Europe contains a hugely diverse range of habitats from frozen tundras and rugged mountains, to sun-soaked coastlines and subtropical regions. It should come as no surprise then that Europe is home to an equally huge range of animals, some of them beautiful, some of them dangerous, and many of them both.
It may not be the first continent you think of when you imagine dangerous animals (Australia, we’re looking at you), but Europe is not without its threats. When it comes to large carnivorous mammals, predators of the sea, and parasitic pests, Europe has a fair few that you’d be wise to watch out for.
We’ve put together a list of 9 of the most dangerous animals in Europe to help you prepare for anything you might come across from one end of this naturally diverse continent to the other.
Of the many species of sharks that live in the Mediterranean Sea and around Europe, the most feared is undoubtedly the great white shark. These ocean monsters can grow up to 20ft long, weigh an astounding 2 tons, and are considered the most dangerous shark in the world. They are huge, highly aggressive, apex predators and are responsible for the most unprovoked and fatal shark attacks on humans.
There have been recent confirmed sightings of great whites in the waters off Spain, Italy, and Croatia, and, further back in the Bay of Biscay. In addition, there are relatively regular rumors of great whites as far north as Britain, but though Scientists agree that it is entirely possible, these sightings have never been confirmed.
Despite the great white shark’s globally decreasing numbers and vulnerable conservation status, its reputation is so fearsome that any sighting of one, rumored or not, tends to cause concern rather than celebration.
Portuguese Man O’ War
While you may not think of jellyfish as being particularly dangerous animals, this one, often found in the seas around Europe, is known for a sting that can cause a tremendous amount of pain, and death in rare cases.
Although technically, they aren’t jellyfish at all but a group of organisms working together in a colony. The part of the colony you need to watch out for is the tentacles, which can stretch over 160ft from the main body. These tentacles have venomous barbs that have the power to incapacitate and kill small fish and crustaceans, these carnivorous creatures usual diet.
If a human comes into contact with these tentacles the results can be severe pain, blistering and red welt-like lesions where the tentacles touched the skin. On rare occasions, the venom can travel through the body and cause more severe symptoms such as shock, respiratory problems, and cardiac arrest.
Although not teeming with venomous spiders, Europe is home to a couple that you should watch out for. One of these, the yellow sac spider, is one of the few venomous spiders found in northern Europe. This tiny spider – only around 1.5 cm long – has a bite that feels close to a bee or wasp sting. However, more serious reactions can occur if the person is allergic to the venom.
In the warmer regions of Europe, travelers need to be aware of the brown recluse spider, one of the most dangerous spiders in the world. The recluse spider’s venom causes necrosis, soft tissue death around the bitten area. If left untreated, this can cause large, deep wounds that often need surgery. Luckily, it isn’t aggressive and only bites when forced against a person’s skin, such as in clothing or bed sheets.
The Mediterranean or European black widow is another spider to watch out for. This spider is recognizable by the red, yellow, or orange spots on its back and torso and it is commonly found in long grass and wheatfields. Its venom is dangerous, and a bite can cause pain, swelling, fever, shock, and in extreme cases, death. This spider was once contained to the warmer, southern areas of Europe but has been seen further north in recent years.
The southern warmer countries of Europe have habitats more suited to snakes than the cooler northern countries. This is why you can find around 45 species of snakes in Turkey and only around 2-5 in the UK, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe. However, there are a couple of venomous snakes that can make themselves at home in almost any habitat.
The first and most wide-ranging is the Common European Adder or Viper. This hardy snake lives further north than any other snake species and can be found across almost the entire continent, from Scandinavia to the UK, to Russia, and as far south as Greece. Although it is not an aggressive snake, it is still considered dangerous because of its venom. If this snake bites you, you may experience intense pain and swelling of the bitten limb. In extremely rare cases, symptoms can include shock, fever, nausea, rapid heart rate, cardiac arrest, and death.
The second dangerous snake prevalent in Europe is more common in the southwest, including Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Slovenia. The Asp Viper or European Asp is considered more dangerous than the more common European adder because cases of fatalities from untreated bites are higher (although still rare).
The wild boar can be found all over Europe except for the northern expanses of Scandinavia. They can adapt to almost any habitat but prefer forests and woodland with plenty of brush in which they can hide from predators. Wild boars are generally peaceful creatures, despite their fearsome reputation which is mainly caused by their dangerous-looking tusks. Except for rutting season, when they use them to fight amongst themselves, those tusks are actually used for scraping the forest floor, searching for tubers, roots, and nuts.
