Whether you’re in the vibrant capital, Madrid, amongst a kaleidoscope of color in Barcelona, or surrounded by whitewashed buildings in the hills of Andalusia, Spain has plenty to fill any vacation itinerary. And, being one of the top European destinations, it attracts hordes of tourists year after year.
While it certainly has all the beauty and elegance to make it the stuff of dreams, what about the stuff of nightmares? Yep, that dreaded S word…snakes. The bad news, Spain has them. The good news, only five could potentially kill you. So, there’s always a silver lining.
Now, you may want to know which five you should be on the alert for. Well, luckily, we’re not just going to leave you hanging. Here is a list of the most venomous snakes you could possibly encounter on your travels in Spanish paradise. From where they could be spotted to symptoms of a potential bite, we’ve got you covered.
Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)
Endemic to extreme southwestern France and the northern parts of Spain and Portugal, the seoane’s viper (also known as Baskian viper and Iberian cross adder) may be a bit of a tough one to spot. With varying color patterns, one may be seen sporting a brown zig-zag pattern, another with a twin striped pattern, or you may see a full brown type.
But, coming in at an average length of 45-50cm, slightly smaller than other Iberian vipers, they’re not quite in the same league as the pythons you could encounter in many other parts of the world. However, although lacking the grand stature of other snakes, one thing for sure is that they can deliver a nasty bite. The toxicity of their venom varies widely depending on the regions of the specimens, however, it is thought that the vipers found in the Cantabrian mountains, in Spain’s north coast, have the highest toxicity.
But, don’t panic too much, as it’s only in very rare cases, usually in the elderly or children, that their bites may be fatal. Although, it is still a pretty painful sting that you would do best to avoid, and always seek medical attention if bitten. Better to be safe than sorry.
Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)
Although being the largest snake in Iberia (up to 2m) and one of the most common snakes in the Mediterranean, the Montpellier snake’s venom is pretty mild. However, with prominent eyebrow lines, giving it a mean ‘back off’ stare, it would certainly want you to think differently. Usually a grey, green, black, or brownish color, with spots, this guy usually prefers to stick to sandy or rocky, open terrain. But it is fairly adaptable and can be found at high altitudes or slithering around the riverbanks, so you can never be too careful.
Like many snakes, it will only become aggressive if threatened or cornered. If this happens, watch out for it raising its head, flattening the neck, and hissing. This is most definitely your cue to leave it be as fast as possible. However, due to its rear fangs, the chances of being injected with venom are pretty rare. In fact, it often has to have a particularly good grip of its prey to be effective. That being said, if bitten, be aware of any symptoms such as stiffness, swelling, numbness and fever, as this may mean he’s successfully transferred his poison this time, making you the very unlucky victim.
Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)
If you’re not the ‘vacationing in the mountains’ type, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about this one, as this guy is mainly found around the Pyrenees mountain range. However, should you come across the asp viper, it is certainly not to be messed with.
This slitherer is one of the most dangerous snakes in Spain, with just one bite proving fatal. Growing up to an average length of 60-65cm, with a broad, triangular head and a slightly upturned snout, it lies in wait for its prey. Although normally preferring to feast on lizards and small birds, they have been known to take a bite of human flesh from time to time, if threatened. Symptoms of this viper’s bite include pain spreading rapidly, swelling and discoloration, as well as a possible impairment of vision. If bitten, medical help should be sought immediately.
However, for the most part, this species tends to shy away from confrontation and has a mild and timid disposition. So, unless you are actively looking for an asp viper battle on your next vacation (which we definitely do not recommend), you shouldn’t find yourself in too much danger.
Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)
Found in the Spanish Peninsula and preferring to stick to dry, rocky areas, the lataste’s viper (also known as snub-nosed viper) is relatively easy to spot. Having a distinctive triangular head and dark zigzag pattern on its back, you shouldn’t have too much trouble recognizing him. However, be warned, it is usually hidden under rocks, so you may think the coast is clear, until he comes slithering out.
So, what should you do if this happens? Well, luckily, they are of a calm and demure nature and often tend to flee when approached, so hopefully you won’t find yourself in a stand-off with one. However, that’s not to say they never attack. Like many other of their serpent relatives, they will certainly stick up for themselves if put in a compromising position. A dose of this guy’s venom could lead to symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness, respiratory problems, and a possible collapse. Although fatalities are rare from this one’s bite, medical attention should still be sought.
However, since 2008, this species has been classified as near threatened and vulnerable, due to habitat loss. So, the good news for you is that they should be fairly easy to avoid on your travels.
False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus)
Endemic to the Mediterranean, and mainly found in the Catalonia region of Spain, the false smooth snake (also known as the hooded snake) is often gray or brown in color and reaches a maximum length of around 55cm. Although small, this is a jumpy little guy, and can be found amongst the shrubland, hidden in rocky areas, by the water and even in human settlements.
The good news is that, because of its rear positioned fangs, a bite from one is often rather unlikely. And, even better news, it possesses a mild venom, which shouldn’t be too harmful to humans. However, a snake bite is a snake bite and can leave deep and often painful wounds, with the possible risk of infection. So, it’s always best to be seen to regardless.
With its conservation status being of ‘least concern’, it seems that these guys can put up with a fair amount of habitat decrease. Of course, the bad news is that they may not be as easy to avoid as the vulnerable lataste’s viper. However, like the rest of the snakes on the list, if you walk away and respect their territory, you should be able to stay in their good books and avoid any potential risk of attack.
Are there any dangerous snakes in Spain?
There are 13 species of snake in Spain, however, only five are considered venomous and potentially dangerous. The most dangerous are of course the ones capable of injecting venom, however, that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down around the others. The ladder snake is found all over Spain and is known to have an aggressive nature, so, even though a bite won’t be fatal, it will still be a nasty sting you would absolutely want to do without.
How many venomous snakes are in Spain?
There are five venomous snakes in Spain: The Seoane’s Viper, Montpellier Snake, Asp Viper, Lataste’s Viper, and the False Smooth Snake. The most harmful to humans is the asp viper. A bite from one of these guys is said to be extremely painful and, if untreated, could be fatal. It is reported that around 1 in 25 bites from this particular snake would lead to a fatality if not properly treated. So, seeking medical treatment is a must.
Are snakes protected in Spain?
Snakes are legally protected in Spain. They are thought to be beneficial due to their habit of consuming large numbers of rodents and other pests.