The long, thin backbone of the Balkan Peninsula is well known for its shimmering pebble beaches, the rugged heights of the Dinaric Alps, the emerald Krk Waterfalls, the buzzy harbors of Hvar and Split – the list goes on. But what about dangerous animals in Croatia? What are the most deadly beasts here? Should you be wary?
Croatia is home to a plethora of wild animals, many of which might just pose a threat. That’s the bad news. The good news is that deaths and serious injuries from the dangerous animals in Croatia are extremely rare – pickpockets, delayed flights, or unseasonal weather are all far more likely to ruin that once-in-a-lifetime island hopping trip!
Still, it’s a good idea to get a feel for the various critters that do exist. From snakes to bears, sharks to scorpions, this guide will help you do just that. It’s got the lowdown on the most dangerous animals in Croatia, with info on where you’ll find them, how to spot them, and how common they really are. Let’s begin…
Brown bear (Ursus arctos)
Many different species of bear can be found in Croatia, but the most dangerous is the brown bear. It’s the most widely distributed large terrestrial carnivore in all of Europe, in fact, and the land of truffle oils, Split’s Roman ruins and the mighty walls of Dubrovnik is thought to be home to around 900 individuals.
Brown bears generally seek habitats in mountainous regions. That’s good news if you’re booking a trip to the sun-splashed Croatian coastline. Not so good if you had your heart set on the long-distance trekking routes of the Dinaric Alps and the ranges of northern Croatia, where bears are known to live in high numbers.
Spring and autumn are the worst times to encounter a bear. Then, they tend to be very aggressive, especially when nursing cubs or when they’re hungry. They also have a tendency to attack when their environment is interfered with. Even so, bear attacks are rare, and of the three recorded attacks in Croatia from 2000 to 2015, none have been fatal.
Wood scorpions (Euroscorpius italicus)
There are something like five different types of scorpion in Croatia. However, only two are commonplace, both of which are small wood scorpions. The Euroscorpius italicus is the most common of those two, since it can be found in a whole variety of habitats across the country, from the mountain towns of the Dinaric Alps right down to the balmy coastal resorts on the shoreline.
The good news is that they aren’t particularly life-threatening, since their venom is too weak to kill humans. That being said, it would still be best to stay out of their way. Their venom might not be particularly potent, but a sting can still cause intense pain, burning, redness, swelling, and itching. It’s been likened to a wasp sting.
You’re on the lookout for a relatively large scorpion. This species can hit lengths of up to 4 centimeters across, which makes it one of the biggest types of wood scorpion in Europe. They’ve got a dark black, almost blue, coloring, and a body that widens to about an inch in the middle.
Sea urchins (Echinoidea)
Sea urchins are the bane of swimmers and surfers all over the oceans of the world. And – yes – they’re present here in Croatia’s shimmering Adriatic Sea. The good news is that they typically favor habitats in unpolluted environments, so, if you’re surrounded by these creatures, at least you can bet that you’re swimming in pristine water.
Even so, you should definitely avoid stepping on these tiny, spiked, black, ball-shaped critters. The outer shell of the urchin is usually covered in long, black spines that will easily break off into human flesh. Some are even venomous, and can cause searing pain and swelling at the site of contact, along with the added risk of infections in the blood. Not good.
Sea urchins can dwell in shallow waters and in snorkeling reefs, which means they’re often in the same areas as tourists. If you do fall victim, try to remove the spine carefully, clean the affected area, and remove any remaining spikes using tweezers. You can also get a special cream from the pharmacy that will help the splinters come out on their own.
Black widow spider (Latrodectus)
Unfortunately for all you arachnophobes, these notoriously dangerous spiders are common throughout Croatia, with their favorite habitats being the Primorje, Dalmatia, and Istria regions, around the north and central parts of the country, where they reside both in wild areas and in urban spaces.
From the red hourglass markings on their abdomens to their jet black bodies, these spiders truly are a beauty to behold. But don’t be fooled, their venom packs a powerful punch. These spiders earned their name due to the tendency of females to eat their partners after mating, and while death from a black widow bite is decidedly rare, they are still highly poisonous to humans.
People have been known to suffer nausea, muscle aches, and strained breathing due to paralysis of the diaphragm after being bitten. This can be especially fatal to children, the elderly, and the sick. If you notice that you’ve been bitten, we strongly recommend seeking immediate medical assistance.
Black widows are typically found between boxes in storage spaces as well as shielded areas like attics and barns. As luck would have it, they have terrible eyesight and catch prey, like flying and climbing insects, through vibrations in their web.
Croatia’s forests and gardens are no strangers to ticks, which are a common pest all over Europe, from Greece in the south to Scandinavia in the north. They reign as one of the most dangerous animals in Croatia not for their bite but for the diseases that they carry – dangerous ailments like Lyme disease are spread through contact with these critters.
Fortunately, it’s unlikely that you’ll contract anything from just a single bite in Croatia, but it does pay to be vigilant – there have been just over 1,400 documented cases of Lyme disease in the country since 1991, for example.
