Adults average 40–50 cm (16–20 inches) in total length, although specimens of 63–80 cm (25–31½ inches) have been reported. Females are larger than males. Although sometimes confused with V. aspis or V. berus, it differs from them in the following characters. The smallest viper in Europe, its body is thick, its head narrow, and its appearance rough. The snout is not upturned. There are always several large scales or plates on the top of the head. The prominently keeled dorsal scales are in only 19 rows, and often dark skin shows between them. It is gray, tan, or yellowish with a dark undulating dorsal stripe, which is edged with black.
Meadow viper, Ursini's viper, meadow adder, Orsini's viper, field viper, field adder. Although the following subspecies are currently invalid according to the taxonomy used here, their common names may still be encountered:
- V. u. ursinii – Italian meadow viper.
- V. u. macrops – karst viper, karst adder.
- V. u. rakosiensis – Danubian meadow viper.
- V. renardi – steppe viper, steppe adder, Renard's viper.
- V. u. moldavica – Moldavian meadow viper.
Southeastern France, eastern Austria (extinct), Hungary, central Italy, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, northern and northeastern Macedonia, Albania, Romania, northern Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, northwestern Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and eastern Uzbekistan steppes to China (Xinjiang).
This species is considered to be a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, due to habitat destruction caused by changes in agricultural practices and climate change in mountain areas, and to collection for the pet trade.
In addition, this species is listed on CITES Appendix I, which means that it is threatened with extinction if trade is not halted, and is a strictly protected species (Appendix II) under the Berne Convention.
There is high genetic diversity within samples of V. ursinii and several species may be involved. At least six subspecies may be encountered in modern literature:
- V. u. ursinii (Bonaparte, 1835)
- V. u. eriwanensis (A.F. Reuss, 1933)
- V. u. graeca Nilson & Andrén, 1988
- V. u. macrops Méhelÿ, 1911
- V. u. moldavica Nilson, Andrén & Joger, 1993
- V. u. rakosiensis Méhely, 1893
- V. u. renardi Christoph, 1861
Golay et al. (1993) recognize the first four, while Mallow et al. (2003) recognize five and list V. eriwanensis and V. renardi as valid species. However, McDiarmid et al. (1999), and thus ITIS, feel that more definitive data is necessary before any subspecies can be recognized.