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The Species of July 2017

Name: Cyprus whip snake 
Scientific name: Heirophis (Coluber) cypriensis
Family: Colubridae

                               

 

Description
The Cyprus whip snake has the scientific name the Cypriot Hierophis and until recently it was known with the name the Cypriot Columber. The Latin name of the genus consists of the Greek word sacred (‘ιερός), followed by the Greek word ophis (‘όφις) referring to the limited distribution of the snake exclusively in Cyprus. It is a thin snake endemic to Cyprus, up to 115 cm long, venomous-less, with a well-developed head and large eyes surrounded by a white circle. It is gray-olive, or light gray to black with thin white lines up to the first half of the body. The abdomen is yellow to pale yellow.

Habitat
It can be found in areas covered with bushes or other forms of vegetation, showing preference in shaded wet areas near streams and hedges. In the past, it was believed they lived only in the Paphos and Troodos forests, but in recent years records have shown their spread to the forests of Adelfoi and Macheras, the Limassol forest and the edges of it.

Feeding habits
It is an oviparous species that feeds on lizards, snakes, frogs, rodents and insects.

Biology
It has the ability to move day and night. It is a fast and agile snake and can move comfortably on uneven and rocky surfaces. It is a very good swimmer and has been seen swimming across water bodies. It is not an aggressive snake, and in relation to other species of snake in Cyprus it is calmer when threatened.

Its main threat is the man who kills it as well as other snakes due to ignorance. It is a threatened species and is included in the Red Data Book. Some of the causes that have led to some of the species of snakes currently present in Cyprus being threatened with extinction are:

  • The destruction of their habitats due to tourism, agricultural or other development
  • The brutal extermination as the consequence of the unwarranted fear, prejudice and ignorance of the Cypriot public on this category of animals.
  • The uncontrolled use of poisons for the alleged control of harmful species.
  • The excessive use of biochemical preparations.

Every individual or collective decision of ours has a significant impact on the natural environment. Let us try to protect the habitats and this species of snake that is the most important species in our country. It is worth noting that snakes play an important role in maintaining ecological balance in nature, so it is our duty to protect them all. Let’s teach our children, friends and relatives about its ecological value.

Sources:
http://www.moa.gov.cy/moa/environment
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details
Nikolaou, Ch., Pafilis, P., Limperakis, P., (2014). The snakes and amphibians of Cyprus. Cyprus: Cyprus Herpetofauna Association  

Photograph source:
Nikolaou, Ch., Pafilis, P., Limperakis, P., (2014). The snakes and amphibians of Cyprus. Cyprus: Cyprus Herpetofauna Association  

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