Around 100 people bitten by vipers in Estonia each year

The Vipera berus, or common European viper (harilik rästik or just rästik in Estonian). Photo is illustrative.
The Vipera berus, or common European viper (harilik rästik or just rästik in Estonian). Photo is illustrative. Source: Whitesachem (CC BY-SA 4.0)/Wikimedia Commons

Vipers have been spotted across many places of Estonia as spring showers arrive. However, there is no need to panic, Tõnu Talvi, chief specialist at the Environmental Board (Keskkonnaamet), said, as the cold-blooded snakes merely come to seek warmth and food in the sun. Anyone who gets a bite should remain calm and avoid touching the wound.

Reptiles that spent the winter in dormancy are emerging from their burrows to warm up now that spring has arrived. "[An encounter with a predator] is becoming more likely now. They are searching for low-lying, sunny areas," Talvi said on the morning show "Terevision" on Wednesday.

After all, reptiles are cold-blooded animals whose bodies require the ambient temperature to function normally.

Talvi explained that the classic viper is covered in a zigzag pattern. Externally, a viper can sometimes be confused with a grass snake (or ringed snake), as there are also black vipers. You can recognize a grass snake by its yellow belly patches. The species can also be identified by the body shape. "It is much coarser, more robust and shorter. The grass snake is bowed, long and slender," the specialist compared.

Talvi said that the probability of encountering a particular reptile depends in part on its habitat. "The predator is typically associated with rocky, arid environments. "The grass snake is most commonly found near bodies of water," he added. Consequently, a person who bathes in a modest sea or lake during the summer will typically encounter a grass snake.

Winter advises anyone who spots a snake crossing the road in front of them to wait. "If for some reason we meet him unexpectedly, shock and alarm are likely to occur on both sides," he said.

In this scenario, the snake perceives the human as a threat, assumes a defensive posture that makes it appear smaller and is prepared to strike if necessary. "Of course, the snake is not interested in us as prey; it is awaiting an opportunity to quietly vanish to a safe place," Talvi explained.

Fruit pickers and other rural hikers are unlikely to encounter vipers, he said. "In Estonia, such encounters with vipers occur approximately 100 times per year," he said.

According to Talvi, there is no way to prepare for such a meeting, but there is no need to be afraid of them. "Many other natural events endanger human health and well-being." He advises waiting until the disturbed viper quietly retreats into its burrow or beneath a rock.

The first thing to do if a viper attacks in self-defense, Talvi said, is to remain calm. He said, "No gum of any kind should be applied to the bite site, nor should the wound be cleaned. Obviously, if you have a phone, you should dial 112 promptly. Go to the doctor by yourself if no one is able to help you and the situation is not life-threatening," he advised.

The severity of a viper bite, according to the specialist, is determined by various factors, including the victim's size and weight, the snake's size, and whether or not it has recently fed. According to Talvi, approximately 15 percent of viper bite victims require hospitalization.

The common European viper (Vipera berus) is also known in the U.K. as the common adder. Significant populations are found particularly in western Britain, in contrast with neighboring Ireland, where the species' total absence in the wild, as well as that of nearly all other reptilian animals, relates to a famous legend...


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Editor: Airika Harrik, Kristina Kersa, Andrew Whyte

Source: "Terevisioon"

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