Think France, think smelly cheese and snow-covered ski runs, bucolic countryside and handsome bastide towns. Yep, we doubt that you’ll even give the most dangerous animals in France a second-thought when planning your trip to the land of the Eiffel Tower and the Haute-Savoie. That’s probably how it should be, but here’s some info on them anyhow…
The mountains, forests, pastures, and waters of France are host to a range of animals that know how to defend themselves when necessary. On our list, we’ve got apex predators, controversial mammals, spiny marine creatures, venomous insects and reptiles, and at least one animal that is likely to surprise you.
Generally speaking, the most dangerous animals in France aren’t all that dangerous at all. To put it another way, deaths from animal attacks in these parts aren’t very common at all. Still, it’s a good idea to get a feel for the sort of deadly critters that are about if you’re hopping over on the hunt for crusty baguettes and fine wines, don’t you think?
Wolf (Canis lupus)
Grey wolves were driven out of France in the early 20th century by humans. However, they made their way back in the 1990s by coming over the mountains from Italy and re-establishing a presence in some higher-up and more remote parts of the Alps.
Today they are positively thriving in the mountainous regions of south and southwestern France The closure of the French ski season for the winter of 2020/21 due to the COVID pandemic even led to reports of wolves being spotted in ski resorts like Courchevel and La Plagne!
But joy at the return of these animals is not shared by everyone. They are often still thought of as one of the most dangerous animals in France, even though instances of wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare.
That said, there are cases of pets being killed by wolves and also of livestock being attacked. Since wolves are now protected, hunting them is illegal, but farmers often petition the government to cull wolves to protect their animals.
Wild boar (Sus scrofa)
Wild boar are not just one of the most dangerous animals in France but one of the most controversial to boot. Hunting them for sport and meat is a long-standing, fiercely-protected tradition in these parts. It’s also said to be necessary to control the number of wild boar, which is estimated to be at over 2 million in France today.
The bulky critters are known to damage agricultural land and installations, injure livestock, and occasionally cause damage to property, so some citizens call for more even hunting to combat the species. But it’s a hot topic of debate, because wild boar hunting in France has led to the deaths and severe injuries of not just hunters and boars, but also of innocent bystanders, hikers, and cyclists.
Wild boars are generally peaceful creatures who tend to avoid contact with humans. However, if chased, injured, or protecting their young, they will defend themselves fiercely and are well equipped to do so.
They are muscular animals with a lot of power, speed, and intelligence. They also have long spiked tusks, which can pierce skin and muscle to cause serious injury, blood loss, and even death when turned on pursuers.
Brown bear (Ursus arctos)
Another of France’s most dangerous animals is yet another cause of controversy in the land of crispy baguettes and blue cheese. A war has been raging for years between conservationists and farmers over whether or not bears should be allowed to live and thrive in the backcountry.
Bears were reintroduced to France more than 20 years ago, but it’s been a long, hard road for the bears and the environmentalists that campaigned for their reintroduction alike. Although endangered and protected animals, the introduced bears have faced persecution from the start.
Farmers and citizens, fearing for their livestock and safety, engaged in illegal hunting and poisoning of the bears to stop the establishment of native populations. France has tried to clamp down on this behavior, promising to persecute anyone found to have injured or killed a bear, but the war between the factions continues.
Although the fear for livestock was justified, the same can’t be said for fears over citizens’ safety. Incidents of bear attacks in Western Europe are extremely rare, and with the number of bears in France estimated at just 20 or, the chances of human-bear contact is almost non-existent.
European adder (Vipera berus)
Of all the snakes in France to be wary of, the common European adder is the one you need to watch out for the most. The main reason for that is just how common it is. Present all over the northern parts of the continent, this one makes its home in the sandy dunes of the UK across to the Low Countries and Scandinavia. In France, it’s largely found in the north, throughout Normandy, Brittany, and the Dijon.
Adders are a member of the viper species, which means – like all other vipers on the planet – they have a venomous bite. Thankfully, there’s only been one or two deaths attributed to them over the centuries, though victims often suffer severe nausea, extreme pain at the site of contact, and dips and peaks in blood pressure. AKA – it’s not something you’ll want to go through during your haunt to the medieval towns of northern France.
You’ll want to keep watch for a snake that’s typically dark brown and black all the way along. They often have chevron or diamond markings that are picked out in light browns and beiges, with a thick, fat torso in the middle. Adders typically grow up to a meter from top to tail.
Asp viper (Vipera aspis)
If the adder is the snake de jour of the northern part of France, the asp viper is the snake de jour of the south. These guys basically take over where Vipera berus leaves off. They’re found in the hills and wooded regions of the Périgord-Limousin – truffle country – all the way to the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean around jet-setter towns like Cannes and St Tropez.
When it comes to the danger scale, asp vipers are actually a notch up from the adder. Studies have shown that their venom is capable of killing living tissue and can lead to extreme holistic symptoms that include the renal failure and heart failure. For that reason, they are considered one of Europe’s few true mortal snakes.
So, you’ll want to avoid these for certain. Sadly, they’re good at adapting to a whole host of habitats, so be wary amid the forests of Aquitaine, along the rocky ridges of the southern Alps, and in the pine forests and lavender fields of Provence, folks!
Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)
Despite its Francophone moniker, the Montpellier snake is way more common in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula than it is in the home of croissants and crispy baguettes. But it is here – look for it around the hotter regions of southern France, throughout the hills of Languedoc right out along the balmy French Riviera.
