There are a total of 13 snakes present in Spain of which five are venomous. These are:
- Seoane’s viper (Vipera seoanei – víbora de Seoane)
- Asp viper (Vipera aspis – víbora áspid)
- Snub-nosed or Lataste’s viper (Viborade lataste – vibora hocicuda)
- False smooth snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus – culebra de cogulla)
- Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus – culebra bastarda or de Montpellier)
See also Spanish snakes quiz (new)
Seoane’s viper lives in Galicia, León, the Cantabrian coastal strip (Cornisa Cantábrica) and the Basque Country. Confusingly some authors class Seoane’s viper as a subspecies of the common viper or adder (Vipera berus – víbora europea) and, more confusingly still, some experts believe both exist in northern Spain. However, since 1976, they are considered to separate species, with the latter absent from Spain.
By far the commonest of the vipers, Lataste’s viper, is present throughout the rest of the Peninsula, though nowhere is it common. It is grey, short (around 50cm) and is distinguished by its triangular head and the zigzag pattern on its back. It lives in dry, rocky areas, away from humans and is timid, but don’t go sticking your hands in holes and crevices and be careful when collecting firewood as viper bites can be fatal.
The other two snakes are not so dangerous, but watch out for the 2-metre long Montpellier snake. It is blue with a white underbelly -don’t go picking one up to check- and has prominent ridges over the eyes. However, the position of its venom fangs means that you would be unlucky to have poison injected into you, and if you are, its venom is much weaker then the vipers.
If you are bitten by a snake, remain calm and seek medical attention immediately. Bites only occur in the spring and summer as snakes hibernate. Of the estimated 50 snakebite deaths a year in Europe, only 3-6 occur in Spain, so don’t worry too much. 1-2 are reckoned to occur in Catalonia. More people die from bee and wasp stings. The Canaries are snake-free, and only the milder False smooth snake is found in the Balearics, probably introduced there by the Romans.
Snake in Castilian is ‘serpiente’ though zoologically the animal is either a culebra or a víbora.
The Iberianature guide to Spain
- Culebra bastarda Malpolon monspessulanus Montpellier Snake
- Culebra de cogulla Macroprotodon cucullatus Hooded Snake
- Culebra de collar Natrix natrix Grass Snake
- Culebra de escalera Elaphe scalaris Ladder Snake
- Culebra de Esculapio Elaphe longissima Aesculapian Snake
- Culebra de herradura Hemorrhois hippocrepis Horseshoe Whip Snake
- Culebra lisa europea Coronella austriaca Smooth Snake
- Culebra lisa meridional Coronella girondica Southern Smooth Snake
- Culebra verdiamarilla Coluber viridiflavus Western Whip Snake
- Culebra viperina Natrix maura Viperine Snake
- Víbora aspid Vipera aspis Asp Viper
- Víbora de Seoane Vipera seoanei Seoane’s Viper
- Víbora hocicuda Vipera latastei Snub-Nosed Viper