If you’re heading on a holiday to Cyprus you might be planning on enjoying a spot of culture, lapping up the nightlife or just relaxing on a beach. But what are the chances of running into snakes in Cyprus, and how worried should you be if you spot one?
The bad news is that there are snakes in Cyprus. The good news is that the majority of Cyprus’s snakes are harmless and don’t pose any threat to humans at all. There are three types of snake that are venomous in Cyprus, but only one, the Cyprian blunt-nosed viper, carries a venom that is dangerous to humans. Yet a bite from one of these reptiles could do a lot more than just ruin your holiday.
Read on to discover more about the snakes in Cyprus, and how to spot the difference between those that are harmless and the ones you should avoid.
Cyprian blunt-nosed viper
The Cyprian blunt-nosed viper is by far the most dangerous snake in Cyprus. Of the island’s three venomous snakes, this is the only one whose venom is strong enough to cause serious harm to humans. The Cyprian blunt-nosed viper is one of a specific subspecies of vipers which are commonly found across North Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia. The Cyprian blunt-nosed viper carries a highly toxic venom that can be fatal to humans, though bites are thankfully incredibly rare.
The Cyprian blunt-nosed viper is a large snake, with females typically larger than the males. It’s not uncommon for Cyprian blunt-nosed vipers to grow to around a meter and a half in length and weigh as much as five kilograms. They can easily be recognized by the triangular shape of the head and the blunt nose from which it gets its name. Whilst the Cyprian blunt-nosed viper mostly feeds on small birds and rodents, if they feel threatened these snakes won’t hesitate to defend themselves by attacking predators with a bite, injecting venom into its victims through its teeth.
Cyprus whip snake
The Cyprus whip snake is one of three snakes that are endemic to Cyprus. Very rare and preferring to live in remote and wet parts of the island’s forests, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever come across a Cyprus whip snake. Threatened by habitat loss, the Cyprus whip snake’s official conservation status is listed as endangered.
Unlike the blunt-nosed viper, and as with most of the snakes on the island, the Cyprus whip snake is non-venomous and completely harmless to humans. It lives largely off a diet of other reptiles, such as small lizards and other snakes, as well as frogs and rodents. They’re also very shy, and is most likely to flee at the first sight of anything that it perceives to be a threat.
European cat snake
The cat snake is another of Cyprus’s venomous snakes, though thankfully we humans have nothing to fear. Whilst the cat snake does carry a toxic poison it is injected into its prey via its backward-facing fangs that sit at the rear of the snake’s upper jaw. Thankfully these backward-facing fangs mean that it is almost impossible for them to bite humans. Also, the venom the cat snake does produce is nowhere near lethal enough to do any harm to humans should it somehow find a way to inject it.
Common across much of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East and Western Asia, the cat snake likes a broad range of habitats, from open forested areas and scrubland as well as beaches. They’re also almost exclusively nocturnal, meaning that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever come across a cat snake unless you go looking for one.
Cyprus black whip snake
The Cyprus black whip snake is another of the island’s endemic snakes. It’s also one of the easiest snakes on the island to identify. The Cypress black whip snake is huge, capable of growing up to three meters in length, making it one of the longest snake species in Europe. Once they reach adulthood the snake’s body will turn jet black in color, as alluded to in their name. Fortunately, the Cyprus black whip snake is non-venomous and lives mostly off lizards, birds and other snakes.
Though they are non-venomous you should probably leave a Cyprus black whip snake alone if you happen to come across one. Despite the lack of toxic venom, these snakes will attack if they feel threatened. They do so by lifting their body off the ground and biting their aggressor with their long teeth, or even lashing out with its long thick tail. Oddly, the Cyprus black whip snake is an unusual friend to the island’s gardeners, as it has a habit of feeding and watering fruit and vegetable crops and killing any predators that might be tempted to feed off them.
The Montpellier snake is Cyprus’s third and final venomous snake. Thankfully this has much more in common with the European cat snake than the blunt-nosed viper. As with the cat snake, the Montpellier snake has backwards-facing fangs. This means that whilst it does produce a dangerous venom, unless you go sticking your fingers down its throat then there’s very little chance of the snake injecting it into you. Plus, the venom is only a very mild toxin that cannot do a great deal of harm to humans besides. If bitten by a Montpellier snake, the most likely injury will be mild swelling around the bite mark.
The Montpellier snake is fairly common throughout the Mediterranean region of Europe, having managed to avoid being overly hunted. This may be due to the snake’s large eyes which give it excellent vision. Often growing to around two meters in length, they’re most active during the daytime, feeding on other snakes and lizards as well as rodents and even insects.
The coin snake is another very common snake in Cyprus. Named after the coin-like shapes that form a pattern across its body, the coin snake is often confused for the Cyprian blunt-nosed viper as they share a similar appearance. The coin snake is non-venomous, though it has been known to mimic certain behaviors seen in the blunt-nosed viper. When threatened the coin snake will become aggressive and is likely to attack. Though it doesn’t carry a toxin a coin snake’s bite can be very painful.
As with many of the snakes on our list, the coin snake is common across much of the region, including Southern Europe, Western and Central Asia and even some parts of Africa. Though the coin snake prefers dry areas of shrublands or forests it is highly adaptable and can commonly be found in urban areas in Cyprus. Excellent climbers, they are even capable of vertically climbing up walls.
Cyprus grass snake
A subspecies of the grass snake species, the Cyprus grass snake is endemic to the island and is incredibly rare. Only found in a few areas close to water, the Cyprus grass snake is endangered and there are a number of efforts being carried out by conservationists on the island to help boost their failing numbers. Non-toxic and incapable of biting, they pose no threat to humans, though they do excrete a particularly nasty liquid from their glands if they do feel threatened.
Despite their name, the Cyprus grass snake is much more likely to be found in the water than in the grass. Excellent swimmers, they’re generally considered to be water snakes. It’s in the island’s rivers and streams that the Cyprus grass snake is most likely to be spotted. Typically growing to around a meter in length, Cyprus grass snakes are excellent hunters in the water, living mostly off small frogs and fish.
The dwarf snake is another of the largely harmless snakes in Cyprus. The dwarf snake is incredibly rare and only known to live near the Kyrenia Mountains in the north of the island. Though dwarf snakes were first found on Cyprus in the mid-19th century, there had been no sighting of the species on the island for well over a hundred years until three were spotted by herpetologists in 2007. Besides Cyprus, the dwarf snake is relatively common in nearby and neighboring countries such as Greece, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
As the name implies the dwarf snake is very small, with a very thin body that rarely grows beyond thirty centimeters in length. Largely nocturnal by nature, the dwarf snake is able to adapt to life in a number of different environments but prefers dry areas such as farmland and forests, living off insects, spiders and lizards and even scorpions.
How common are snakes in Cyprus?
Snakes are pretty common in Cyprus, particularly in rural areas. Snakes can often be seen when walking, cycling or driving in the countryside, and are regularly spotted crossing or slithering alongside rural roads. Those that you’re most likely to come across are the black whip snake and the coin snake.
How many venomous snakes are there in Cyprus?
There are three species of venomous snake in Cyprus, but only one is dangerous to humans. The Cyprian blunt-nosed viper is the most dangerous venomous snake in Cyprus, with a toxin capable of causing death to humans. The venomous European cat snake and Montpelier snake pose little threat to humans due to their backward-facing fangs and relatively harmless venom.