Do you want to learn about the types of snakes found in Italy?
If so, you have come to the right place. In the article below, I have listed the snakes you can expect to see. For each species, you will find out how to identify that snake correctly, along with pictures, interesting facts, and RANGE MAPS!
You’ll see that the snakes that live in Italy are very different from each other. They range from venomous species to snakes that use constriction to immobilize their prey. In addition, certain snakes are common to find living around people. My guess is that you have seen at least one of the snakes below in your yard. 🙂
18 types of snakes that live in Italy:
#1. Smooth Snake
- Coronella austriaca
- Adults grow between 60 cm – 75 cm (23.5 – 29.5 inches) long.
- On the top of the head is a dark marking which is often in the shape of a crown.
- Usually dark brown or gray in color. Two rows of indistinct dark spots run down its back.
- As the name suggests, the scales of Smooth Snakes are very smooth and flat to the touch.
These small and slender snakes can be hard to find in Italy because they are secretive.
Even when Smooth Snakes bask in the sun, they intertwine amongst plants to keep camouflaged. They are sometimes found after rain showers when individuals must leave their hiding places to escape the water and bask more openly.
Smooth Snake Range Map
Their primary prey is other reptiles, such as small lizards. But they will eat small mammals and birds occasionally. When threatened, they try to remain motionless and undetected, but Smooth Snakes won’t hesitate to bite when captured.
Interestingly, Smooth Snakes are ovoviviparous. This term means that the eggs are incubated internally, giving birth to live young!
- Vipera berus
Also known as the Common European Adder / Viper.
- Adults average around 55 cm (22 in) long.
- Color varies and can be brown, red, or light grey with a zigzag stripe on the back. But some individuals are entirely black.
- The head is fairly large and distinct and has a distinctive dark V or X on the back.
Despite being venomous, Adders are not considered an incredibly dangerous snake in Italy.
Luckily, they are not very aggressive and rarely bite unless stepped on, picked up, or provoked. If you are bitten, their venom is quite painful and causes swelling, internal hemorrhaging, and necrosis. While the venom can be lethal, deaths are incredibly rare.
Adder Range Map
Adders are found in many habitats, such as forest clearings, marshlands, heathlands, pastures with hedgerows, and even alpine meadows in the Alps. They mostly eat small mammals, but lizards, birds, and frogs are taken when available.
Because of their large distribution and a broad range of habitats, the population of Adders is currently not threatened. But their numbers are decreasing slightly due to habitat loss for agriculture and collecting them for the pet trade and venom extraction.
#3. Walser Viper
- Vipera walser
This venomous snake is ONLY found in a small area of the western Italian Alps north of the town of Biella. For a long time, it was considered an isolated population of Adder (Vipera berus), but in 2016 it was shown to have enough differences to be split off into its own species.
As you can imagine, the Walser Viper is almost identical to the Adder in both appearance and behavior, especially to the casual observer. But if you were to look closely, there is finer scalation on the head of the Walser Viper.
Long-term threats to their population include climate change, fragmented habitats, and low genetic viability due to their small population size.
#4. Aesculapian Snake
- Zamenis longissimus
- A long and slender snake that grows up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length.
- It is typically a dark bronze color with very smooth scales, which give it a metallic sheen. But adults can also be olive-yellow, brownish-green, or almost black.
- White freckles appear on the body of many individuals.
The best place to look for Aesculapian Snakes in Italy is humid forests.
Make sure to look up because they are excellent climbers, having no problem ascending vertical tree trunks without branches. They don’t try to avoid humans, and they are sometimes found in sheds, gardens, and stonewalls.
Aesculapian Snake Range Map
Their main food source comes from small rodents, but they will eat birds and their eggs when given the chance. Being constrictors, they suffocate their prey before consuming it.
Despite being fairly common, Aescuplapian Snakes are rarely seen due to their secretive nature. They blend in well with their surroundings, in addition to spending lots of their time in tree canopies. When they are found, they first try to sneak away to hide instead of standing their ground aggressively like other types of snakes.
#5. Italian Aesculapian Snake
- Zamenis lineatus
Italian Aesculapian Snakes are almost identical to Aesculapian Snakes, especially when it comes to behavior and habitat. In fact, Italian Aesculapian Snakes were previously considered to be a subspecies, but enough differences were found to warrant a change to become its own species!
