bayram GÖÇMEN, All Rights Reserved.