The sand viper is a member of the family Viperidae, a widespread family of venomous snakes. Its Bulgarian name „Pepelyanka“ comes from its body colour – ashy colour „pepelyav“ ranging from beige to grey. They are also known to be completely black. Its most distinctive features are a dark zigzag stripe on the back and a “horn” on top of the snout, just above the rostral scale. Although very rare, hornless sand vipers are not out of the ordinary. Males have a specific spot or V-shaped scar on the back of the head that often connects to the dorsal zigzag stripe. Females are paler, usually they lack the V-shaped scar. The head is triangular in shape, covered with small evenly spaced scales. Vipera ammodytes average length is 50-70 cm, very rarely more than 1m.
In Bulgaria, the Sand Viper is widespread and can be found on up to 1500m above the sea level. They prefer open, rocky and sunny places, overgrown with high vegetation with appropriate holes for underground shelters. In our country, you can find two subspecies – V. a. Ammodytes and in north-western Bulgaria V. a. meridionalis in the rest of the country. The underside of the tail at the tip is orange on the first subspecies and the second subspecies is greenish.
An interesting feature of the biology of the Viper is that unlike other reptiles, it is ovovivipary. This means that the eggs develop in the mother's body and she gives birth to fully developed pups that are ready to live independently.
Vipera ammodytes are not aggressive and rarely bite without being provoked. Their venom is weaker than venom of the common viper (Vipera berus), but inject a larger amount. The venom has both proteolytic and neurotoxic components and contains hemotoxins with blood coagulant properties. Bites promote symptoms such as pain, swelling and discoloration, sometimes dizziness and numbness. Even without an antidote, they disappear for a few days but can be dangerous for children or adults with poor health.
Viper is covered by Annex II of the Bern Convention.