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In Search of the Elusive Scarlet Viper

Posted by: Karl Shuker on September 2nd, 2013

The common European adder or viper Vipera berus occasionally produces albinistic and melanistic individuals, due to the expression of certain mutant gene alleles. Of course, these are not separate species, merely genetically-induced morphs of the common adder. As recently as the mid-1800s, however, many natural history tomes were still soberly stating that Britain was also home to a much more remarkable, additional viperine form, one so distinct in fact that it was classed as a separate species in its own right – Vipera rubra, the scarlet viper. As its names suggest, this eyecatching serpent was bright red in colour, and was also said to be a little smaller than the normal adder.
 
Scarlet viper, computer-generated reconstruction of likely appearance, pub dom
 
Yet it seemingly possessed a very limited geographical distribution, for it was only reported from certain parts of southern Dorset, particularly around Corfe Castle and Lulworth Cove. In those specific areas, however, the scarlet viper was apparently a familiar sight, which makes it all the more surprising that by the end of the 19th Century it had vanished not only from such localities but also from the natural history literature. Suddenly, it was as if the scarlet viper had never existed – expunged even from the records as well as disappearing from life. Why?
 
Further details can be found here on my ShukerNature blog.

Karl Shuker About Karl Shuker
My name is Dr Karl P.N. Shuker. I am a zoologist (BSc & PhD), media consultant, and the author of 20 books and hundreds of articles, specialising in cryptozoology and animal mythology. I have a BSc (Honours) degree in pure zoology from the University of Leeds (U.K.), and a PhD in zoology and comparative physiology from the University of Birmingham (U.K.). I have acted jointly as consultant and major contributor to three multi-author volumes on cryptozoology and other mysterious phenomena. I am the Life Sciences Consultant to The Guinness Book of Records/Guinness World Records (Guinness: London, 1997-present day), and was consultant to Monsters (Lorenz Books: London, 2001), as well as a contributor to Mysteries of the Deep (Llewellyn: St Paul, 1998), Guinness Amazing Future (Guinness: London, 1999), The Earth (Channel 4 Books: London, 2000), and Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained (Chambers: London, 2007). I appear regularly on television & radio, was a consultant for the Discovery TV series Into the Unknown, and a question setter for the BBC's quiz show Mastermind. I am a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, a Member of the Society of Authors, and the Cryptozoology Consultant for the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ). I have written articles for numerous publications, including Fortean Times, The X Factor, Paranormal Magazine, FATE, Strange Magazine, Prediction, Beyond, Uri Geller's Encounters, Phenomena, Alien Encounters, Wild About Animals, All About Cats, All About Dogs, Cat World, etc. In 2005, I was honoured by the naming of a new species of loriciferan invertebrate after me - Pliciloricus shukeri.




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