Snakes in Croatia: 7 Species to Look Out For

snakes in croatia

People flock to this long, thin nation on the side of the Balkans for all sorts of things: Shimmering swimming coves in the Adriatic Sea, picture-perfect pebble beaches, enthralling Roman cities, bumping nightlife, wild hikes in the Dinaric Alps – we could go on an on. Tempted? Of course you are, but don’t even think about booking until you’ve read this guide to snakes in Croatia…

In all, the home of historic Dubrovnik and the sun-splashed island of Hvar counts in the region of 15 species of serpents between its borders. The good news is that most are 100% harmless. But there are a few that pose a threat to us humans, including one or two of the most venomous snakes in the whole of Europe.

This guide to snakes in Croatia will focus on nine of the most common, most feared, most intriguing legless reptiles that make their home between the mountains and sparkling seas here. It ranges from the venom-touting adder to the silky smooth snake, with critters big, small, colorful, and common in between. Let’s begin…

Common European Adder (Vipera berus)

Common European Adder
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Kicking off our list of snakes in Croatia is the common European adder, so named because it’s both common and has a geographic range that’s centered on Europe. Though venomous, they’re generally not aggressive and usually only bite when alarmed or disturbed. Even so, these bites can be very painful and have been known to cause serious sickness and even death!

Common European adders are a member of the viper family and tend to favor habitats in mountainous regions, meadows, and along freshwater shores. During the summer, they can also often be spotted sunning themselves on sand dunes and rocks near the sea.  

You’ll distinguish this snake by the zigzag dorsal pattern down the length of the bodies and tails, and the distinctive dark V or X on the back of their heads. It’s also possible to determine the sexes of these snakes by appearance since the color patterns of male and female adders vary a lot.  

These snakes come in many forms, ranging from light-colored specimens with small, dark dorsal crossbars to brown ones with faint, darker markings. You could even spot ones that are entirely dark without any apparent dorsal pattern. They feed on small mammals, birds, lizards, amphibians, and in some cases even spiders, worms, and insects. Adults typically grow to a total length of 20-35 inches, and a mass of 50-280 grams.

Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii)

Photo by Wiki Commons

The meadow viper is a decidedly rare venomous snake, and the smallest viper you’ll find in Europe. As a matter of fact, it’s in danger of extinction, but you can still find small populations spread across Croatia and other hot, dry countries in the south and east of the continent – from Greece to Turkey.

These snakes sport a thick body with a narrow head and a snout that isn’t upturned, which gives it a relatively frightening appearance. They’re typically gray, tan, or yellowish in color, with a dark undulating dorsal stripe, which is edged in black. They can also be distinguished by the several large scales or plates on the top of its head, which are in 19 rows, and often have dark skin between them. Interestingly enough, female meadow vipers are usually larger than the males, though most adults – no matter the sex – grow to no more than 20 inches from tip to tail.

These snakes are fond of mountainous regions and are usually found in ​Croatia’s Southern Velebit district, as well as the Dinara mountain range. So, keep your eyes peeled if you’re planning on hiking during your holidays!

Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)

Horned Viper
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

The horned viper is widely considered to be the most dangerous viper in Europe. That’s thanks to its long length of 35 inches, large fangs, and potentially lethal venom. Even so, over the past 25 years, its bites have been responsible for just four deaths in all, so fatal attacks are very uncommon

These snakes are widespread throughout Croatia, but they’re far less common in the northeastern part of the country and unlikely to be spotted on Rab Island, Dugi Otok, or Mljet – so stick to those if you’re worried!

Their most distinctive trait is the single horn on their snouts, from which they get their name, but they can also be distinguished by the thick, black stripe that runs behind their eyes to the angle of their jaws. Other characteristics include their black tongues and the golden or coppery color of their irises.

If you do find that you’ve become the unfortunate victim of a horned viper bite in Croatia, the best course of action would be to lay still and immobilize the bitten arm or leg to prevent the poison from spreading. Call emergency services and seek medical help as soon as possible to get yourself taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.

European Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)

European Cat Snake
Photo by Wiki Commons

The European cat snake is, technically speaking, one of Croatia’s few venomous snakes. However, herpetologists generally list it as non-venomous or non-threatening simply because it’s a rear-fanged serpent, which means it’s not able to inject high levels of venom in a single bite.

These distinctive snakes can be found in a variety of habitats, including rocky terrain, woodland, beaches, and even residential areas near human settlements. They’re also quite a common sight in the Caucasus and Mediterranean regions of Europe, with their range extending as far as Malta. And they’re frequently found at elevations of up to 6,500 feet to boot!

They’re nocturnal reptiles who hunt for food mainly at night, with their diets consisting of small geckos, lizards, mammals, and even birds. They’re also great climbers who can be found up everything from rock walls to steep cliffs, which explains their love of mountains. 

European cat snakes generally reach a length of around four feet when fully grown, and can be distinguished by their vertical and elliptical pupils, from which they get their name. You should also look out for their smooth dorsal, and curved ventral scales, as well as their gray or tan bodies coated with crossbands and dark blotches on their trunks.

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

grass snake
Photo by Adrien Stachowiak on Unsplash

The grass snake is widely distributed throughout Europe. In fact, it’s one of the most common types of snake on the whole continent. It’s typically dark green or brown in color, with a distinctive yellow collar behind its head. They’re non-venomous snakes who feed almost exclusively on amphibians. They also come in varieties of gray and black, with darker colors being more common in colder regions.