Unlike the aforementioned asp viper, these critters aren’t thought to be highly venomous. In fact, they’re a rare-fanged snake, which means they often find it hard to inject enough stuff in a single bite to cause severe damage. You’ll need to either be bitten multiple times or leave the snake hanging off your limb (which we doubt you’re likely to do, eh?).
What Montpellier snakes are is long. They can grow up to 2.5 meters at full tilt. They have a coloring similar to grass snakes, with a light brown on the body sides and a green hue on the top of the body.
Black widow spider (Latrodectus)
Two dangerous spiders live in France: The brown recluse spider and the black widow spider. Neither spider is aggressive, but both will bite if threatened, and both have a toxic venom that can do some hefty damage to humans, and – in extremely rare cases – even cause death.
The European or Mediterranean black widow, recognizable by the red or orange spots across its black torso, was once confined to the warmer southern regions of France and Corsica. However, it has recently been sighted further north.
It tends to live in long grasses and wheat fields and in the dark corners of outhouses, sheds, and garages. A bite from a black widow can cause pain, swelling, fever, shock, and perhaps even death, though that’s usually when the victim is prone to anaphylactic shock or has an allergy to widow venom.
Tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus)
Originally from Southeast Asia, tiger mosquitos first appeared in France in 2004. Experts believe that they managed that daring migration thanks to increasing globalization and trade links between Europe and the ast.
Either way, there’s no doubt that they are a hardy species, and this ability to adapt to various habitats and climates has led to them now living in around 100 countries worldwide. Unfortunately, this makes them one of the 10 most invasive species in the world, and a real nuisance besides…
Mosquitos aren’t just annoying buzzers. They also pose a real threat to humans because of the diseases that they carry. For example, the tiger mosquito can carry the Zika Virus, Dengue fever, and the Chikungunya virus. These illnesses can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as fever, nausea, aching muscles, and shock. But they can also have serious, lasting effects and can cause death if left untreated.
Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)
The Asian hornet is another invasive species that you might come across while strolling the Provencal lavender fields or the Cote d’Azur. First spotted in France in 2004, it is now found all over the country and is not making itself popular.
The Asian hornet is large and aggressive, especially around its nest. It has very few natural predators, so numbers have exploded in recent years. Finally, it adapts easily to new environments and can even venture inside the home.
One of the main concerns about the Asian hornet is that it tends to destroy local honey bee populations, thwarting honey production and endangering a fragile ecosystem. In addition, the smaller, less aggressive honey bees have no defense against the larger insect, and their numbers are dwindling in France because of this.
The other concern is that they are venomous and can be harmful to humans. One sting from an Asian hornet is not usually dangerous unless the victim is allergic. However, if a person is stung multiple times, the danger grows. Their venom can cause tissue damage, anaphylactic shock, renal failure, and, as has happened several times in France, death.
Cow (Bos taurus)
Yep – the great galumphing cow makes our list of the most dangerous animals in France! You might not think so, but these are robust, strong animals, often topped with horns. It really shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that they can be pretty darn dangerous to humans.
In fact, cows regularly chase people and have caused the death and injury of hikers in both the Pyrenees and the Alps. Accidents usually happen when walkers get too close to a mother and her young, or a dog gets loose and runs into the herd scaring the cows.
A large part of this danger comes from the shared nature of land in France. It’s not unusual for farmers to lead their herds into ski resorts to graze in the summer. Since these resorts are busy with folks during the warmer months, it brings the cows into regular contact with bikers, hikers, and dog walkers.
Weever fish (Trachinidae)
It’s not just land animals you need to watch out for in France; there are dangerous creatures in the water, too. Weever fish are common along the shorelines of the English Channel and the Atlantic parts of the nation, and have a venomous sting that can cause significant pain, require hospital treatment, and sometimes lead to more serious complications.
Weever fish lie semi-buried in the sandy sea bed, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey. But humans don’t need to worry about them pouncing. Instead, the danger comes from the spines of their dorsal fin, which contain a venom that can cause pain, nausea, swelling, irritation, muscle aches, and in severe cases, cardiac trouble, respiratory problems, and unconsciousness.
Most weever fish stings occur when unsuspecting swimmers stand on the fish in the sand or anglers spike themselves while trying to unhook the fish. Anyone spiked by a weever fish should seek medical attention immediately.
Dangerous animals in France – our conclusion
We’ve touched on just 11 creatures that we think can reign among the most dangerous animals in France.
From the slithering snakes that possess a venom that’s powerful enough to kill to hulking bears that are just re-establishing themselves in the mountains and forests here, there’s a wide range of them. The good news is that animal attacks and deaths from animals remain extremely rare in this part of Europe. Oddly, it’s cows on Alpine meadows and wild boars in country villages that tend to do the most damage each year.
What is the most dangerous animal in France?
The most dangerous animal in France is the wild boar because of the many injuries and deaths that are caused during the hunting of these animals.
Are there predators in France?
Yes, there are predators in France. Wolves, bears and lynx all live in France, although the danger they pose to humans is minimal, and most people would be lucky to ever see one.
Are there dangerous snakes in France?
There are several species of dangerous snakes in France. The two you should be sure to watch out for the most are the asp viper and the European adder, both of which have venom that is harmful to humans.
Are there dangerous spiders in France?
Two dangerous spiders live in France: The black widow and the brown recluse spider. Both are highly venomous and harmful to humans.