There are two main differences between Italian Aesculapian Snakes (Zamenis lineatus) and Aesculapian Snakes (Zamenis longissimus).
- The Italian Aesculapian Snake is found in southern Italy and Sicily, while the Aesculapian Snake lives in the northern half of Italy. Their ranges overlap in Campania, Molise, and maybe in N. Apulia.
- Italian Aesculapian Snakes are yellowish-brown and typically have four dark brown stripes. In addition, the iris of the eye is red or orange, which is why many people refer to this snake as the “Red-eye Racer.” Aesculapian Snakes are typically darker in color and don’t have stripes.
#6. Dice Snake
- Natrix tessellata
- Their typical size is 100 – 130 cm (39–51 in) long.
- Their color varies from greyish green to brownish or almost black, with dark spots on the back.
To find this snake in Italy, it’s best to look in the water!
In fact, the Dice Snake is such a great swimmer and spends so much time in aquatic habitats, it’s also commonly called the Tessellated Water Snake. In addition, its primary food is fish, although amphibians are sometimes consumed too.
Dice Snake Range Map
If you ever see underneath a Dice Snake, the belly is sometimes colored vividly in yellow or orange, with black spots. The pattern is very similar to dice, which is how they got their name!
#7. Barred Grass Snake
- Natrix helvetica
- Dark grey-green upper body with characteristic black barring along the flanks.
- A distinctive yellow and black collar around the neck.
- It can grow over a meter (3.3 feet) in length.
Look for this snake in Italy living near water!
Barred Grass Snakes are active when searching for food, using their sight and sense of smell to find their prey, which is primarily frogs, toads, and salamanders. These amphibians are eaten live without the aid of constriction.
Barred Grass Snake Range Map
While these common snakes are not venomous and rarely bite, I would caution against picking one up as they have some interesting defense mechanisms. First, you may smell a nasty garlic odor from a fluid released through their anus. Or you may notice blood secreting out of their mouth and nose. And if that’s not enough, then the individual snake may regurgitate what they have been eating onto you. Hissing and striking without opening their mouth are also common.
Until a few years ago, the Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) was considered the same species as the Common Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), but a more in-depth study concluded there are enough differences to be considered separate species. Here is how to tell them apart:
- Common Grass Snakes have a bright yellow collar, which Barred Grass Snakes lack.
- Barred Grass Snakes are more grey than their olive green cousin.
#8. Green Whip Snake
- Hierophis viridiflavus
Also called the Western Whip Snake.
- A slender snake with a small but well-defined head.
- They are greenish-yellow with heavy, irregular bands of dark green or black, which fade as you move towards the back.
- Maximum size is around 150 cm (59 in).
Due to their adaptability, this snake is common in Italy!
You can find Green Whip Snakes in a wide variety of habitats, including trees, since they are great climbers. In addition, they will eat almost anything, including reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and small birds and eggs.
Green Whip Snake Range Map
When threatened, these snakes can become quite aggressive. Be careful as they will try to strike you repeatedly. Luckily, they are not venomous, but they do bite fairly hard. 🙂
#9. Viperine Snake
- Natrix maura
- Colors range between gray, brown, or reddish.
- Down its back, look for a black, zig-zag stripe. Along the sides are black circles.
- Adults can grow to 85 cm (33.5 in).
Despite its name, Viperine Snakes are NOT venomous. But they do share many behavioral similarities with Adders (which ARE venomous), along with looking alike, which is how they got their name.
Viperine Snake Range Map
To find this snake in Italy, you must head to an aquatic habitat as they are water snakes. They are strong swimmers and primarily hunt and eat fish and frogs.
While Viperine Snakes are fairly common, they are sensitive to changes and pollution in their wetland habitats. In addition, they are often killed by people who mistake them for being a venomous viper.
#10. Asp Viper
- Vipera aspis
Other common names include European Asp, European Viper, Black Asp, Central Italian Asp, and Southern Italian Asp.
- Fairly small, as adults only average a length of 60-65 cm (23.5 – 25.5 inches).
- The head is broad, triangular, and distinct from the neck. The tip of the snout is slightly upturned.
- Colors range from light grey to brown to various shades of orange. Some individuals are melanistic and completely black!