Grass snakes are adaptable serpents. They’re found in open woodland habitats, on farmland, near the coast, and in freshwater lakes and rivers. However, these snakes can also live in developed areas, and have been spotted in gardens and recreational parks, and even on islands like Hvar and Korcula. 

Seeing as these snakes aren’t venomous and appear more menacing than they actually are, their main defense strategy is to produce a foul-smelling fluid. Other defensive strategies include playing dead by becoming completely limp. They can also hiss and strike without opening their mouths.

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)

smooth snake
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The smooth snake is a non-venomous reptile, which is typically brown, gray, or reddish in color, with two rows of small, dark spots running along its back and towards the tail. Some varieties have distinctive spots around the neck area, too, which form cross-bars over the back. 

These snakes are solitary creatures who hunt during the day, and favor habitats in coniferous and woodland areas like shrubland, grasslands, and open spaces with sparse vegetation. They aren’t particularly aggressive and tend to rely on camouflage when threatened, hoping to stay undetected. 

Croatia is seen as the southernmost extremity of their geographical range. That means the further south you go the less likely you are to come across one. Encounters are much more in the northern parts of the nation, from the olive tree-dotted Istrian Peninsula to the forested highlands that surround the capital of Zagreb.

Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

Balkan Whip Snake
Photo by Wiki Commons

The Balkan whip snake is a medium-sized reptile that can reach a length of around 40 inches in all, though most specimens come in much shorter than that. It favors habitats like grasslands, open woodlands, and rocky slopes, but it can also be found along open streams and along the entire Croatian coast.

They are diurnal and prey mainly on other reptiles, large insects, small mammals, and, occasionally, young birds. Still, an interesting tidbit about these reptiles is their ability to climb on bushes and low trees, as well as their tendency to stand still when hanging from branches. This can make them quite difficult to distinguish from the branches themselves, so be careful what you grab!

These snakes aren’t considered life-threatening to humans, as they’re non-venomous. Nonetheless, they can bite fiercely when caught, and the potential pain and swelling caused by the attack is often no laughing matter. It’s also important to note that they can be dangerous to children if they’re bitten, and smaller pets are at risk too. This is because the risk of infection from any untreated wound can be high, although fatalities are very rare.

Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus)

Aesculapian snake
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Zamenis longissimus reigns as the longest snake in the whole of Europe – let alone just Croatia. But don’t let the size scare you too much, because this critter is 100% non-venomous. In fact, it’s probably most famous for its mythic association with the ancient Greek god of healing and medicine, Asclepius.

A very adaptable snake, this type of colubrid has a range that covers almost the whole of the Iberian Peninsula, large swathes of the Alps, and much of Eastern Europe. It’s also present in virtually all of the Balkan nations, including the entire length and breadth of Croatia, where it tends to live in moderately warm and humid mid-elevation forests.

Aside from the sheer size – Aesculapian snakes can hit a whopping two meters in total – there are a number of distinguishing marks to watch out for here. First off, there’s the color scheme, which is almost totally monochrome in dark grays or light greens from the top to the bottom of the snake’s body. Then there’s the wisp of light yellow that dashes the underside of the head.

Four-lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)

Four-lined snake
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

So named for the quad of dark lines that run the whole length of the body, from the base of the head to the tip of the tail, the four-lined snake is also up there with the larger snakes in Croatia and Europe. They can grow to more than 180cm at full adulthood, and have a thick-set body that cranks up the weight to as much as a whole kilogram per individual.

Again, the size shouldn’t be a source of too much worry – these guys are totally non-venomous. What’s more, they’re seen as some of the most chilled and serene serpents in the animal world, preferring to dodge human contact altogether and retreat to their rocky burrows whenever they feel threatened.

Four-lined snakes are generally present on the western slopes of Croatia’s rugged Dinaric Alps, and on the hills of many of the most famous Croatian islands – from Mljet in the south to Pag in the north. Beyond that, they also have populations across the whole of the Italian peninsula, throughout the Greek mainland and islands, and into the highlands of North Macedonia.

Snakes in Croatia – our conclusion

Croatia is home to around 15 individual species of snakes, including three or four that are considered venomous and dangerous to humans. The country counts common serpents like the European adder and the grass snake, the former of which can inflict painful but rarely deadly bites. It’s also home to what’s probably the most dangerous viper species in Europe: The horned viper.

Truth be told, encounters with snakes in Croatia are fairly common, though snakebite incidences remain low overall (there’s something like 5 per 100,000 head of population each year!). To ensure you remain safe, always stick to marked hiking paths if you’re heading out and about in the Dinaric Alps or the islands, and be sure to watch where you’re treading while exploring the beautiful Croatian countryside. 

Does Croatia have venomous snakes?

Yes, Croatia is home to venomous snakes. Of the 15 different species that call the Balkan country home only three are venomous. These include the horned viper, the meadow viper, and the common European adder, all of which can deliver a painful and potentially deadly bite to humans.  

Are there snakes in Split, Croatia?

While most snakes prefer remote habitats such as the Croatian mountains and woodlands, you can find snakes in Split, just as you can everywhere else in Croatia. However, they’re unlikely to dwell in areas that are busy with tourists and stick to quiet, overgrown gardens or parks in the city. 

What is the most venomous snake in Croatia?

The horned viper is considered to be the most venomous and dangerous snake, not only in Croatia but in the whole of Europe. Mainly found in the Balkans, as well as parts of the Middle East, a bite from one of these serpents can be potentially deadly, and children, the elderly, and the sick face a greater risk from their venom.

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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