Variation in morphological characters of the dice snake Natrix tessellata (Reptilia, Colubridae) in the Central and Southern Dnieper River Area

  • S. V. Yermolenko Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University
  • A. M. Hahut Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University
  • V. Y. Gasso Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University
Keywords: anthropogenic influence, sexual dimorphism, pholidosis, asymmetry


The dice snake Natrix tessellata (Laurenti, 1768) is one of the common snake species in the Southern Palaearctic and North Africa. In the Central and Southern Dnieper River basin the dice snake is one of the most numerous and characteristic species. Relative isolation and the varying influence of environmental factors are known to be a motive force behind epigenetic divergence between populations. In populations of N. tessellata this divergence can be manifest in the form of morphometric and phenetic peculiarities. Research into these parameters of  dice snake populations in terms of anthropogenic influence on habitats along a latitude gradient is essential. In the Central and Southern parts of the Dnieper River basin such studies are of great importance for the monitoring of populations and for further indicative purposes. The aim of our study is to characterize the morphometric features of N. tessellata in this area and to determine the variability of these parameters in the snake populations under varying intensities of anthropogenic influence. The snakes were collected in 2013–2016 from the territory adjacent to the Prydniprovska Thermal Power Plant, from the Maiorova gully (Maiorka village, Dnipropetrovsk region) and the National Nature Park “Velykyi Lug” (Zaporizhia region). The following morphometric parameters were recorded: snout-vent length (SVL), tail length (TL), the number of ventral scales (V), and the number of subcaudal scales (SBC), the number of scale rows at mid-body (MBS), the number of supralabial scales (SLS), the number of temporal scales (TS), and the number of postocular scales (POS). All the tested parameters generally correspond to the limits known for this species from the literature. Nevertheless , some geographic peculiarities in variability of the tail length and number of subcaudal scales were identified. According to data from the literature, the southern populations of the dice snake are distinguished by an increase in the number of subcaudal scales . The studied dice snake populations were characterized by some sexual dimorphism in the snout-vent length, tail length and the number of subcaudal scales. A higher percentage of bilateral asymmetry in snakes from the population close to the Prydniprovska TPP was found. Such changes are usually considered to be an indicator of a certain destabilization of the embryogenesis. 


