Italy comprises some of the most varied and scenic landscapes on earth. It’s also home to an array of animals. Although the extent of animal life in Italy has been vastly reduced there are still several species of animals and reptiles you need to be aware of.
There are two main family types of snakes found extensively in Italy; Colubridae and Viperidae. The Colubrid snakes are non-venomous whereas the Viperidae’s are venomous and are definitely ones to watch out for. So, if you’re looking at traveling to Italy and are anxious about snakes then we have some good news for you. Most snakes prefer to avoid you and many will take steps to do so. While there are 19 different species of snakes in Italy only seven of these are venomous and they are rarely seen.
But if you’re still concerned and want to know more, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a guide to the seven most venomous snakes in Italy, how to recognize them, and what to do if you get bitten by one so that you are fully prepared for your adventure-filled vacation exploring the romance of Italy.
Asp vipers are diurnal snakes and live a solitary life. They feast on small rodents, lizards, and small birds and tend to hide away in burrows that are made by small rodents such as voles or mice. The head of an Asp Viper is broad, triangular, and quite distinct from the neck and its nose is slightly upturned. They are Italy’s most venomous snake and is thought to be responsible for as many as 90% of all snake bites. While most bites by these vipers aren’t deadly they can be if left untreated.
In Italy, Asp Vipers can be found in mesic chestnut or oak woodlands and often near streams. A male Asp is normally grey in color and can reach up to 85cm long while the female can be grey, brown, and various shades of orange and aren’t often longer than 75cm. Their dorsal markings vary significantly from snake to snake but they rarely take the form of a clear zigzag pattern.
Found in Southern Europe, the Balkans, and parts of the Middle East, the nose-horned viper is reputed to be the most dangerous snake in Europe due to its large size, toxicity, and long fangs. Nose-horned vipers have very distinctive characteristics, the most prevalent of which is the single “horn” on their snout. This “horn” is actually soft and flexible and grows to a length of about five millimeters. These snakes have a length of between 85cm and 95cm.
The color patterns on the male and female nose-horned snakes are different. In males, their heads have irregular dark brown, dark gray, or black markings with a V marking on the back, there are also thick black strips that run from behind their eye to behind the angle of the jaw. The male’s tongues are usually black in color and their eyes are either a golden or coppery color. The Females have similar color patterns to the males, however, it’s less distinctive and contrasting. They also lack the V marking on the back of their heads. Both males and females have a zigzag dorsal stripe set against a lighter background.
The European Adder, also known as the common viper, can be found in either low-lying wetlands or at high altitudes in parts of Northern Italy. The color pattern on these adders varies from light-colored specimens with small incomplete dorsal crossbars to entirely brown specimens with faint or clear brown markings. They may also be entirely dark and lack any apparent dorsal markings. Most of them will however have some kind of zigzag dorsal pattern along the length of their bodies. Their heads will have a distinctive dark V or X on the back.
Unlike other vipers, it is relatively easy to tell the sexes of the European Adder as the female are usually brownish-hues with dark brown markings and the males are pure grey with black markings.
For the most part, the European Adder is a solitary reptile and will only be seen with a female or male when hibernating or mating. They also tend to stay out of the way of humans and are not normally aggressive unless stepped on or threatened. Adders will often slink away into the undergrowth at any sign of danger and will only reappear when all is quiet. If they have nowhere to go they will make themselves known with loud and sustained hissing and will pull the front part of their body into an S-shape in preparation to strike.
Orsini’s Viper/Meadow Viper
You’re more than likely going to have a hard time finding this viper in Italy as they are extremely rare and in danger of extinction. The Orsini’s Viper or Meadow Viper is the smallest viper in Europe and has a thick body, narrow head, and its appearance is rough. There are always large scales on its head and its prominently keeled dorsal scales are in only nineteen rows and often have dark skin between them. They are often gray, tan, or yellowish in color with a dark undulating dorsal strip and female Meadow Vipers are larger than males.
These vipers are carnivores and often feast on various insects including grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts but have also been known to eat spiders, small mammals, ground-nesting birds, and lizards. The Meadow Viper is often found in well-drained alpine and subalpine meadows between 900m and 3000m in altitude or dry meadow-steppe grasslands. As they are in danger of extinction they are a protected species so if you do happen to come across one, you’ll want to make sure you leave it alone. They are also venomous and can pack a pretty nasty bite.
