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TDK conference 2020

Feeding habits of the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) at an important reintroduction site of a potential prey species, the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis)
Wenner Bálint Zsolt - year 1
University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, Department of Ecology
Supervisors: Dr. Zoltán Korsós, Edvárd Mizsei


The Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) used to be found in large numbers in the grasslands of the Pannon-basin, in the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of them could be collected. The deterioration of grasslands and their agricultural usage made most its habitats disappear. The protection of the few remaining Hungarian populations is now up to conservational work done within LIFE-projects, and ex situ breeding and release of the snakes. Despite the conservational efforts regarding this species in the last 2 decades, its abundance haven’t increased significantly, it is believed that one major reason is the significant predation pressure. In 2020, within the framework of the project „LIFE HUNVIPHAB”, at the Peszéradacsi-rétek part of the Kiskunság area, a four hectare net system is being built at one of the most important reintroduction sites, to keep out avian and mammalian predators. Before the installation of the net system, in order to protect the viper individuals, we captured them from the worksite. During the two months long period of viper capturing work, we found a large number of the reptile specialist smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), also known for viper consumption, and it was raised that the smooth snakes should be translocated from the site. To determine whether the translocation is necessary, I started a specific study of its diet, aimed to determine the following questions: 1) Which species the smooth snake’s diet consists of at the site of at the net system ? 2) Does the smooth snake consume Hungarian meadow vipers at the net system site? Smooth snakes found at the site (n=44) were collected and kept separately for a maximum of 7 days in order for us to collect feces samples from them, then they were released at the exact location of their captures. 54,5 % of the captured animals defecated (24 individuals), and based on the remains identified in the samples the most common prey consumed by the Smooth Snake were reptiles (55,6%), followed by arthropods (27,7%) and small mammals (16,7%). Among the reptile remains, during the identification of the scales, Hungarian meadow viper was not found, I only found scales of lizards, belonging to eastern green lizards (Lacerta viridis), and Balkan wall lizard (Podarcis tauricus). Contrary to our expectations, in the study period at the examined site Hungarian Meadow Viper was not found to be part of the Smooth Snake’s diet. The possible explainations are the following: 1) The quantity of samples was low 2) The time period of the study was short 3) the Hungarian meadow viper’s population size is the lowest among the potential prey species inhabiting the site, and the smooth snake has a higher chance of encountering lizards while looking for prey. In order to see the effects of Smooth Snake predation on the density of the Hungarian meadow viper, I will continue my research that I hope will help the more effective, fact-based conservation of the Hungarian meadow viper.

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