So, you’re wondering about the non-venomous and venomous snakes in Romania? We can only guess that you’re planning a jaunt to this enthralling corner of the Balkans. Perhaps you’ve been tempted over by the haunting prospect of Bran Castle (the onetime home of a certain Dracula, they say)? Or was it the medieval heart of gorgeous Sibiu? Maybe the ski fields of Busteni deep in the Carpathians?
Whatever the reason you’re coming, it always pays to know about the serpents that might rear their heads. There’s a grand total of 10 non-venomous and venomous snakes in Romania currently known to scientists. Of those, three are considered dangerous to humans, and one is considered to be the most dangerous snake in the whole of Europe.
This guide will run through five of the most amazing snake species that are known to live and thrive in this corner of the continent. It’s got snakes that possess potent venom that even has the power to kill. But it’s also got snakes that are totally harmless and commonplace across the land. Let’s dig a little deeper…
European viper (Vipera berus)
Pretty much everyone, anywhere in Europe, has heard of the European viper. However, most know it by its alternative moniker: The common adder. It’s a snake that’s got a bit of a bad rep, especially further north and west on the continent, where it’s often the sole venomous serpent present in the wild. However, that’s not the case in Romania, where it’s joined by one or two other viper species that trump it on the deadliness scales.
The range of the Vipera berus is pretty darn extensive. Romania is right there in the thick of it – specimens of these can be found virtually all over the country, from the heights of the Carpathians to the rolling hills of wooded Transylvania. The only regions where they aren’t seen or are considered rare are out in the far east, along the sides of the Black Sea coast.
Adders should be easy to spot. They possess the quintessential features of a mainland European viper. Look out for the stout, thick-set body and the zigzag pattern that rolls all the way from the head to the tail. Most adults measure somewhere between 50cm and 70cm. Colorations can vary, but it’s usually a mix of tan, brown, and beige.
Bites from these guys are VERY common all over Europe. That’s mainly down to the fact that they can thrive in a whole array of different habitats, from sand dunes to mid-altitude mountain ranges. On top of that, adders often like to bask on open trekking paths, a habit which commonly brings them into contact with humans. Thankfully, bites are typically mild and symptoms are rarely serious, though deaths have been recorded.
Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii)
It’s not likely that you’ll cross paths with the Hungarian meadow viper while traveling the rolling countryside of Romania. The reason? This is the single most endangered snake in the whole of Europe. It’s noted as a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List and experts think that population numbers are now at an all-time low.
Nevertheless, the Hungarian meadow viper belies its name by having a geographical spread that takes it from the woods of southern France to the hills of northern Italy, but also right across the central Balkans to Romania, and even out east to the Asian stans and steppes. It’s also branched out to create a handful of sub-species, each with its own nuances and biological differences.
Meadow vipers look much like their adder cousins. You get the same zigzag patterning. They have a similarly stout body shape with a narrow and small head. And they have the same un-turned nose profile. They are a touch smaller than their bro, though, coming in at an average of just 45cm at full growth, putting them firmly among the smallest of all venomous snakes in Romania.
A bite from a Vipera ursinii won’t be a pleasant experience. However, the snake is only thought to be mildly venomous, causing mainly localized symptoms that aren’t likely to prove fatal – think redness, swelling, and searing pain at the site of contact with the fangs.
Horned viper (Vipera ammodytes)
Here we go…The horned viper: The most dangerous snake in Europe. Yep, you’ll want to steer clear of this one, folks. It’s a nasty customer that combines a potent and deadly venom with a territorial nature and some fantastic camouflage. That’s not a good mix for travelers who really don’t want to spend their hard-earned vacation time in Romania sat in a hospital hooked up to bags of antivenin.
Recognizing a horned viper can be a touch tricky. That’s because the male and the female of the species look totally different. One (the male) has a darker head color and a bold, black strike shaped like a backwards triangle behind the eyes. The other (the female) tends to be more monochrome, with less pronounced patterning and no marks on the head.
All members of the species will grow to something around 95cm to a meter in length. They thrive in a variety of habitats right across central and Eastern Europe, not just in Romania. Expect to see them all the way from the lowland valleys of the Italian Dolomites to the foothills of the Caucus Mountains on the side of the Black Sea.
Venom wise, these are – as we’ve already mentioned – the most formidable and deadly snake in Europe. Bites inject a cocktail of chemicals that include hemotoxins that are capable of stopping the blood from clogging and neurotoxins, which interfere with the operation of the nervous system. What’s more, humans have been observed to react extremely quickly to horned viper venom, so seeking medical treatment in the wake of an attack is imperative.
Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
Grass snakes are among the most common non-venomous snakes in Romania and the whole of Eastern Europe. They can be spotted thanks to the distinctive yellow band that runs around the base of the head. It glows a light mustard color before giving way to a long, slender body that’s usually completely beige, brown, or – most usually – olive green. The head alone has small black colorations on the top and under the mouth.
These guys live in the wild all the way from southern Scandinavia to the far steppes of central Russia and Siberia. Despite the name, they actually tend to like forests and heavily wooded regions more than open grasslands and always search for a home that’s near a regular, reliable water source. During the summer, they will often emerge into clearings to bask. By winter, they will retreat underground to weather the colder months.
Grass snakes have inspired myth and legend in Europe since ancient times. The Romans feared them for their skill in hunting frogs and other amphibians. Tribes in the Baltic region considered them sacred and a source of good luck. In Romania, the creature is the central protagonist in one of the best-known folklore tales and they are actually beloved by farmers because they’re thought to rid fields of pests.
Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus)
Last but most certainly not least is the Aesculapian snake, the largest of all creatures here and the biggest of both the non-venomous and venomous snakes in Romania. Yep, this one can clock up a whopping two full meters in length when it’s fully grown. That’s a mega 6.6 feet, meaning it’s got more to it than the average fully grown male human!
Thankfully, the size isn’t indicative of danger. Aesculapian snakes don’t possess any venom at all. They are 100% harmless to humans and often don’t even react when they see people, preferring to rely on their fantastic camouflage to keep hidden in the undergrowth.
Usually active throughout the day and in the early evening, Aesculapian snakes love moderately warm forested areas that have a mix of broadleaf and Mediterranean foliage. That’s a habitat that should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever visited the Carpathian ranges that carve through the heart of Romania!
Aesculapian snakes are probably best known these days for being the inspiration behind the famous medical symbol, the Rod of Aesculapius. It depicts a long staff entwined with the serpent and was the tool of choice of the Greek god Asclepius himself, said to be the father of medicine and medical practice.
Our guide to the non-venomous and venomous snakes in Romania – a conclusion
This guide focuses in on just five of the non-venomous and venomous snakes in Romania. It includes ALL of the serpents that can pose a potential threat to humans, which range from the common adder – a snake that’s found all over the continent and as far afield as the UK and Russia – to the elusive Meadow viper – now considered to be one of the most endangered snakes in the Balkans. You’ve also got the mythic grass snake, which has inspired myth and legends since the Roman era, and the longest snake of the lot, the Aesculapian snake.