However, even though these creatures aren’t confrontational, they are responsible for a number of human injuries and deaths. Firstly because they tend to run out into roads at night, causing accidents. Secondly, because if unwitting hikers come across them during mating season, there is a chance that they will attack. And thirdly, because in most countries that have wild boar, hunting them is still permitted and if chased, cornered, injured, or threatened, wild boars will defend themselves, in which case those tusks can do serious damage.
Most injuries and fatalities occur when a hunted boar turns on its tormentors – or occasionally on innocent bystanders – and uses its tusks to defend itself.
Wolves living wild in Europe might sound like something from the middle ages, but the Grey Wolf can currently be found in countries across the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Russia. Despite being hunted almost to extinction during the 19th century, the grey wolf is making a comeback, thanks to protection laws and rewilding efforts.
European countries vary widely in both their number of resident wolves and in their treatment of them. Conservationists and farmers are often at odds in their opinions. For example, in Portugal, wolves are completely protected, and farmers receive compensation if the wolves harm their livestock. While just across the border in Spain, protection differs from region to region, compensation is not always offered, and the decision to ban wolf hunting is still being discussed in 2021.
While wolves may pose a danger to livestock, they shouldn’t cause concern for humans. Although they undoubtedly have the hunting skills, teeth, and claws to cause massive injury or death, wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare. In Europe, they have abundant natural prey so that they don’t need to hunt humans for food, and they have learned, through centuries of persecution, to avoid human habitats wherever possible.
Another dangerous animal you might not expect to find in Europe is the polar bear. They are not technically residents of Europe because they spend most of their time living out on the sea ice. But they can be seen on a reasonably regular basis in the far north of Europe, most commonly in Svalbard, Norway.
Although they are beautiful and much-loved creatures, polar bears are one of the most dangerous animals on our Europe list. Not because of their numbers or the frequency of attacks, but because, unlike most animals on our list, Polar bears will attack humans without provocation or warning. And if they do attack, it’s not something many people survive.
They are the largest bear species in the world, adult males can weigh up to 700kg, and the largest polar bear on record stood 11ft tall on its hind legs. They are excellent swimmers and can run up to 45km/h. In short, humans stand very little chance of escaping a polar bear intent on attack. There is a fear that with the polar bear’s habitat diminishing year after year, they will be forced to range further inland for food, and attacks will become more common.
The second biggest bear in the world, the brown bear, also makes its home in Europe. Roughly 14,000 brown bears are spread across the mountainous regions of Sweden, Finland, France, Andorra, Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Bulgaria. And in 2019, the first brown bear in over a century was also spotted in Portugal.
The brown bear is much less aggressive than the polar bear. Shy around humans and more inclined to avoid confrontation, the brown bear does not attack without reason. However, it will defend itself if it is surprised, feels threatened, or in order to protect its young. Although rare in Europe, these incidents do happen, and because of the bear’s size, any attack by these animals can be dangerous. So you’re advised to seek local safety advice before hiking or camping in any known brown bear territory.
The Castor Bean Tick
Devoid of claws, fangs, tusks, or venom, the tick might not seem like it belongs on our dangerous animal list, but these tiny creatures are prevalent throughout Europe and can cause serious illness.
Only reaching a length of 11mm, these parasites are hard to spot as they sit in long grass waiting to attach themselves to the skin of a passing person or animal. Once there, they will feed on their host’s blood before becoming full, releasing their grip and falling away.
Many people don’t even notice a tick bite, but it can leave lasting effects whether you see it or not. European ticks are bearers of disease and can infect their hosts with Lyme disease, Q Fever, and Tick-Borne Encephalitis. The risk of infection can be reduced by wearing long sleeves and trousers in areas known to have ticks, and by removing any ticks that attach to you immediately.
What is the most dangerous animal in Europe?
Polar bears are the most dangerous animals in Europe. Although increasingly rare and confined to a small northern area, the polar bear is one of the few animals that will hunt and attack humans without provocation. And any attack by a polar bear is likely to be fatal.
What is the most dangerous snake in Europe?
The Asp Viper is considered the most dangerous snake in Europe because of its toxic venom, wide-ranging habitat, and the fact that bites can be fatal if left untreated.
What is the most dangerous spider in Europe?
The Brown Recluse Spider is the most dangerous in Europe. Its venom is potent and causes tissue death which can spread throughout the bitten area leaving vast, deep wounds.