- They have darker marks on their back, which form an irregular zig-zag pattern.
Be careful if you find this snake in Italy, as it is VENOMOUS.
Bites from the Asp Viper are both painful and dangerous, with about 4% of untreated bites being fatal. If bitten, go to the hospital immediately, as the venom has both coagulant and anticoagulant effects. Severe hemorrhagic necrosis occurs after a few hours, along with impaired vision due to the degradation of blood vessels and blood around the eyes.
Asp Viper Range Map
According to the IUCN Red List, populations of the Asp Viper are stable, and it’s not currently threatened. These snakes live in a broad range of habitats and have a wide distribution. In general, look for them in areas with plenty of sun, vegetation for cover, and dry soil.
While we will never know for sure, many people think that the Asp Viper was the type of snake that bit and killed the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra!
#11. Western Montpellier Snake
- Malpolon monspessulanus
- Quite large and can grow to be up to 2 meters long (6.5 feet) and weigh 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)!
- Large prominent eyes with a distinct “eyebrow,” which is a ridge above their eye.
- The body is a uniform yellowish, grey, or olive, often followed by a bluish or dark grey “saddle” on the back.
Despite being venomous, these snakes are not considered a threat to humans in Italy.
First, the venom has low toxicity and is not very dangerous. Second, when they feel threatened, Western Montpellier Snakes typically slither away quickly. And if they can’t get away, they first try to scare you away by hissing repeatedly, then raising the front of their body and expanding their neck, just like a cobra!
Western Montpellier Snake Range Map
Lastly, since the fangs are positioned toward the back of the mouth, it’s unlikely any venom would be released during a bite. In fact, only a few cases of venom being injected into a person have ever been reported.
Western Montpellier Snakes adapt to the presence of humans quite well and are common, despite their large size. Look for them in a wide range of habitats. Their main prey includes lizards, so they are often found in dry areas where lizards like to inhabit.
#12. Southern Smooth Snake
- Coronella girondica
- A small, round-bodied snake that grows between 50 cm to 80 cm (19 – 32 in) long.
- They are brown or grayish, with blackish bars or spots running down their back.
- The rear of the head is a dark U-shaped mark or a pair of dark elongate spots.
- Very similar to the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca).
Look for this snake in Italy living in dry, rocky open spaces. Rocky hillsides, stone walls, quarries, and the edges of open woodlands and hedgerows offer lots of hiding places for Southern Smooth Snakes.
Southern Smooth Snake Range Map
This small snake is discrete and hard to find. In addition, they are mainly active at night. And if you do come across a Southern Smooth Snake, they are harmless and rarely bite. The worst thing they will probably do is release a smelly substance onto your hand.
They primarily eat small lizards and hunt for them by actively searching in their shelters. In contrast to the Smooth Snake, they lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young.
#13. Horseshoe Whip Snake
- Hemorrhois hippocrepis
- Usually grows to around 160 cm (62 in) in length.
- Yellow, beige, olive, or grey. They get darker with age.
- A row of round dark spots on the back. Smaller dark patches on each side.
- Dark horseshoe-shaped marking on the neck and a dark band between the eyes.
Look for Horseshoe Whip Snakes in southwest Italy in dry, rocky, sunny areas with open vegetation. They are also sometimes found in urban areas and rural gardens, especially near stone walls.
Horseshoe Whip Snake Range Map
These snakes are incredibly agile and fast-moving. So it should be no surprise that they actively hunt their prey, which includes small mammals, lizards, birds, and invertebrates.
Horseshoe Whip Snakes are shy and usually run away quickly at the first sign of danger. This wariness, combined with their fast speed, means getting a good look at one can be hard. If they do become cornered and can’t escape, they will flatten their head, hiss loudly, and bite readily!
#14. Four-lined Snake
- Elaphe quatuorlineata
- As the name suggests, they have four dark stripes running along a yellowish brown body.
- A black line runs from the corner of the eye.
- Adults can reach lengths of 180 cm (5 ft 11 in).
Four-lined Snakes are one of the largest snakes found in Italy!
Not only are they long, but they are also heavy, as individuals can weigh anywhere between 250 to 1,400 g (0.6 to 3.1 lb). The best places to find them are areas with lots of vegetation, such as meadows, edges of deciduous forests, and scrubby areas around swamps and lakes. Four-lined Snakes are also excellent climbers, so make sure to look up!
