Lataste´s Vipere (Vipera latastei). Great Malaga Path
This is a snake of small or medium size (usually not exceeding 60 cm in total length) with a short and robust appearance. The head is very distinct from the body. It is broad at its base and has a characteristic prominent snout pointing upwards. The pupils are vertical. The tail is short and clearly differs from the body, especially in females. The scales are smooth: exhibiting a keel or protruding longitudinal mid-line, like the hull of a ship. The colour is grey or brown. On the back they exhibit a zig-zag pattern of spots, forming a kind of black or dark grey lobes string (rounded waves), sometimes with a soft white or cream border. The sides of the animal's body are adorned with dark spots, interspersed with holes remaining in the dorsal pattern. It is a solenogliphous species. It has grooved teeth, connected to poison-producing glands. They are arranged in the anterior area of the jaw and their mission is to inoculate venom as a prey comes.
WHERE DOES IT LIVE (HABITAT)
This species has a clear preference for places providing sufficient vegetative or rocky shelter. It occupies autonomous vegetation areas, like Mediterranean bushes, cleared forests or scrub and mountain pastures. It avoids agricultural areas, except when these areas form mosaics alternating with natural vegetation patches or boundaries and rock walls. It is common in rocky areas: scree and very sunny rocky slopes. It also avoids human frequented areas (such as towns and city environment, parks and gardens). It is more common in mountain areas with medium or high altitude.
HOW DOES IT LIVE?
It is a very elusive and discreet reptile, making few displacements and usually remaining most of the time hidden in shelters or crouching at the base of a thicket or rock. It stalks its prey, waiting in their possible passage area. It can attract them using its tail as a lure. It feeds on arthropods, other reptiles, small mammals and birds. It usually moves slowly, being very vulnerable to aggressive predators or during its travels which it performs mainly during the mating period.
HOW DOES IT REPRODUCE?
The mating period ranges from March to June and can vary according to altitude. There may be a second reproduction attempt in autumn. Births usually start in August. It is the only Malaga snake which does not lay eggs. It is an oviparous species. This means that the eggs develop and hatch inside the female. The later gives birth to about 6 to 13 offspring: little snakes perfectly developed and self-sufficient at birth.
WHERE CAN WE SEE IT IN MALAGA AND ON THE STAGES OF THE GREAT PATH?
It is an uncommon species in the Málaga province, where it shows a distribution clearly associated with the mountains, due mainly to its habitat alteration by urbanization and human presence in lower areas. Currently, it is only present in the western third (the Cortes mountains, the Ronda mountains range, the Sierra de las Nieves and peridotite saws such as Sierra Real, Palmitera and Bermeja), in the Central Calcareous Arch (Huma and El Jobo mountain ranges) and in the Tejeda-Almijara mountain ranges. In the Large Path, we can find it on stages 5 to 11 and 20 to 29.
LEVEL OF PROTECTION - THREAT (INVENTORY)
This snake is part of the Andalusian Wildlife Species under Special Protection List. The Lataste's viper is an Iberian-North African endemic species clearly decreasing throughout its distribution area. The direct persecution of these animals, their habitat's destruction and the progressive aridity of soils are the main threat factors. In Malaga, this species does not seem oblivious to this dynamic, having lost much of its former distribution area, since it has almost disappeared from coastal and mid-mountain areas.
There are many legends in rural areas about this species, both because of its status as a poisonous animal, and because of the dangerous aspect that the viper's look transmits, with its pointed snout and vertical pupils. One of them attributes a greater toxicity to the males ("viperines" or "jaspers"), supposedly being their mortal "sting" and being more dangerous than those of the females. Although it is a certainly poisonous and dangerous species, there are no differences in terms of toxicity according to the sex of the animal. Except in exceptional cases, and if treated properly and in time, the bite does not result in fatal consequences.
SIMILAR SPECIES (IT CAN BE MISTAKEN WITH...)
Nearly all the ophidians are mistaken with this species, although the type there could be confusion with is the viperine snake. The small viperine snake imitates the viper to escape its enemies. It is easy to differentiate them: the viperine snake does not have vertical pupils (they are round, as in the rest of the Malagasy snakes), it does not exhibit a raised snout ending in a tip and the head's scales are large, like plates. Moreover, it is an aquatic species whereas the vipere is a terrestrial one. The criterion of the triangular head that is traditionally used is not valid: all the ophidians, with the head retracted and in defence position, exhibit a head wider on its back and with a triangular aspect.