The diverse landscape and dry climate of Portugal make it the perfect home for a variety of wildlife. A mixture of European and North African animals have made this place their own. While some of them are rare and quite spectacular, there are also a few that are dangerous.
Mixed in with the peaceful flamingos, roe deer, wild goats, and dolphins are a few creatures that you would be wise to avoid. There are still wolves in Northern Portugal as well as the wild Iberian Lynx. Several venomous snakes and spiders live here, along with one unfriendly insect with a few tricks up its furry sleeve.
There’s no shortage of unique wildlife to keep animal lovers happy. But keep an eye out for these 9 dangerous animals while you’re on your travels in Portugal.
Portuguese Man of War
Not a jellyfish as is commonly thought but a siphonophore, The Man of War is one of the most dangerous animals in Portugal and certainly one of the most painful. Luckily they are easy to spot by the blue or pink gas-filled bubble that protrudes above the water.
This sail-like shape is distinctive but won’t do you any harm. The danger comes from the long tentacles, which can extend underwater up to 160feet from the body. These tentacles contain venomous barbs which have the power to kill small fish and prawns, this carnivorous creature’s regular diet.
For humans, a sting from one of these tentacles leaves a long red welt, and the pain can last for several days after contact. The venom can also cause fever, shock, swelling of the lymph nodes and larynx, cardiac distress, and in extreme cases can cause death. The worst cases occur when a person has had prolonged contact with many tentacles. The tentacles remain dangerous even when separated from the main body or washed up on the shore. They can still sting for days after the creature has died and should never be touched.
With their long tusks, stocky hairy bodies that can weigh up to 200kg, and the ability to run up to 40km/hr, wild boar do seem rather dangerous. However, they are generally peaceful. They use their tusks mostly to scrape the forest floor, uprooting grass and scrub in the hunt for acorns, tubers, and grubs.
Despite their generally harmless activities, Boars are not popular. They can carry parasites and disease and occasionally do attack farm stock killing lambs and young calves. They are also virulent breeders, and their numbers are almost constantly on the rise. So the Portuguese enjoy hunting them in the name of population control. Although, it’s definitely also for their meat. Porco Preto or Black Pork is considered a delicacy for its nutty flavor, caused by the boar’s acorn diet.
Cases of Wild Boar attacking humans are rare. Injuries occur most often due to road accidents when boars run onto the road without warning. But the worst accidents and fatalities happen during hunting. When a boar is being chased or is injured, it will turn on its attackers or any bystanders, and then the damage that those tusks can do is extreme. Although these incidents can’t really be blamed on the boars, it has placed them on our list of dangerous animals found in Portugal.
Once prevalent across Portugal, Wolves are now a rare and special sight. An estimated number of only 300 remain living wild in Portugal. If you’d like a chance to view these endangered animals, the Coa Valley in northeast Portugal and Peneda-Geres National Park are the best places to try. The rugged landscape, old forests, and river valleys make perfect habitats for the Iberian Wolf. You can take wolf spotting trips and holidays there, as well as guided tours that allow you to seek out this magnificent animal safely.
Iberian wolves do not attack humans without extreme provocation. There have been no cases of wolf attacks in Portugal in modern times. The wolves learned long ago to avoid humans for their own safety. But, since they can weigh 40kg and run up to 50 km/hr, not to mention their fangs and claws, an attack by a wolf could cause traumatic injury or death. Always trek with a guide and treat any wild animals you find with respect.
Only found on the Iberian Peninsular, this majestic animal has been called the world’s most endangered wild cat. At the start of this century, hunting, the eradication of its habitat, and the decline of its natural prey had brought this creature close to extinction.
Efforts are now underway to save the Iberian Lynx. The reintroduction of breeding pairs to the wild has led to an increase in numbers, but there is still estimated to be only 100 wild lynx remaining in Portugal. They are located mainly in the Guadiana Valley, where several have been successfully reintroduced and are currently thriving.
As well as being rare, lynx are also elusive, and not many people will ever be lucky enough to spot one. If you do see one, you’ll know since they are highly distinctive. They have dusky yellow fur covered in darker spots and large ears with signature long tufts of hair protruding from the tips.
As with the Iberian Wolf, although the Lynx has the teeth, claws, and power to cause significant damage, they do not hunt or attack humans. They prefer to keep well away from their biggest natural predator.
The only scorpion in Portugal considered dangerous is the European Scorpion. Easily recognized, it has a black body and tail with yellow or pale brown legs. The tip of its tail, the stinger, is also yellow, hence its other name, yellow-tailed scorpion. They enjoy warm, humid habitats and live under rocks and stones in forests and parks. Unafraid of living near people, they will also hide in houses, in the crevices between bricks, or in cracks in walls.
