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Even though the asp is reportedly the snake used by Cleopatra to bring about her demise, the vipera aspis as a species does not live in Egypt. It is believed that the reason this snake was called an asp is because this is the name that was given to any venomous snake during that time period. It is more likely that the snake used by this famous queen was an Egyptian cobra since this snake is known to kill painlessly and quickly. This, added to the fact that it is the Egyptian cobra that is depicted on Cleopatra's headdress in most of the ancient works of art, lead theorists to believe it was not the asp that struck the final blow.
The asp is closely related to the common adder and is a member of the Viperidae family. In color this snake can be grey, grey brown, coppery red or orange. The underside of this creature will be grey, dirty yellow or blackish and it will have a sulphur yellow or orange red patch under the tip of its tail. There are transverse dark brown or black bars on the body that are sometimes in a zigzag shape. Occasionally the head of this viper will have an inverted V. The asp is usually about two feet long. They have shiny yellow irises and small shields on their heads. The snout of the asp is turned up to make a small spike. The asp makes its home in generally warmer and drier climates, frequenting rocks, waste lands, hedges and scrub. Each individual snake has a home range of several square yards and they are known to seldom leave this area. These snakes are active both during the day at night, retiring from time to time to rest in a hole in the earth or among rocks. They hibernate during the winter months, sometimes with many of their species in the same nest.
Slow moving but aggressive, the asp is more dangerous to man than the adder. Bites are fairly common in some areas where the asp is heavily populated and have proved to be fatal. When this reptile bites, the effects of the venom are usually painful and messy. Their poison is a systematic one that clots the blood and destroys the lining of the blood vessels. The asp are carnivorous reptiles, feeding on mice, vole, young birds, and lizards. The young asp usually prefer a diet of insects and earth worms. These snakes will pair during the months of April and May, with the males indulging in ritual battles. While the female watches the males attempt to intimidate each other by rearing up in an S shape, then if neither retreats, they will chase each other trying to coil around each other's bodies. The males have never been known to attempt biting each other. In most cases neither snake is harmed during this ritual. Asp are ovoviviparous so the eggs are retained inside the mothers body until it is time for them to hatch. Occasionally the eggs will rupture prior to birth and the young snakes are born alive. Female asp produce between 4 to 18 young that measure around 7 to 8 inches in length.