The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Viper

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VIPER (Lat. vivipara, bringing forth young alive), the common name of the viperidæ, a family of old world venomous serpents, distinguished from the rattlesnakes of the new by the absence of pits on the sides of the face and rattles on the tail. There are about 20 species, most abundant in warm climates, and especially in Africa; three species occur in Europe. The common European viper or adder (vipera [pelias] berus, Daud.) rarely attains a length of more than 2 ft.; the general color is yellowish or olive brown, with a double row of black spots on the back, sometimes united into bands, and paler on the sides with black spots; the single abdominal scutes are about 140, and the caudal 40 to 43 pairs; the eyes are small and very brilliant. It is distributed over Europe, from Sweden and N. Russia to the Mediterranean; it is the only venomous reptile found in Great Britain, where it is common in some parts, especially on the heaths and in the hedges of dry stony districts. Unlike the common snake, it faces any suspected enemy, with body closely coiled, head and neck raised and ready to strike as soon as it comes within reach; dogs when hunting are frequently bitten, but not often killed. Its poison is powerful enough to produce very painful and occasionally dangerous effects, particularly in warm regions and in debilitated constitutions; after a viper bite there is acute pain in the wound, with livid swelling, faintness, quick and irregular pulse, nausea and vomiting, and cold sweats. The remedies relied upon by viper catchers are draughts of olive oil and embrocations to the limb in front of a fire; the application of cupping glasses to the wound, and the internal administration of ammonia or of alcoholic stimulants, are generally sufficient. The viper remains torpid in winter in holes, many being twined together; the young are born alive, 12 to 20 at a birth, the membrane of the eggs, according to Bell, being burst at the moment of exclusion; the food consists of insects, worms, mice, shrews, young birds, &c. — The horned viper (cerastes Hasselquistii, Laur.) is about 14 in. long, in color above ranging from ashy gray to yellowish red and even much darker, with indistinct spots, and pale rose below with a pearly lustre; the scales are lancet-shaped and strongly ridged; the head is triangular, and made very distinct from the neck by the prominence of the angles of the jaws; near the middle of each arched eyebrow in the male is a slender, pointed spine or horn, slightly bent forward, which, though not a weapon, gives the head a malignant look; the body is thick, and the tail short and suddenly pointed. It is found in northern Africa, Arabia, and western Asia, and was well known to the ancients; it is the serpent represented on the Egyptian monuments, and has been supposed to have been the asp by which Cleopatra destroyed herself. (See Asp.) It is indolent in habit, remaining buried in the hot sand till aroused by hunger or attacked, when it is very active, springing 2 or 3 ft.; when it bites it retains a firm hold, and makes no haste to escape like most serpents. A species named nasicornis, perhaps a variety of the last, is found in W. Africa; it is about 3 ft. long and 9 in. in circumference, its horns giving it a very repulsive look; it feeds principally on rats, small reptiles, and fish of marshy places; its bite is much dreaded by the natives, and is often speedily fatal; they suck the wound, make a free incision, and apply the juices of particular plants; it makes its presence known by a sound like a suppressed groan, followed by a hissing or blowing sound; it darts forward from its powerful tail as a fulcrum. The common cerastes is still a favorite species with Arabian snake charmers in their public exhibitions. The short-tailed viper or puff adder (V. [clotho] arietans, Schl.), from the Cape of Good Hope, is the most deadly serpent of S. Africa; it is about 3 ft. long and 2 in. in diameter, brown, with an angular cross band, a pale line behind it and a red band across the eyes. The viper is one of the reptiles which have a distribution very far north, and the furthest of the snakes. It is popularly believed to take its young when in danger into its throat; though some have declared this impossible, there is reason to believe it true, according to Dr. Crisp (“Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London,” 1855, p. 191).


AmCyc Viper - European viper.jpg

Common European Viper (Vipera berus).