Believe it or not, you can find 4 types of venomous snakes in France.
But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, snakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. As long as you leave them alone, you shouldn’t have any trouble!
Did you know that snakes are venomous, NOT poisonous? If you eat something that makes you sick, then it’s considered “poisonous.” If an animal, like a snake, delivers its toxins when it bites, it’s considered “venomous.”
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Venomous snakes are dangerous animals and should be left alone. The more you agitate them, the more likely you could get bitten. DO NOT RELY ON THIS ARTICLE to correctly identify a snake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and to determine if the snake is venomous.*
Here are the 4 kinds of venomous snakes in France!
- 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.
Adders are not considered an incredibly dangerous venomous snake in France.
Luckily, they are not very aggressive and rarely bite unless stepped on, picked up, or provoked. But 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. For example, about 200 people are bitten each year in Britain, however, there has only been 1 fatality since 1876!
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.
#2. 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.
Watch out for this VENOMOUS snake in France!
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
Luckily, these venomous snakes are not aggressive, and bites are rare. Most strikes and subsequent poisonings happen when they feel threatened, such as when someone foolishly tries to handle one, or they are accidentally stepped on.
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 venomous snake that bit and killed the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra!
#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.
These venomous snakes are not considered a threat in France.
First, the venom is not very dangerous to humans as it has low toxicity when compared to other species. 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, there has never been a death from these venomous snakes, with only a few cases of venom being injected into a person ever being 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. 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 venomous snakes are considered very RARE in France!
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 mountainous areas, which is where many of them are found.
Meadow Viper Range Map
Meadow Vipers are among the smallest venomous snakes 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.
Do you need more help identifying a venomous snake you saw in France?
If so, check out this field guide, which is full of great information!
Make sure to check out these guides to other animals found in France!
Which of these venomous snakes have you seen before in France?
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