Vipera Lebetina

The Vipera lebetina is no longer known by this scientific name and is now known as Macrovipera schweizeri. It is a snake which is only found on the Greek islands of Milos, Kimolos and Poliegos and it somewhat resembles the German "Kreuzotter" (viper). But even this is not entirely accurate.

Once, many years ago, when my friend Andreas was still a young farmer with tomato and melon fields in the Gurnada Bay area, we were loading his tractor-trailer with watermelons that he had previously harvested and put in a big pile. In that pile a Vipera was hiding and had reason to be frightened when we took away the melons that were protecting her. In her fear she lunged, mouth wide open and stabbed her two fangs deep into my right foot (I was only wearing plastic slippers) and quickly slithered away.

Andreas jumped after her to punish her by killing her, the way people do here. Fortunately, Andreas paid more attention to what I told him in those days, and I told him immediately to suck the two visible puncture marks in my foot and while he was doing this, the snake escaped.

In a panic and full of fear, I ran home in five minutes, found a razor blade somewhere and cut an X around the bite deep into my foot, making it bleed quite a bit. Then my friend Arjon drove me at top speed to Plaka, where we knew Mimikos, a family doctor and pediatrician. He got some syringes with breathtakingly thick needles and jabbed them a few times deep into my foot and sucked out some blood. One can bear quite a lot of pain in moments of fear and stress. It hurt a lot, but I could take it.

He then called the Port Authority in Adamas to find out when the next ship was leaving, as I had to go to Athens! Fortunately, there was one in the port that was about to leave. It was told to wait and we rushed down the mountain road to Adamas.

So I was on the ship, in shorts and undershirt, barefoot and without a drachma. Fortunately, a friend from Pollonia, who was also on that ship, bought me a ticket, loaned me some money and gave me a pair of old sandals.

Was I saved now? The boat trip took many hours, time enough to think about my fate. My foot hurt and became even more swollen. But it was not unbearable and the longer the journey lasted, the more my hope grew that this wouldn't be the end of me. The ship arrived in Piraeus late at night and I took a bus to the hospital that Mimikos had told me to go to. Amidst a chaos of crying, bleeding and dying people I managed to find a doctor. He asked me briefly what had happened to me and I told him what had occurred. After he learned that twelve hours had already passed since the whole thing happened, he just sent me home again but not before giving me a tetanus injection.

Later I learned that I, and all parties involved, had handled almost everything wrong. However, it went well and I was not suffering too strong a reaction to the bite.

On Immo's website ( you can find the current state of knowledge about our snakes. He confirmed my experience that our Milos vipers occur in beige, brown and red. They are rather short, but strong. They have been a protected species for a long time now and although their bite is painful for people, it is not fatal. Too bad I didn't know this when it happened to me.

For those who are interested in snakes I can give some hints on where to find them. In the 70s and 80s several snake catchers came from Germany and Austria to Milos to hunt not only the Milos viper, but also other snakes, scorpions and green lizards. Milos vipers could be sold at that time in Germany for 200-300 DM and I once met someone who had caught 25 snakes, which he kept in linen bags. One day he released them in front of Luluka's café, to the dismay of the people around, but then, armed with a long leather glove, caught them again without further ado. They were transported by train to Germany and - so it was told - most of them arrived there alive.