Believe it or not, you can find 6 types of venomous snakes in Italy.
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 6 kinds of venomous snakes in Italy!
- 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 Italy.
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. Walser Viper
- Vipera walser
This venomous snake is ONLY found in a small area north of the town of Biella in the western Italian Alps. 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.
#3. 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 Italy!
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!
#4. 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 Italy.
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.
#5. Nose-horned Viper
- Vipera ammodytes
Also commonly called Horned Viper, Long-nosed 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 venomous 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, antivenom is available as long as you go directly to a hospital!
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. They are not easily agitated and typically only bite when handled or accidentally stepped on.
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.
#6. 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 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 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 Italy?
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 Italy!
Which of these venomous snakes have you seen before in Italy?
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