With the great rises of the Colosseum, the glinting beaches of Sardinia, the priceless artworks of Florence, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the rolling vineyards of Tuscany, and the strange trulli houses of Lecce to wonder at as you travel this incredible land, we can hardly blame you for being distracted as you go. But did you know that there are a number of dangerous animals in Italy that it might be worth knowing about?
As a boot-shaped peninsula, Italy is actually a biodiversity hotspot. It’s home to more animal species than any other European country and a third of the continent’s fauna is represented within its borders. Commonly spotted mammals include several types of shrews, Alpine marmots, snow voles, wild boars, and steinbocks. And there are more elusive creatures like the Eurasian lynx, the Marsican bear, or the Italian wolf to boot.
This guide will run through nine of the most dangerous animals in Italy. From the slinking snakes that make their home in the wooded highlands to the hardy bears that patrol the Dolomites to fish you probably (read: Definitely) do not want to step on, it’s got plenty to get through…
Snakes are up there with the most dangerous animals in the world, and, in Italy, there’s one particular serpent that’s thought to be responsible for as many as 90% of all bites: The asp viper. Thankfully, the vast majority aren’t deadly, but around 4% of untreated cases do end with a fatality, so this isn’t one to be taken lightly.
Male asps can reach up to 85cm long, though females are rarely longer than 75cm. Males also tend to be more slender than females. Asp vipers are easy to spot as they have broad, triangular-shaped heads with an upturned snout. The coloring on an asp viper varies from light grey to reddish-brown, with a variety of different markings down the body, occasionally resembling a sort of half zigzag.
These venomous snakes tend to be found in low mountains and hilly areas in Italy. They like places that have good access to fresh water and warm areas which are exposed to the sun – no wonder they like The Boot, eh? The venom of an Asp viper is stronger than that of an adder, and the effects of their bite include acute pain followed by swelling and discoloration at the site of contact. Other symptoms include impaired vision, breathing difficulties, paralysis, and difficulty swallowing.
There are more than 100 species of jellyfish in Italy. The most common is the barrel jellyfish (rhizostoma pulmo), a colossal mush of a creature that sort of drifts this way and that on the ocean currents. They can weigh a whopping 25kg at full growth and measure a full meter from top to tip. So, they look formidable. But don’t be fooled. Barrel jellyfish stings aren’t normally harmful to humans, and on the rare occasions it is felt, it’s too mild to be of any real danger.
However, that’s not the end of the story when it comes to jellyfish in Italy. There’s a new arrival on the scene: Rhopilema nomadica. Also known as the nomad jellyfish, these guys are way more dangerous than their barrel compadres but have only been in the Mediterranean since the 1970s. It’s thought that they migrated through the Suez Canal and have since colonized large parts of the Levant and the Adriatic Sea.
It’s not good news. Nomad jellies have a potent and painful sting that’s powered by a particularly nasty venom. It comes from touching one of the long tentacles that drift behind the jellyfish. That leads to a blistering rash at the site of contact that sometimes doesn’t recede for up to three weeks! It’s thought that the best way to treat a jellyfish sting is to remove the tentacle as promptly as possible and then dab with warm water.
The weeverfish is the most venomous fish found in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s also the most venomous fish in the Black Sea, the eastern Atlantic, the North Sea, and many other European coastal areas. So…yup…it’s not the nicest customer. Small but feared by surfers and divers and swimmers from the UK to Italy, they usually live in the mud and silt below the surface and will attack if provoked.
Weeverfish inject their venom into their victims from long needle-sharp spines along their back. Each spine can measure up to 2.5 centimeters in length and can remain venomous for extended periods of time (like, hours) even out of the water. One important thing to remember with a weeverfish is that their spines are strong enough to penetrate through a leather boot, so none of those fancy reef shoes will save you here!
In fact, the most common place to get stung by a weeverfish is the foot. You’ll know if it happens because the pain from their sting is instant. It is often described as a burning and crushing feeling and can quickly spread up the entire leg from where the puncture occurred. Pain will typically peak around 30 minutes after the initial sting but can last a few days in all. The puncture site itself can show bruising, redness, and warmth over a six to 12 hour period. Infections are common with a weeverfish sting due to the depth of the initial penetration and some people also experience shortness of breath, dizziness, fever, chills, low blood pressure, nausea, headaches, sweating, fainting, or seizures. If that’s you, get checked out by a doctor ASAP!
