The birthplace of IKEA and ABBA, Sweden has gained quite the reputation as a travel destination, with its lush landscapes, revitalizing saunas, trendy capital, and boisterous festivals. It’s also an excellent place to see the Northern Lights and the midnight sun, and don’t get us started on the annual Midsummer celebrations.
Even so, you might be surprised to find out that this incredible holiday destination is also home to a few potentially dangerous snakes. There really isn’t much to be worried about if we’re being honest, but it’s always a good idea to come prepared. After all, you wouldn’t want to put a damper on your unforgettable Scandinavian getaway with an unfortunate snake encounter.
Our guide below looks at the few snake species that call this Scandinavian haven home and everything you need to know about them from their habitats to their behavioral traits, and what to do if you come across one. Let’s get into it.
Kicking off our list is the smooth snake. These nonvenomous reptiles are typically brown, grey, or reddish in color with a double row of small, dark spots along their backs, and towards their tails. Some varieties have distinctive spots around the neck area too, which form cross-bars over the back.
Other characteristics include the dark spots that run along each of their flanks, as well as the shadowy stripes running along their backs, and the crown-shaped marking on their heads. You can also distinguish them by their whitish, greyish-white, or light brown, upper labials, and reddish-brown or dark-red tongues.
These snakes are solitary creatures who hunt during the day, and favor habitats in coniferous and woodland areas like shrubland, grasslands, and open spaces with sparse vegetation. They aren’t particularly aggressive either and tend to rely on camouflage when threatened, hoping to stay undetected. Nevertheless, they won’t hesitate to bite when caught, and while they are nonvenomous, the bite could be painful and frightening, so avoid them as far as possible.
Common European Adder
Next up we have the Common European Viper, or Black Adder, as it’s also known. These venomous snakes are a common sight throughout most of Europe and East Asia, but generally aren’t aggressive and usually only bite when alarmed or disturbed. Even so, these bites can be very painful, so they’re best avoided.
Common European vipers seek habitats in marshlands, forests, and alpine meadows. They’re discernable by the zigzag dorsal patterns down the length of their bodies and tails, and the distinctive dark V or X on the back of their heads. You should look out for the vertical slits in their pupils’ form too. It’s also possible to determine the sexes of these snakes by appearance since the color patterns of adders vary.
These snakes come in many forms, ranging from light-colored specimens with small, dark dorsal crossbars to brown ones with faint, darker markings. You could even spot ones that are entirely dark without any apparent dorsal pattern. They feed on small mammals, birds, lizards, amphibians, and in some cases, spiders, worms, and insects. Adults typically grow to a total length of 20 to 35 inches, and a mass of 50 to 180 grams.
If you come across one, try to stay calm while waiting for it to clear from your path, otherwise walk away slowly. Should you suffer a bite, remove jewelry or watches from the bitten limb, loosen clothing if possible to facilitate swelling, and seek immediate medical attention. Around 400 people are treated for Adder bites in Sweden every year, mostly due to the vast amount of wilderness that’s impossible not to explore. However, if you’re heading to the cities, you have nothing to worry about.
The Grass snake is widely distributed throughout Europe, and is typically dark green or brown in color, with a distinctive yellow collar behind its head. They’re non-venomous snakes who feed almost exclusively on amphibians. They also come in varieties of gray and black, with darker colors being more common in colder regions, possibly as a consequence of the thermal benefits of being dark in color.
Grass Snakes can also be distinguished by their whitish undersides with irregular blocks of black, and they’re typically found in open woodland habitats, like field margins, and ponds. However, they can also live in heavily-modified landscapes if water sources are available, since they’re strong swimmers.
Seeing as these reptiles aren’t venomous, and appear more menacing than they actually are, their main defense strategy is to produce a foul-smelling fluid from their anal glands. Other defensive strategies include playing dead by becoming completely limp, and they could potentially secrete blood from the mouth and nose whilst doing so. They could also hiss and strike without opening their mouths.
On top of this, grass snakes can also vomit when stunned and could raise the front of their body, while flattening their head and neck to resemble a cobra’s hood. But there’s nothing to worry about, as their mouths aren’t wide enough to hook onto human flesh, even if their defense strategies can be frightening.
Although slow worms aren’t snakes, these legless lizards could easily be mistaken for them, thanks to their very similar appearance, and their one of the most commonly occurring reptiles in the Swedish countryside. Also known as the ‘deaf adder’, slow worms are easy to distinguish thanks to their ability to shed their tails and rapidly blink their eyes.
Male slow worms have much smaller bodies than snakes with smooth, copper-colored skin, while females are larger, with dark sides and a dark stripe down the back. Interestingly enough, female slow worms are usually darker too, while male slow worms sometimes have blue spots.
These snakes are usually found in mature gardens, woodland edges, and areas around compost heaps, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re planning to visit any forests on your trip. Nonetheless, you can rest assured that they’re quite harmless since they don’t bite.
Are there dangerous spiders in Sweden?
It might be more readily associated with frosty Northern Lights shows and its upmarket capital, but Sweden is actually home to more than 700 species of spider. Most of them are harmless, yet, in recent years, some populations of the black widow spider have established themselves in Sweden according to the National Museum of Natural History. Black widows harness some of the most potent venoms of all poisonous insects so keep an eye out if you’re visiting woodland in Sweden.
Are there water snakes in Sweden?
If you’re heading to Sweden’s lakes or plentiful coastline, chances are, you won’t have to contend with water snakes. However, Scandinavian scientists recently discovered a new species of snake called the Mosaic sea snake in Copenhagen. Although rare, it is thought that it could populate waters all around the Nordic region in small numbers. The common grass snake in Sweden can also often be found near water thanks to its amphibian diet and isn’t a stranger to taking a dip.
Are there dangerous animals in Sweden?
Sweden is home to a host of diverse wildlife, including some dangerous animals that you should look out for, beyond its reptiles and insects. Scandinavia is home to bears and wolves, but they only live in remote areas and tend to shy away from humans. However, Moose is probably the most dangerous when it comes to fatalities, causing around 4,500 car crashes every year resulting in 10 to 15 deaths.
Are there sharks in Sweden?
There are around fifteen different species of shark that can be found in the Baltic arm of the Atlantic Ocean around Sweden, and seven are regular visitors to the Swedish coast. However, half of these are considered under threat of extinction, even the most common shark, the spurdog, a small schooling species often accidentally caught by fishermen and trawler boats. Another species is the porbeagle shark, which is a close relative of the great white but also under threat of extinction thanks to its highly prized meat.