Baha el Din, S., 2011. Distribution and recent range extension of Natrix tessellata in Egypt. Mertensiella 18, 401–402.
Bannikov, A.G., Darevskij, I.S., Ishhenko, V.G., Rustamov, A.K., Shherbak, N.N., 1977. Opredelitel' zemnovodnyh i presmykajushhihsja fauny SSSR [Key to amphibians and reptiles of fauna of USSR]. Prosveshchenie, Moscow (in Russian).
Belitskaya, M.N., Gordeev, D.A., 2012. Struktura gerpetofauny Golubinskikh peskov [The structure of Golubinsk Sands’ herpetofauna]. Izvestiya Nizhnevolzhskogo Agrouniversitetskogo Kompleksa 25, 62–67 (in Russian).
Bobyliov, Y.P., Brygadyrenko, V.V., Bulakhov, V.L., Gaichenko, V.A., Gasso, V.Y., Didukh, Y.P., Ivashov, A.V., Kucheriavyi, V.P., Maliovanyi, M.S., Mytsyk, L.P., Pakhomov, O.Y., Tsaryk, I.V., Shabanov, D.A., 2014. Ekologija [Ecology]. Folio, Kharkiv (in Ukrainian).
Bulakhov, V.L., Gasso, V.Y., Pakhomov, O.Y., 2007. Bіologіchne rіznomanіttja Ukrainy. Dnіpropetrovs'ka oblast'. Zemnovodnі ta plazuny (Amphibia et Reptilia) [Biological diversity of Ukraine. Dnipropetrovsk region. Amphibians and reptiles (Amphibia et Reptilia)]. Dnipropetrоvsk University Press, Dnipropetrovsk (in Ukrainian).
Feriche, M., Pleguezuelos, J.M., Cerro, A., 1993. Sexual dimorphism and sexing of Mediterranean colubrids based on external characteristics. J. Herpetol. 27(4), 357–362. >>
Gaebele, T., Poyto, I., Weiperth, A., Guti, G., Puky, M., 2013. Abundant prey or optimal microhabitat? Natrix tessellata stays hidden in safe areas in a diverse floodplain along the Danube at Göd, Hungary. North-West. J. Zool. 9(2), 374–382.
Gasso, V.Y., 2011. Kharakteristika populyatsiy zvychainogo vuzha lisovyh biogeotsenoziv Prysamar’ia [Grass snake populations’ features of the forest biogeocoenoses in the Samara River area]. Visn. Dnipropetr. Univ. Ser. Biol. Ecol. 19(2), 136–142 (in Ukranian).
Göçmen, B., Çiçek, K., Yildiz, M.Z., Atatür, M.K., Dinçaslan, Y.E., Mebert, K., 2011. A preliminary study on the feeding biology of the dice snake, Natrix tessellata, in Turkey. Mertensiella 18, 365–369.
Herczeg, G., Szabу, K., Korsуs, Z., 2005. Asymmetry and population characteristics in dice snakes (Natrix tessellata): An interpopulation comparison. Amphibia-Reptilia 26(3), 422–426. >>
Ibrahim, A.A., 2012. New records of the dice snake, Natrix tessellata, in the Suez Canal zone and Sinai. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 6(2), 2–4.
Kammel, W., Mebert, K., 2011. Effects of rehabilitation of the polluted river system Mur in Styria, Austria, and construction of hydroelectric power plants on fish fauna and distribution of the dice snake. Mertensiella 18, 188–195.
Kotenko, T.I., Shaitan, S.V., Starkov, V.G., Zinenko, O.I., 2011. The northern range limit of the dice snake (Natrix tessellata) in Ukraine and the Don River basin in Russia. Mertensiella 18, 311–325.
Kovalenko, G.D., Piven, A.V., 2010. Ekologicheskii risk dlya zdorov’ia naseleniya pri vozdeistvii vybrosov TES i AES Ukrainy [Environmental public health risk when exposed to emissions of TPP and NPP in Ukraine]. Nuclear and Radiation Safety 4, 50–56 (in Russian).
Liu, Y., Mebert, K., Shi, L., 2011. Notes on distribution and morphology of the dice snake (Natrix tessellata) in China. Mertensiella 18, 430–436.
Marosi, B., Zinenko, O.I., Ghira, I.V., Crnobrnja-Isailović, J., Lymberakis, P., Sos, T., Popescu, O., 2012. Molecular data confirm recent fluctuations of northern boundary of dice snake (Natrix tessellata) range in Eastern Europe. North-West. J. Zool. 8(2), 374–377.
Mebert, K., 2011. Geographic variation of morphological characters in the dice snake (Natrix tessellata). Mertensiella 18, 11–19.
Mebert, K., 2011. Sexual dimorphism in the dice snake (Natrix tessellata). Mertensiella 18, 94–99.
Mebert, K., Conelli, A.E., Nembrini, M., Schmidt, B.R., 2011. Monitoring and assessment of the distribution of the dice snake in Ticino, Southern Switzerland. Mertensiella 18, 117–130.
Nekrasova, O.D., Gavris, G.G., Kuybida, V.V., 2013. Changes in the nothern border of the home range of the dice snake, Natrix tessellata (Reptilia, Colubridae), in the Dnipro basin (Ukraine). Vestn. Zool. 47(5), 475–479.
Proskura, N., 2015. Bioindication and biomonitoring of air pollution. Life Sci. J. 12, 65–67.
Shcherbak, N.N. (ed.), 1989. Rukovodstvo po izucheniju zemnovodnyh i presmykajushhihsja [Manual book on research of amphibians and reptiles]. Institut Zoologii NANU, Kiev (in Russian).
Shliakhtin, G.V., Golikova, V.L., 1986. Metodika polevykh issledovanii ekologii amfibii i reptilii [Methods of field research on the ecology of amphibians and reptiles]. Saratov University Press, Saratov (in Russian).
Timonin, A.S., 2003. Inzhenerno-ekologicheskii spravochnik. Tom 2 [Engineering and environmental handbook. Vol. 2]. Izdatelstvo N. Bochkarevoy, Kaluga (in Russian).
Tuniyev, B., Tuniyev, S., Kirschey, T., Mebert, K., 2011. Notes on the dice snake, Natrix tessellata, from the Caucasian Isthmus. Mertensiella 18, 343–356.
Waddington, K.H., 1970. Na puti k teoreticheskoi biologii. Chast’ I. Prolegomeny [Towards a theoretical biology. Part 1. Prolegomena]. Mir, Moscow (in Russian).
Weiperth, A., Potyo, I., Puky, M., 2014. Diet composition of the dice snake (Natrix tessellata Laurenti, 1768) in the Danube River catchment area. Acta Zool. Bulg. 66, 51–56.
Werner, Y.L., Shapira, T., 2011. A brief review of morphological variation in Natrix tessellata in Israel: Between sides, among individuals, between sexes, and among regions. Turk. J. Zool. 35(4), 451–466.