European black widow spider
Arachnophobes look away now. Cue Latrodectus tredecimguttatus: The European black widow spider. These formidable eight-legged creepies can be found all over the continent. They’re most common in the warmer climes of the Mediterranean Basin, and Italy is right there, smack dab in the heart of their range. Sorry, but apparently we’re not the only ones who like the home of pizza and pasta!
While the Euro black widow is usually easy to spot due to their distinctive black thorax and its bright red markings, they’re still very small, measuring a mere 7mm to 15mm across. The good news is that they are slightly less dangerous and poisonous than their American counterparts across the pond. Still, you probably don’t want to get bitten…
It usually starts with the sensation of a minor pinprick at the site of attack. But that’s really just the intro. That can develop into severe muscle pains, a soaring fever, confusion, and nausea, eventually getting to the stages of sepsis or blood infections that could prove fatal. Thankfully, European black widows don’t typically like urban places, preferring rural locations and farm fields.
Scorpions are present in Italy, but they probably aren’t something you need to be overly cautious of. The country’s only indigenous scorpion is around 3-5cm long with a black body with reddish pincers and legs. They are nocturnal creatures and like to live in old walls, crevices, and cavities of woodpiles, sheds, and stone walls. You can also find them under stones or in grassy fields. Their sting is very weak, similar to that of a bee or wasp, and only lethal if you are allergic.
Mild symptoms of a scorpion sting include pain around the site of the sting, numbness, and slight swelling. A severe reaction could lead to breathing difficulties, drooling, sweating, nausea, muscle twitching, and unusual head, eye, or neck movements. If you do experience any of these symptoms get yourself to the hospital as soon as possible!
The species found in the land of tagliatelle and gelato is native to one region in the north of the country. It only lives in the region west of the Adige River, which means it’s mainly a risk to campers and hikers hitting the untrodden trails of the beautiful Adamello Brenta mountains and the glistening lakes of the Orobie Bergamasche.
The Italian wolf or Apennine wolf is a subspecies of the gray wolf that’s native to the Italian Peninsula. They inhabit the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps and have been under protection since the 1970s. Male Italian wolves have an average weight of 20-40 kilograms, while female Italian wolves are about 10% lighter. Their fur color is normally a blended grey or brown, however, some wolves with black fur have been spotted in the Mugello region.
A wolf’s diet consists mainly of various forms of deer and wild boars and these guys are formidably efficient hunters that work well in packs of between two and four individuals. There have been reports that wolves are getting less afraid of humans in recent years, with more frequent sightings been made in Turin, the Aosta Valley, and the central highland areas.
If you happen to see an Italian wolf while out exploring the mountains or Alps in the north, you’ll want to make yourself look as large as possible. Slowly and calmly back away. Never turn your back or run and always maintain eye contact. If the wolf is showing any signs of aggression – barking, howling or raising their tail – make as much noise as you possibly can and throw things at it while continuing you back away.
Marsican brown bears
The Apennine Mountains, a long chain of rugged peaks that stretch the whole spine of Italy, aren’t just a home for wolves. They are also the only place in the world where the critically endangered Marsican brown bear still resides. These bears tend to live mainly in isolation and typically they show no aggression towards humans. But that can change if you happen to come across a new mother and her cubs, when instinct can take over. That said Marsican brown bears are nocturnal, so you’d have to be very unlucky to cross paths.
A male Marsican brown bear can weigh up to 480 pounds, while the female is likely to weigh no more than 310 pounds. These bears are omnivorous in nature, eating mainly berries, however, they have been known to eat fish and small livestock such as chickens. Standing up on its hind legs, the Marsican brown bear can reach heights of up to two meters. Their sense of smell is a lot better than their sight, so leaving food out is oe of the greatest risk factors.
Sadly, these majestic beasts are now rated as Critically Endangered on the ICUN conservation scale. That’s just two rungs above totally extinct. They currently only live in the highlands of the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, a vast area of protected nature that encompasses glimmering lakes and woodlands to the south-east of Rome.
The elusive lynx certainly definitely deserves an appearance on this list of the most dangerous animals in Italy. The creature was actually thought to be totally extinct in Italy, but major conservation successes meant that it had established numbers once again by 2008. Today, they can be found in the high-altitude reaches of the Aosta Alps and on the eastern fringes of the Dolomites close to the Slovenian border.
