Germany might be most famous for its curry-flavored sausages and its frothy-topped beers, its oompah-led Oktoberfest celebrations and its underground Berliner techno bars, but it’s also one of the wilder countries in Europe. It’s so wild that there are even snakes in Germany, and they’re not all of the harmless variety, either…
Nope. This guide will run through five of the most common snakes found in the home of the Beethoven and Brahms. First, we’ll take a look at the two most feared specimens; the only two venomous snakes in Germany that exist today. Then, we’ll move onto a few of the other slithering creatures you might very well find as your hike the trails of the Bavarian Alps or scour the sand dunes of the Baltic Sea.
The good news is that snake bite deaths are very rare in Germany. The snakes that can do harm to humans don’t have bites that regularly lead to fatalities and most snakes aren’t dangerous at all, although we’d certainly recommend seeking medical attention if you do think you might have been bitten by the asp or the adder!
European adder (Vipera berus)
The European adder is by far the most common venomous snake in Germany and the most common venomous snake on the continent as a whole. Its range extends all the way from the highlands of Scotland and the beaches of the Welsh coast to the depths of the rolling Russian steppe. Along the way, that covers the entire breadth of Germany, apart from, a little unusually, one small piece of territory in the Rhineland around Mannheim and Frankfurt.
These guys usually grow to a length of around 60 cm from end to end, although record specimens have managed to reach nearly a meter. They have a distinct color pattern that involves diamond-shaped squares all the way down the back of the body, flanked by lighter hued beiges on the sides for the ladies and a more grayish tone for the men.
The venom of a European adder is quite strong. Mhmm…A bite from these guys hardly sounds like a walk in the park. It invariably involves heavy swelling at the point of contact, uncontrollable vomiting, nausea, sweating, and sudden blindness. Although it is rare, people do die from adder bites in Germany – the last recorded case was an 82-year-old woman back in 2004.
European adders have inspired much folklore over the ages. In Germany in particular, they were thought to be the source of revered adder stones – strange, flint rocks with holes in the sides that Druids believed to possess magical powers. Many of those have been recovered at archaeology dig sites along the Baltic coast in northern Germany.
European aspis viper (Vipera aspis)
The asp viper is the second venomous snake in Germany. It’s way less common than its compadre, though. In fact, in the land of pretzels and schnitzels, it only really lives in a small sliver of land in the very far southwestern part of the country, around the mist-haloed peaks of Feldberg in the depths of the beautiful Black Forest. It’s more common in neighboring Switzerland and Italy, where it likes to reside in mid-altitude Alpine regions.
You’ll be able to spot an asp viper because it has the distinctly viper-shaped head; a diamond with deep, dark inset eyes. It also has a clear coloring of thin black lines on top and a body that’s largely coffee brown from end to end. They grow to about 60 centimeters at full adulthood but might be a touch more than that.
Bites from asp vipers have been mooted as the cause of death of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Experts disagree on that, but they do agree that these guys are more dangerous than its compadre, the common European adder.
It’s estimated that around 4% of bites from asps would be fatal to humans if left untreated. Symptoms of envenomation include swelling, paralysis at the point of contact, necroses of cell tissue, and difficulty with breathing and swallowing. You absolutely must seek medical attention if you’ve fallen victim to one of these during your travels through Germany.
Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
We don’t know about you but we’re big fans of the German word for the grass snake: Ringelnatter. Here, they’re named after the distinct yellow ring pattern that forms around the top of the neck. It creates a sort of wide loop of mustardy scales that point upwards towards the head of the snake. Others think that they’re named after the tight coil shapes that grass snakes curl into when they’re relaxed.
This is one of the few snakes on this list that’s present all over Germany. Yep, you’ll find these guys living in the wooded hills of the Black Forest in the southwest and in the swaying grass meadows of the Landrücken Nature Park in the northeast. The only rule is that they tend to solely reside by a freshwater source, mainly because their diet is almost entirely made up of small amphibians like frogs and little lizards.
Grass snakes are 100% harmless to humans. In fact, they’re actually thought to bring good luck according to German folklore. In Bavaria, they were often praised by farmers as a blessing on the cattle for that year. In the waterlogged areas of the Spreewald just outside of Berlin (day trip, anyone?), the grass snake is still used as an emblem of the people, and you’ll often see it carved onto the tops of the wooden houses.
Dice snake (Natrix tessellate)
The Germans call this one the Würfelnatter. In English it’s known most commonly as the dice snake. Although it comes from the same family as the adder (colubrid snakes), it’s totally non-venomous and can’t harm humans. On top of that, it’s hardly ever seen in Germany. The center of the range is actually southeastern Europe, around Eurasia, Cappadocia, and the Caucasus Mountains. However, there have been sporadic sightings around the Rhineland-Palatinate and in Saxony.
You’re on the lookout for a serpent that’s got a thick body with a curious brown-and-gold color scheme, although the pattern can vary depending on the region you’re in. They tend to grow to just a touch over one meter in length at full adulthood and have a narrow, pointy head that finishes with a slender snout.
There are lots of places in Germany where the dice snake could live. It likes semi-wet riverbank areas with grass and gravel coverage, with good access to hunting grounds where it can catch fish like carp or gudgeon. Dice snake are routinely preyed on by herons, gulls, and birds of prey. It will usually semi-hibernate throughout the entire winter, so sightings are extremely unlikely between October and March.
Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca)
Named for the smooth, flat back that it gets from its non-protruding scales, this snake is another common and, thankfully, non-venomous serpent that calls Germany its home. The range actually extends much further than just Germany – this creature has been found all the way east in Iran, and as far south as the sunbaked valleys of Sicily, Italy.
Apart from the flat-scaled back, you’ll be able to tell it’s a smooth snake because of the light beige and brown color scheme that runs the whole length of the body. Fully grown adults of the species tend to hit between 60-75cm, though some just shy of a meter in length have been observed in Russia. The head is also noticeably smaller and slenderer than other adder and viper species mentioned on this list.
As we’ve already said, the smooth snake is 100% non-venomous. It can’t harm humans but does prey on small mammals like mice and lizards. It tends to live in areas of heathland (especially in the UK) and light forest but can also adapt to open fields and riparian habitats nearer to rivers. Thanks to their big geographical range, smooth snakes are currently listed as a creature of Least Concern by the IUCN.
What are the most common snakes in Germany?
The grass snake is the most common snake in Germany. It actually has a geographic spread that takes it from the borders of western Germany all the way to the Siberian steppe. It’s not venomous and is actually considered a portent of good luck by the people of some regions here.
Are there any venomous snakes in Germany?
There are. Both the European adder and the European asp viper are venomous. They have bites that can be fatal in humans, however deaths from both species remain rare. You’ll need to seek out medical attention if you do get bitten, though.
What are the most dangerous snakes in Germany?
The asp viper is by far the most dangerous snake in Germany. An estimated 4% of its untreated bites lead to death, and it’s the sole cause of snakebite death in nearby Italy. The good news is that this snake is very rare in Germany, occurring only in the extreme southwestern part of the country around the hills and woodlands of the Black Forest.