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Aphrodite of Milos  


It is a creature of strength and personality - revealing it only in moments of danger. It does not leave, it does not turn its tail, it stays and fights. It barricades itself in the bush-wood or behind a stone, raises its upper half thus forming a right angle, bends its triangular head forward, darts out its long and forked tongue and hisses. It retreats and then attacks, swaying like an attractive woman, dangerous like an attractive woman. It fights hard until it either wins or loses.

Greek mythology refers to the "Echidna" - a monster half woman, half serpent - as the daughter of Chrysaor and Calliope or in a different version the daughter of Tartarus and Gaia.

Chrysaor symbolizes lightning, Calliope the vapors and the waters, Tartarus and Gaia the volcanic vapors rising from the bottom of the Earth.

Aristophanes considers her a monster with 100 heads. Hesiod says she was the wife of Typhoon to whom she bore innumerable monster-children such as Hydra, The Sphinx, Chimaera, the dogs Orthrus and Cerberus and a host of others. She was killed by Argos, the hero.

Thus, the most characteristic species of Milos fauna is likewise found on the neighboring islands of Kimolos, Polyaigos and Siphnos. The Asp is a related species that also exists in great numbers in Milos.

The Species
In the past it was called Vipera Lebetin Schweizeri, recently re-named to Macrovipera Schweizeri.

Specialists in the field agree that this viper shows such specific characteristics compared to other members of the same species, that it is native or endemic to Milos. It was thus named The Milos Viper - a distinct genotype. It has been encountered in Milos for thousands of years.

Habitat and characteristics

It lives in holes in the ground, in dry-stone fences, in bushes and in bush-wood. It has a cylindrical body that can reach up to two meters in length.

It can easily be recognized by its characteristic head, which is flat, triangular, narrow towards the front, and widening sharply towards the back like a heart and covered in hard, shiny scales. The tongue is long, dark and forked. When disturbed it darts out its tongue nervously, hisses and is ready to bite.

In the upper jaw there is a pair of teeth, which at the base are connected to venom-glands. These are emptied when the viper bites.

The venom is potent and dangerous. It acts directly on the nervous system and affects the spinal cord. The effect of the venom depends on the viper's age, size and the quantity of the venom. If the glands have recently been emptied the injected dosage is almost ineffective.

It is lazy and listless in its movements and is thus not dangerous unless carelessly stepped upon or grabbed accidentally while picking flowers or herbs.

The color varies from grey to brown, olive-green or red, depending on its habitat - that is to say according to protectional needs imposed by the environment. This is why one might accidentally step on it without seeing it first. The most beautiful and characteristic Milos Viper is beyond any doubt the red viper.

In the middle of its back from head to tail runs a long, dark line made up of rhomboid spots, and on each side there is a double line of small, dark spots.

It feeds on live lizards, worms, snails, mice and rats. It eats them whole - which is why you may see it with a strangely inflated stomach at times - and it digests its prey little by little, taking a long time to do so. Collectors nowadays feed it only one frozen rat a month.

During winter it hibernates. It wakes up in spring and begins its active, reproductive cycle. Gestation lasts 8 months. It lays eggs (i.e. it is oviparous), which immediately hatch.

An endangered species
The greatest danger it faces today comes from vehicles. And as has always been the case it is being killed in agricultural areas, especially the irrigated ones, because it prefers shade and humidity.

Most suffer from the destruction of their natural habitat, mainly caused by deforestation due to agricultural expansion, mining activities and fires.

Until a few years ago, systematic collection and selling of live specimens, bought up by the pharmaceutical industry or by whoever produced antidotes from their venom, was all too common.

The last years this activity has become illegal and the Milos Viper has been declared an endangered species.

In line with the program Natura 2000, a large area of western Milos, in Chalakas, has been laid out for its protection in an attempt to save The Milos Viper from extinction.

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