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snakes in croatia

Snakes in Croatia: 7 Species to Look Out For

Thanks to hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2018, its gorgeous, untamed wilderness, idyllic beaches, and exceptional food and wines, Croatia’s tourism scene is busier than ever. Still, it might surprise you to know that this unforgettable holiday destination is also home to around 15 different varieties of snakes.

Less than a handful of these are poisonous, but it’s a good idea to know which ones to avoid, especially since there’s a chance you’ll see them in national parks, the bush, and the mountains of Croatia. Better safe than sorry, right?

We’ve created a guide covering just that, to ensure you can explore Croatia’s majestic wildlife in peace. We’ll cover everything from to find them, what you should be wary of, and what to do should you get bitten. Let’s get into it.

Common European Adder

Common European Adder
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Kicking off our list is the Common European adder. These venomous snakes are widespread throughout most of Western Europe and East Asia, but generally aren’t aggressive and usually only bite when alarmed or disturbed. Even so, these bites can be very painful, so they’re best avoided.

Common European vipers favor habitats in mountainous regions, meadows, and other freshwater shores like the lowlands of the Sava, Drava, Mura, and Danube Rivers. They can be distinguished by the zigzag dorsal pattern down the length of their bodies and tails, and the distinctive dark V or X on the back of their heads. You should look out for the vertical slits in their pupils, too. It’s also possible to determine the sexes of these snakes by appearance since the color patterns of adders vary.  

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 to 35 inches, and a mass of 50 to 180 grams.

If you come across one, try to stay calm while waiting for it to clear from your path, otherwise walk away slowly. Should you suffer a bite, remove jewelry or watches from the bitten limb, loosen clothing if possible, and seek immediate medical attention.

Meadow Viper

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.

It has 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 with 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 males, with adults reaching an average of 15 – 20 inches in total length. 

These snakes are fond of mountainous regions and are usually found in ​Southern Velebit, as well as the Dinara mountain range, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re planning on hiking. In the unlikely event that you’re bitten by a viper, take a deep breath, try to relax, keep the bitten limb as still as possible to prevent the poison from spreading, and seek medical assistance.

Horned Viper

Horned Viper
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

The horned viper is widely considered to be the most dangerous viper in Europe 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, so fatal attacks are 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. Their most distinctive trait is the single horns 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. Sexes are distinguished by the irregular dark brown, gray, or black markings on the heads of males which contrast the less distinctive color patterns of female horned vipers. 

If you’re 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. You should call the emergency services as soon as possible to get yourself taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.

European Cat Snake

European Cat Snake
Photo by Wiki Commons

The European cat snake is considered a mildly venomous snake species, but because it’s rear-fanged, it rarely injects its venom and generally isn’t lethal to humans. Still, it could cause pain, swelling, and if not properly disinfected, potential illness. 

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. ​

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. But they have excellent camouflaging abilities so good luck spotting one.

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.

If you get bitten, remove any tight clothing from the site of the bite to avoid harm from swelling. Naturally, you should also disinfect the bite, and seek medical assistance if you experience prolonged symptoms.  

Grass Snake

grass snake
Photo by Adrien Stachowiak on Unsplash

The Grass snake is widely distributed throughout Europe, and is 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, possibly as a consequence of the thermal benefits of being dark in color. 

Grass Snakes can also be distinguished by their whitish undersides with irregular blocks of black, and they’re typically found in open woodland habitats, like field margins, and ponds. However, these snakes can also live in heavily-modified landscapes if water sources are available, since their strong swimmers, 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 from their anal glands. Other defensive strategies include playing dead by becoming completely limp, and they could potentially secrete blood from the mouth and nose whilst doing so. They can also hiss and strike without opening their mouths. On top of this, they tend to vomit when stunned and could raise the front of their body, while flattening their head and neck to resemble a cobra’s hood. 

All in all, these snakes might not be life-threatening, but you should still be wary, especially since their defense strategies could give you a scare. 

Smooth Snake

smooth snake
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

Other characteristics include dark spots running along each of its flanks, as well as the shadowy stripes that run down the back, and the crown-shaped marking on its head.  You can also distinguish them by their whitish, greyish-white, or light brown, upper labials, and reddish-brown or dark-red tongues.

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 either and tend to rely on camouflage when threatened, hoping to stay undetected. Nevertheless, these snakes aren’t afraid to bite when caught, and while they are nonvenomous, the bite could be painful and frightening, so try to stay out of their way.

Balkan Whip Snake

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, but is usually much shorter. It favors habitats near 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, while hunting mostly on the ground. 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, so be wary.

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 bite is 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. 

We advise steering clear of these critters and if you do come across one, try to stay calm and wait for it to continue on its way. If you get bitten remove any tight items of clothing to prevent swelling, and seek medical assistance if symptoms persevere. 

Does Croatia have venomous snakes?

Croatia is home to a wide variety of snake species that thrive in the diverse landscapes and Mediterranean climate. There are around 15 different species that call the Balkan country home but only three of these are venomous. These include the Horned viper, the Karst Meadow Viper, and the Common European adder, all of which can deliver a painful and potentially dangerous bite to humans.  

Are there snakes in Split, Croatia?

While most snakes prefer remote habitats with dense woodland, grass, and even high in the mountains, you can find snakes in Split just like anywhere else in Croatia. However, they’re unlikely to dwell in areas that are busy with tourists and stick to quiet, overgrown gardens and woodland. 

What is the most venomous snake in Croatia?

The Horned viper is considered to be the most venomous and dangerous snake, in not only Croatia but 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. You’ll know if you’ve been bitten by one of these critters and the best course of action is to seek immediate medical intention without mobilizing the site of the bite too much. Bites are rarely recorded and most aren’t fatal, but you wouldn’t want to risk it.