Do you want to learn about the types of snakes found in Portugal?
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 Portugal 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. 🙂
10 types of snakes that live in Portugal:
#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 Portugal 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!
#2. 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 Portugal, 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.
#3. 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 Portugal.
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.
#4. Ladder Snake
- Zamenis scalaris
- A medium-sized snake that reaches up to 160 cm long (63 in).
- Color ranges from yellowish to dark brown, with two darker stripes running down the length of the body from neck to tail.
- Pointed snout. Dark eyes.
Naturally, Ladder Snakes are fairly abundant in Portugal in areas with scrubby, brushy cover with lots of sunshine. They have adapted well to human environments and are often seen living in orchards, vineyards, and overgrown stone walls. Look for them hiding inside rodent burrows, hollow trees, or piles of stones.
Ladder Snake Range Map
Being a “rat snake,” most of their diet comprises small mammals, such as mice, rabbits, and shrews. Although they also prey on birds and are known to climb to search for nests.
When threatened, Ladder Snakes are aggressive and become very defensive. You can expect them to hiss and lunge forward with their mouths open. If you decide to continue to pick them up, expect them to bite repeatedly, in addition to releasing a smelly odor on you.
#5. 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 Portugal 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.
#6. 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 Portugal 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!
#7. Seoane’s Viper
- Vipera seoanei
Also known as the Baskian viper, Iberian Cross Adder, and Portuguese Viper.
- Adults typically measure between 50 – 60 cm (19.5 – 23.5 in) in length.
- They are highly variable in appearance. Individuals are usually beige, grey, or reddish.
- Their backs are typically light with a contrasting darker zigzag or straight stripe.
- Lacks the upturned snout of other similar venomous viper species.
Seoane’s Vipers like moist, warm habitats and are found in forest clearings and the edges of meadows that have lots of vegetation. Stone walls are also great places for them to hide inside.
Seoane’s Vipers Range Map
These snakes are venomous. If bitten, you should seek medical attention immediately, but in general, their venom is not as dangerous as the Asp Viper.
Seoane’s Vipers mainly feed on small mammals that they ambush. But if needed, they will pursue their prey into their burrow (I would not want to be that mouse!).
#8. Lataste’s Viper
- Vipera latastei
- Normally grows to around 60 cm (23.5 in) long.
- Light to dark brown, beige or light silver to dark grey. A darker zigzagging stripe on their back.
- Unmistakable in its range due to the distinct upturned horn on the snout.
Lataste’s Vipers are found in southwest Portugal in many habitats, including different elevations. For example, they live in coastal dunes with Umbrella Pines, open deciduous forests, rocky areas with stone walls, and also on sunny rocky slopes in the Sierra Nevada.
Lataste’s Viper Range Map
The best place to find one is typically under a rock, regardless of whether it is day or night. Some scientists think that the yellow tip of their tail is used to lure prey!
Lataste’s Vipers are venomous, and their venom is cytotoxic and quite potent. But luckily, it has enzymes that are more effective on mice than on humans. As a result, bites are rarely fatal to people, but you can still expect swelling, internal hemorrhaging, and sometimes necrosis. Medical treatment should always be sought if bitten.
#9. Iberian False Smooth Snake
- Macroprotodon brevis
Also called the Western False Smooth Snake.
- The average size of adults is 65 cm (25.5 in).
- Fairly slender snake. They are pale grey or brown with a row of dark blotches on their back.
- Look for a dark grey or brown color over the neck and a dark streak under the eye.
These snakes do best in warm weather and are typically found in sandy soil around loose rocks or large boulders. But they are also known to frequent dunes, orchards, and pine forests.
Iberian False Smooth Snakes can be hard to locate in southwest Portugal because they are completely nocturnal and crepuscular. They come out at night to hunt on the ground for geckos, lizards, and worm lizards. Interestingly, worm lizards make up about half its diet.
Iberian False Smooth Snake Range Map
You might not guess it, but Iberian False Smooth Snakes are venomous! They are considered opisthoglyphous, which means that the rear teeth in the upper jaw have been modified as fangs. Since their fangs are at the very back of their mouth, it’s almost impossible for them to inject venom into a human. In addition, their mouth is too small, and the toxicity of the venom is too low to cause any damage to a person.
#10. Iberian Grass Snake
- Natrix astreptophora
- Juveniles have a white and black collar and other body markings.
- Adults lack the collar and are uniformly olive-green, grey, or brown. The iris is usually vivid orange!
- It can grow over a meter (3.3 feet) in length.
Look for this snake in Portugal 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.
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.
Do you need more help identifying a snake you saw in Portugal?
If so, check out this field guide, which is full of great information!
Which of these snakes have you seen before in Portugal?
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