An elegant animal, the Eurasian lynx has beige fur with tawny brown and black spots, topped with those trademark spikey tufts of black fur on the tip of its ears. Generally nocturnal, these solitary animals usually feast on deer, hares, and rabbits. But the fact that these cats can take down a deer on its own should be a clue to their physical prowess. Lynx attacks on humans are extremely rare, but they certainly have the speed and agility to win an encounter if they so wished.
Ah, the mozzie. This buzzing critter is a perpetual thorn in the side of travelers. It’s true that it’s most commonly associated with the tropics, and you probably don’t want to be packing your DEET or dream-inducing antimalarials for a trip to Rome or Florence. That’s a touch overkill. However, mosquitoes can be a real pain in Italy, especially in the high-summer months when it gets humid and in areas around large bodies of water (Garda, Como – we’re looking at you!).
Mosquitoes in Italy, like mosquitoes all around the world, can inflict a small bite that usually results in local inflammation and itching at the site of contact. But it’s not the bite itself that’s the worry. It’s what the mozzie carries that causes the problem. Malaria is enemy number one in Africa, for example. Thankfully, Italy is officially malaria-free, though it still does detect some cases – to the tune of 12,032 between the turn of the millennium and 2016, no less!
Yep…you read that right: Cows. Believe it or not, cows are up there with the most dangerous animals in Italy. These galumphing heifers are all over The Boot. From the pastures of Tuscany to the high-alpine fields of the Dolomites, where gnarled peaks curl over the trails. They’re not usually a worry, but it’s when they cross paths with us homosapiens that things can get hairy.
In fact, cow-related injuries are probably way more common than you think. An estimated 30 farmers are killed each year in the US while handling cattle, and hardly a trekking season goes by in the Alps when there’s not at least one report of a walker being charged or harassed, and sometimes even killed.
The problem is twofold. Firstly, cows are huge. They can easily clock up kilo counts that top a ton. Basically, you don’t want one bearing down on you! Secondly, cows are very common in some of Italy’s most popular areas, most notably the skiing and rambling meccas of the Dolomites and Aosta Alps. Human-to-cow encounters happen on almost every trail and, when the birthing season is in full swing, you’ve got the added danger of hormonal mothers protecting their young. Not a good combo.
European brown bears
Until only recently there would have been zero chance of an encounter with a European brown bear in the Italian Alps. That all changed with a particularly impressive and successful reintroduction campaign in the noughties. Now, there’s something like 50 of these hulking beasts up there, stamping across the wildflower meadows and stalking the pine woods. They’re mainly in the region of Trentino and stick to the upper reaches of the eastern Dolomites. Pretty cool, huh?
Well…the thing is, Euro brown bears have 42 jagged teeth, can weigh up to 700 pounds, and stand several meters high on their hind legs. To put it another way – they are tough! The Romans even used them for fighting spectacles back in the Colosseum. What’s more, attacks on both livestock and humans have increased in recent years. Hikers have been attacked on trails in the Dolomites and a number of donkeys and farm creatures have been killed. Watch out if you’re pulling on the walking boots!
What is the most dangerous animal in Italy?
One of the most dangerous animals in Italy has to be the Italian wolf. Although they prefer to stay away from humans, they do have the power to kill if threatened. It’s the second-largest member of the canis family, can run up to 70 kilometers per hour, and weigh up to 40 kilograms. They’re found in the highlands of the Apennines in the heart of the country.
Are there dangerous spiders in Italy?
There are more than 1,000 different species of spider in Italy. That said, most of the spiders in Italy and other regions of Europe cannot actually penetrate human skin, so they aren’t really anything to be concerned about. However, the European black widow can inject its poison into humans. It’s normally a weak bite but can be fatal if left untreated.
Are there venomous snakes in Italy?
Yes, there are seven species of venomous snakes in Italy and all of them are from the viper family. These snakes do not usually attack unless provoked. If you do come across a snake, it’s best to totally leave it alone and keep a wide berth.
What predators live in Italy?
The main predators in Italy are the Eurasian lynx, the Marsican brown bear, and the gray wolf. They all live in the Apennine mountains or in the Alps. Although you are not likely to see these amazing beasts, they are ones to keep in mind while hiking, because they’re certainly among the most dangerous animals in Italy.