The Walser Viper is found in the Western Italian Alps and is only a recent discovery as until now it’s often been confused with the European Adder. These vipers are closely related to the caucasian viper and look exactly like the European Adder so they are often difficult to distinguish.
They tend to like a habitat of montane grasslands with small bushes of creeping pines and like to be at an elevation of around 1500m above sea level. While there is still a lot more that scientists have to learn about these vipers you’ll want to keep a wide berth as they are poisonous and a bite from them could land you in hospital.
Eurasian Vipers are mainly found in Europe from Portugal to Turkey as well as some islands in the Mediterranean sea and the United Kingdom. They prefer cooler climates and those found at lower latitudes like to be at higher altitudes with dryer, rocky habitats whereas those found at northern latitudes prefer lower elevations and environments with more vegetation and moisture.
The Eurasian Viper has similar markings to the Asp Viper and their venom contains both neurotoxic and haemotoxic components and if a bite from one of these snakes is left untreated it could lead to death. Although it’s not likely that you will come across one as they tend to keep themselves hidden and out of sight.
The Montpellier snake is a mildly venomous, rear-fanged snake that’s found in some parts of Italy. While these snakes have been known to eat other snakes their main diet consists of lizards. They can grow up to 2 meters in length and weigh up to one and a half kilograms.
There have only been a few reported cases of Montpellier Snakes biting humans, with one being due to a person sticking their finger inside the snake’s mouth. If you can resist this yourself you should be ok and despite the fact they have a venomous bite, the toxicity is fairly low and there have been no reported deaths. It’s also one of the most common snakes found in the Mediterranean basin. So if you come across one of these snakes it will more than likely ignore you unless threatened.
What To Do If You Get Bitten By A Venomous Snake Italy?
Now that you’ve learned about the seven most venomous snakes in Italy it would be wise to learn what you need to do should the unspeakable happen and you get bitten but first you’ll need to know some common symptoms to watch out for:
- A pair of puncture marks
- Redness and swelling around the bite
- Severe pain at the site of the bite
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Increased sweating
- Numbness, swelling, or tingling of the face or limbs.
While the very first thing you need to do once you get bitten is to seek medical assistance, there are a few more things you can do. Here’s a list of first aid tips while you wait for help to arrive:
- Try to remember the color and shape of the snake as well as any distinctive markings as this will help emergency personnel know which anti-venom to give you.
- Try to remain as calm as possible, this will help to slow down the spread of the venom.
- Sit or lie down with the bite below the level of your heart.
- Wash the bite with soap and water, if available.
- Cover the bite with a clean and dry dressing.
How Many Venomous Snakes Are In Italy?
You’ll find seven species of venomous snake in Italy and they are all part of the viper family. They tend to live in warm areas that are exposed to the sun, have structured vegetation, and comparatively dry soil. Throughout Italy, they are often found in limestone regions with low mountains or hills but have been seen in lower plains.
What Is The Biggest Snake In Italy?
Italy’s biggest snake is the Italian Aesculapian snake. It’s endemic to Southern Italy and Sicily. The Italian Aesculapian Snake feasts on lizards, small mammals, and eggs and can reach a length of two meters. Luckily this snake is part of the Colubridae family and is non-venomous. So although it might look pretty scary due to its size it’s not likely to cause any threat or danger to humans.
What Is The Most Dangerous Snake In Italy?
While there are plenty of dangerous animals in Italy, there is only one snake that’s considered to be the most dangerous. That snake is the Asp Viper. As mentioned at the start of this article, the Asp Viper is definitely the most venomous snake in Italy. It is also considered to be responsible for around 90% of all snake bites and its venom also packs a pretty nasty punch. You’ll want to seek immediate hospital treatment if bitten by an Asp Viper and you should watch out for the following symptoms:
- Severe pain at the bite site
- Inflammation and blistering at the bite site
- Low blood pressure
- Vomiting and nausea
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
What Is The Most Common Snake In Italy?
The most common snake found in Italy is the Whipsnake. Its found all over Italy and hibernates inside rock cracks, mammal burrows, and outbuildings during September and April. These non-venomous snakes have been known to travel long distances between summer and winter, however, in the height of summer, they will only travel around 3,000 square meters. The Whipsnake is very fast and agile, hunting mainly by sight, and can be incredibly aggressive if caught or corned.