These scorpions are not naturally aggressive; when they hunt, they lie in wait for prey rather than stalking or chasing it down. If provoked or scared, however, this Scorpion can defend itself. It can nip with its front claws and, as a last resort, will use its tail to sting. Its sting contains venom, which can cause mild irritation and swelling. The sting becomes more dangerous if the person stung has an allergic reaction to it. In this case, they should seek immediate medical attention.
While Portugal is home to several species of snake, only two make our dangerous animals list. The first is the Seoane’s Viper, also known as the Baskian or Portuguese Viper.
Located only in the country’s extreme north, the Seoane’s Viper can reach lengths of up to 30 inches. Unfortunately, they are not immediately distinguishable because they don’t share a unique color palate or appearance. Some Seoane’s Vipers display a distinct zig-zagging pattern, while others have only faint markings or none at all.
Our second dangerous snake is easier to identify. The Lataste’s Viper or Snub-Nosed Viper has a scaly bump protruding from its nose, giving it its name. It has a far wider habitat than the Seoane’s Viper yet is seen less often and is considered near-threatened by the IUCN.
Both of these snakes have venomous bites and, although rarely deadly, can be serious. If you spot these or any other snake while in Portugal, stand still and allow them to escape. If you are bitten, stay calm and seek medical help as soon as possible.
There are many different species of spider in Portugal, but only three of them are considered dangerous. Firstly, the critically endangered Desertas Wolf Spider. This giant can grow to 4.7 inches, has a venomous and painful bite, but it only lives on the island of Madeira.
Secondly, the Black Widow Spider. Distinguishable by the red hourglass markings on its torso, this one lives in dark, quiet spaces like garages and outhouses. It has a nasty, venomous bite, symptoms of which include swelling, muscle spasms, and abdominal cramps. This spider can be deadly if the person bitten is a child, elderly or frail.
Thirdly, The Brown Recluse or Violin spider (so named for the shape of the markings on its back). Its bite contains venom that can cause necrosis or tissue death. Bite marks can end up growing as the tissue around them dies, turning into large, deep wounds. The recluse spider only bites when provoked. Since it likes to hide inside seldom worn shoes and clothing, bites tend to happen when it’s squashed against a person, between their clothes and skin.
The Asian Hornet is being seen more and more often in Portugal. This increase is causing concern because the invasive species is not native to Portugal yet seems to be taking over. The main worry is that they will decimate the local honeybee population, as bees have no defense mechanisms against the large and hostile hornets. Whereas the Hornets have very few natural predators and have resisted all attempts at eradication.
These insects grow to between 1.5 and 2 inches long and have a reputation for being aggressive. They are known to attack people, especially when defending their nests and their increasing numbers are making them one of the more dangerous animals in Portugal. The hornet’s sting is painful and contains venom that can cause tissue damage, renal failure, and sometimes death. Although one hornet sting is not enough to kill a human, multiple stings can be deadly. Medical treatment is recommended if you are stung more than once by an Asian Hornet.
Portuguese Processionary Caterpillars
Caterpillars don’t usually make it onto the list of dangerous animals, but the ones in Portugal are unique. Portuguese or Pine Processionary Moths (who are not harmful) lay their eggs in large spun webs in the tops of pine trees. Once their caterpillars have hatched, they leave the pine trees to look for soil in which to bury themselves and turn into moths. When they make this journey, they do so together in one long line, which can be hundreds of caterpillars long. It is this procession that gives the caterpillars their name and also attracts curious onlookers.
However, the caterpillars have soft barbed hairs all over their bodies which are highly irritating to human and animal skin and can cause severe allergic reactions. If the hairs get into the eyes, mouth, or lungs, the results can be serious.
If you see the procession of caterpillars, stay back and observe the phenomenon from afar. Should you or your pets come into contact with the harmful hairs, you should seek medical or veterinary assistance.
Are there venomous snakes in Portugal?
There are several species of venomous snake in Portugal, although only two are considered dangerous. The Lataste Viper and the Seoane’s Viper
Does Portugal have scorpions?
Yes, but the only dangerous one is the European Scorpion. It has a mildly venomous sting and should be avoided.
Are mosquitoes a problem in Portugal?
Some areas of Portugal have Mosquitoes, especially during warm weather. There is no risk of malaria in Portugal, but in the last five years, mosquitoes have been found carrying Dengue fever. The threat to people’s health is very low. Still, it is wise to travel with insect repellent and to seek medical help if you develop any symptoms such as headaches, fever, joint pain, or muscle aches.