Four-lined Snake Range Map
Despite their large size, these slow-moving snakes are normally calm. They rarely bite, even when handled.
#15. Nose-horned Viper
- Vipera ammodytes
Also commonly called Horned Viper, Long-nosed Viper, Nose-horned Viper, and Sand Viper.
- The average total length is 50–70 cm (19.5–27.5 in), but some individuals grow larger.
- Colors vary (silver-grey, beige, red, brown, dark grey), but there is almost always a dark zigzag on the back.
- Often a row of round dots on the sides.
This species is the most dangerous snake in Italy!
First, their venom is highly toxic, with both neurotoxic and cytotoxic components that cause swelling and severe pain. In addition, they have LONG fangs (~13mm / .5 in) to deliver their potentially lethal venom. Luckily, they are not easily agitated and typically only bite when handled or accidentally stepped on.
Nose-horned Viper Range Map
As the name suggests, Nose-horned Vipers have a distinctive single “horn” on the snout. This feature makes them easy to identify. Look for them near rocks and stones, including stone walls, that provide some cover from vegetation.
Interestingly, unlike most snakes, males and females look slightly different. First, females usually have more brownish or reddish shades, with males being more greyish. Second, females normally lack the dark blotch or V marking on the back of the head that the males have.
#16. Leopard Snake
- Zamenis situla
Also commonly called the European Ratsnake.
- Morph #1: Gray or tan with a series of reddish or brown blotches down the back, which are outlined in black (pictured above).
- Morph #2: Longitudinal lines decorate the back instead of blotches.
- There is usually a Y-shaped marking on the back of the head. Also, a black streak from the corner of the mouth extends towards the edge of the eye.
- Typically grows to around 90 cm (35.5 in) in length, but some individuals grow even larger.
Look for Leopard Snakes in fairly dry, stony habitats. It’s also common for them to live near human-altered environments, such as vineyards and olive groves that include stone walls or old ruins. To find one of these snakes, you will probably need to uncover them from underneath natural and man-made objects.
Leopard Snake Range Map
As their other name suggests (European Ratsnake), mice form a major part of their diet. Before consuming, they kill their prey using constriction.
Leopard Snakes are typically calm. They may rattle their tail at you when they feel threatened, but they don’t bite often.
#17. Meadow Viper
- Vipera ursinii
- Adults average 40–50 cm (15.75–19.69 inches) in total length.
- They are gray, tan, or yellowish with a dark wavy dorsal stripe, which is edged with black.
- The snout is NOT upturned, like the Asp Viper.
These snakes are considered a very RARE species in Italy!
In fact, they are in danger of going extinct, with only a few scattered populations remaining. Their main threats include habitat destruction due to agriculture and climate change in mountain areas, which is where many of them are found.
Meadow Viper Range Map
Meadow Vipers are among the smallest venomous vipers on the continent. But despite their size, they are incredibly feisty when they feel threatened. So you can expect an upset snake to hiss and strike in defense.
Luckily, their venom is probably the least dangerous of the European vipers, although the bite can still be painful and cause internal hemorrhaging.
#18. Sand Boa
- Eryx jaculus
Also known as the Javelin Sand Boa.
- It can grow as large as 80 cm (31.5 in).
- The head has no distinction from the body. A dark stripe runs from the eyes to the neck.
- Coloration is cream, beige, and yellow to bright orange. Has irregular dark blotches on the back and small spots on the sides.
Despite their name, these snakes are not typically found in Italy in sandy areas. Instead, the best places for them are in savanna-like habitats with loam soil or rocky slopes (if there is enough loose soil).
Sand Boa Range Map
Sand Boas are hard to see because they are nocturnal and spend most of their life underground. They don’t come out to bask in the sun but instead get warm by basking just under fallen leaves, stones, or the surface of loose soil. They rarely bite when handled and typically act sluggish.
These snakes have an interesting role in history. To cause confusion and fear during naval battles, they were shot by the ancient Greeks at their enemies! And as the Greeks conquered new territories, the range of Sand Boas also increased. 🙂
Do you need more help identifying a snake you saw in Italy?
If so, check out this field guide, which is full of great information!
Which of these snakes have you seen before in Italy?
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