Saturday, March 8, 2014

Genus: Vipera

Systematics is a fascinating science. It is a perfect picture of the Modern impulse to try to classify everything, and how feeble that endeavor is. In the Order Serpentes, for example, things change so much. In the three or so decades that I have watched things, the family structure of Serpentes has changed multiple times going from around eight families to eighteen and whole families have been absorbed and split as scientists make arguments for better systems.

This is a fascinating order, and as always I have a hard time narrowing the interesting examples down to a few favorites. So, here are my ten favorite genera from the family Vipera (around 236 total species):

10. Vipera

The “boring” plain genus including the most common, European types is fascinating due to its close association with our Western culture.

Vipera berus Common European Adder

Vipera ammodytes Horend Viper

9. Echis

Desert vipers from Africa and the Middle East. Highly poisonous and interesting due to their tendancy to stridulate. Possible candidate for the “fiery serpents” from the Book of Numbers.

Echis pyramidum Egyptian Saw-scaled Viper

8. Cerastes

Another stridulating, desert species. They bury themselves in sand and wait for passing prey. A picture of this species in National Geographic Explorer Magazine freaked me out about deserts.  

Cerastes cerastes Saharan Horned Viper

7. Bitis

The heaviest, and one of the most beautiful vipers. Gaboons have the longest fangs.

Bitis gabonica Gaboon Viper

6. Sistrurus

One of two genera known as rattlesnakes. These are a little smaller and are often pretty little snakes. Whenever I found a Great Plains Ratsnake in the wild I would always have to consider closely before grapping, as the look a lot like the Massasauga. Pigmy rattlesnakes are so small they are hard to consider threatening.

Sistrurus catenatus Massasauga

Sistrurus miliarius Pigmy Rattlesnake

5. Atheris


Coolest looking?

Atheris hispida Spiny Bush Viper

4. Tropidolaemus

These are famous due to a high concentration that live inside an Asian temple. Supposedly, these worshiped serpents do not bite their adorers.

Tropidolaemus wagleri Wagler’s Pit Viper or Temple Viper

3. Crotalus

The bigger rattlesnake genus. Maybe the most famous and legendary snakes. Some are very beautiful, all are not to be messed with. Crotalus atrox is the only viper I have ever captured and held.

Crotalus atrox Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Crotalus cerastes Sidewinder

Crotalus horridus Timber Rattlesnake

Crotalus Lepidus Rock Rattlesnake

2. Agkistrodon

Boring genus if it weren’t for the fact that the most beautiful North American species of snake belonged to it.

Agkistrodon contortrix Copperhead

1. Bothriechis

The palm vipers are the prettiest, most evil looking things going.

Bothriechis schleglii Eyelash Palm-pitviper

Bothriechis aurifer Yellow-blotched Palm-pitviper

(Photos are from Wikipedia)

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