The majority of Croatian forest ticks aren’t infected by serious tick-borne illnesses, but those which tend to seek habitats in the continental parts of Croatia, around Zagreb, Koprivnica, Varazdin, and Bjelovar do have a higher incidence of disease. If you’re planning to visit Croatia between the months of May and June, you should be wary of these creatures, since the most dangerous ticks are active during this time.
Bringing along a good insect repellent and wearing full-length clothing when outdoors comes highly recommended. If you find a tick attached to your skin or clothing, you should grab a pair of tweezers, pinch the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out without twisting or turning.
Common European viper (Vipera berus)
Kick starting the snake section of this list of the most dangerous animals in Croatia is the common European viper. You probably know it as, simply, the adder. They’re not unique to the land of castle-like cities and Roman ruins. In fact, they’re found all over the continent, from the dunes of the UK to the hills of central Romania.
In Croatia, they tend to only live in the northern parts of the country, in the hills and mountains east and north of the capital Zagreb, and in the wooded valleys of the lovely Istrian Peninsula. Scientists actually recognize a subspecies for the Balkan area. It’s known as Vipera berus bosniensis and it has a distinct brown body color with black patternings.
European vipers are venomous but they aren’t seen as highly deadly creatures, at least not to fully grown adult humans. Their bites usually lead to local pain and swelling and some holistic complications, such as shortness of breath and nausea. You should still seek medical treatment if you get bitten, of course, but it’s not going to be as dangerous as the bite of, say, a…
Horned viper (Vipera ammodytes)
Not all that much is known about the feared horned viper. But we can say two things with confidence: It’s among the most dangerous animals in Croatia, and it’s perhaps the most dangerous snake in the whole of Europe.
Yep, these guys, like all vipers, possess a venom, but they have a particularly potent concoction of the bad juju that can destroy living tissue, disrupt the flow of blood and cause uncontrollable hemorrhaging. What’s more, the studies that have been done on the venom of Vipera ammodytes shows that humans react very strongly and quickly, which means death in susceptible victims can occur in under a day.
So, what to watch out for? The horned viper lives up to its name with a distinct pointed nose that protrudes from the face several centimeters. The coloring is mixed and varied depending on where its found; it can be anything from dark black grey to mottled browns and tans. Horned vipers usually grow to around 50cm in length.
Meadow viper (Vipera ursinii macrops)
The third and final venomous snake that lives in Croatia is the meadow viper. An extremely rare type of snake that’s now only found in select portions of Europe and central Asia, it’s listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The chosen habitat is rocky, highland plateaus with good grass coverage. Sadly, intensive farming has encroached on that in recent decades and population numbers have been decimated.
But they are still around, and there are known populations residing the in upper Dinaric Alps of Croatia and surrounding Balkan nations. The snake itself is typically no more than 50 centimeters long and has a stark whitish and black pattern spanning its whole back.
Venom wise, these guys are probably the weakest of the three snakes in Croatia. Studies have shown that their attack is usually enough to incapacitate small rodents and insects, but not that dangerous to humans.
Shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)
The speedy and agile shortfin mako shark is thought to be one of the main culprits when it comes to shark attacks in Croatia. Don’t worry – they are rare. Stats show that there have been just 25 shark attacks in the country since 1900, with only 14 of those proving fatal. That’s fewer than 0.1 deaths per year!
Also known as the blue pointer and the bonito shark, this species is a pretty hefty beast. They can often hit lengths of up to four meters from snout to fin, which is only a hint shorter than their cousins, the feared great white. The most distinctive feature here is the light, silvery blue coloring and the slender body shape.
The good news is that makos do tend to prefer deeper waters far from the coastline. However, they will venture towards shallower, warmer climbs for feeding frenzies. They’re notoriously quick swimmers and will often jump and leap from the water in displays of agility.
The most dangerous animals in Croatia – our conclusion
This guide to the most dangerous animals in Croatia has touched on nine of the creatures that we think travelers heading to the Balkans should know about. Those with their heart set on the wild mountains of the Dinaric Alps will want to pay special attention to the brown bears and viper snakes that are known to live in Croatia’s highland regions. Folks with their hearts set on the beaches might want to read up on the risks of shark attacks in Croatia – they’re rare but they do happen.
Are bears in Croatia dangerous?
Bears are dangerous everywhere, not just in Croatia. However, the risk of bear attacks in the country remains low. Only three have been reported in the country in the last 20 years and none of them were fatal.
Are there sharks in Croatia?
There are actually as many as 47 different shark species that inhabit the Adriatic Sea around Craotia, including bull sharks, tiger sharks, and even great whites. There has been one case of a great white attacking a spearfisher off the coast of Croatia near the remote island of Vis in the last decade, however, no fatal attacks have occurred in the last fifty years.
Is it safe to swim in Croatia?
Despite being home to a few species of dangerous sharks, Croatia’s waters are very safe to swim in and the Adriatic is enjoyed by millions of tourists across Europe every year. Strong currents and waves pose more of a threat to swimmers than sea creatures in Croatia.