Snakes of Cyprus
Recent Blog Posts

Snakes of Cyprus

Different sources give differing numbers for the snake species which inhabit Cyprus. Some base their figures on the ones that have been found on the island for many years whilst others include recent immigrants from the Middle East and Africa which have stowed away on ships plying the routes to Cyprus. The general consensus is that there are ten species of snake that are established on the island and they are as follows:
 
The Large Whip Snake (Coluber Jugularis) The Cyprus Whip Snake (Coluber Cypriensis) The Coin Snake or Ravergier’s Whip Snake (Coluber Numifer)
The Blunt Nosed Viper (Vipera Lebetina) The Montpellier Snake (Malpolon Monspessulanus) The Cat Snake (Telescopus Fallax)
The Cyprus Grass Snake (Natrix Natrix Cypriaca)
Pink Worm Snake  (Typhlops Vermicularis)
Dahl’s Whip Snake or Arrow Snake (Coluber Najadum)
The Dwarf Snake (Eirenus Modestus Cyprus Snakes - Questions and Answers  
 

The Large Whip Snake (Coluber Jugularis)

Large Whip Snake Coluber Jugularis CyprusThis is the most commonly seen snake in Cyprus, often spotted crossing roads or even more commonly in squashed form having not made it through traffic. It’s the island’s largest snake, growing up to a length of 3m, although they are more commonly around the 2m mark. The snake is easily recognisable in its adult form being shiny black with a bluish tint in sunlight. The young are a complete contrast being a light brown with dark markings, often leading it to be confused with the Blunt Nosed Viper. Whilst the Large Whip Snake is common around the eastern Mediterranean, the Cypriot snake is a sub species distinguishable by a red mark on its throat. The snake is known to be aggressive when threatened and unlike other snakes, will often stand its ground rather that slither away. It’s not venomous, instead being a constrictor and are very effective in helping to control rats and mice as well as being known to eat Blunt Nosed Vipers. It can climb trees where it will often rob nests of eggs and young.
 

The Cyprus Whip Snake (Coluber Cypriensis)

Cyprus Whip SnakeThe Cyprus Whip Snake was only identified in the last two decades as previously it was thought to be a juvenile of the Large Whip Snake. It differs from that species in being not uniformly black, some are dark brown, others olive brown and have paler banding across their bodies. They have a defined white ring around their eyes helping further with identification. They are smaller than the Large Whip Snake, only measuring a maximum of 1.1m when fully grown. They are non-venomous and catch their prey, typically small lizards, through their speed. They inhabit rocky, scrubby terrain and are active day and night. They are known to be good climbers and have been seen to scale vertical smooth walls.

The Coin Snake or Ravergier’s Whip Snake (Coluber Numifer)

The Coin Snake or Ravergier’s Whip Snake ,Coluber Numifer

This is one of the Middle East’s most attractive snakes, called so because of the dark, almost circular, markings along its pale brown back. The variety found in Cyprus is again slightly different to its mainland brothers and sisters in having its markings not so clearly defined. It’s also much bigger than the mainland snake, growing up to 1.7m in length. Whilst non-venomous, it’s a very aggressive snake and will readily attack if provoked. It has small, sharp teeth that can cause a painful bite and eats small mammals, lizards and robs nests. It’s known to be an excellent climber.

The Blunt Nosed Viper (Vipera Lebetina)

Blunt Nosed Viper - Vipera-Lebetina, CyprusThis is the bad boy of the island’s snakes; the only potentially lethal snake in Cyprus. That said, despite an average of twenty attacks on humans each year, no one has died from its bite for nearly fifteen years. It’s easily recognised being a large fat snake, around 1.3 to 1.7m long with offset semi-rectangular markings along its silvery beige back. It is also discernible from the black spots on its head. Many bites occur through lack of care as the snake is used to remaining motionless to await the approach of the birds it preys on and its well camouflaged markings mean that walkers often get too close. You’ll often find it close to water where it waits for its prey to approach and when the temperatures get too hot, it uses the water to cool itself with many people reporting finding them in their swimming pools in summer. The snake is on the endangered list mainly because ignorant people see it as a dangerous pest and kill it forgetting that it is an important part of the Cypriot ecosystem. Additionally it often falls prey itself to Whip Snakes and birds of prey.

The Montpellier Snake (Malpolon Monspessulanus)

Montpellier Snake - Malpolon Monspessulanus, CyprusThis is a rare snake in Cyprus and quite attractive in colouring and markings. Usually up to 2m long, it is light brown in colour and lacks markings on its back. It has a reddish tinge to its head and a pale underside can often be pink. It is quite venomous but no attacks on humans have ever been reported as it is very difficult to approach and is often long gone before you get near it. It can attempt to bite if it is roughly handled but has backward pointing teeth making it difficult for them to penetrate human flesh. It’s found on open grassland and scrub and eats young birds and small mammals and rodents.

The Cat Snake (Telescopus Fallax)

Cat-Snake Telescopus - Fallax, Cyprus.The Cat Snake is so called because in strong light its pupils go to slits like cats. It’s a small, thin snake, rarely exceeding 70cms. It has very distinctive black circular markings on an olive brown skin. The snake is nocturnal and hunts lizards and small mammals. It’s found mainly in rocky areas but has been known to frequent dry stone walls and old dilapidated buildings. It is venomous but, like the Montpellier Snake, has backward pointing fangs making it difficult for it to bite humans. It is quite aggressive when approached and can seem menacing.

The Cyprus Grass Snake (Natrix Natrix Cypriaca)

Cyprus Grass Snake Natrix Natrix CypriacaAnother species which is only found in Cyprus, it is becoming increasingly rare because of careless human use of its habitats. It is disputed whether it is actually still found in the wild with the last sightings of it being in and around Paralimni Lake. It is an amphibious snake, feeding off small fish and frogs but its food source is being rapidly depleted as lakes and reservoirs become stocked with fish for anglers which eat the weed where it hunts and prove too aggressive for the snake. It can grow up to 1.5m and is dark in colour with few if any markings other than longitudinal ones along its flank. To get away from predators it excretes a vile smelling liquid from its anal gland that is potent and nauseating. It is completely harmless.

Pink Worm Snake  (Typhlops Vermicularis)

Pink Worm Snake - Typhlops Vermicularis, CyprusThis is Cyprus’ most unusual snake and is often confused with a large worm. It lives and hunts underground or in any other dark and damp environment. It has tiny eyes and senses prey by movement. As the name would suggest, it’s pink in colour and it dies quickly if exposed to strong sunlight. It feeds on ants and insect larvae and if attacked, it uses its spiny tail to ‘sting’ although it carries no venom.

 

Dahl’s Whip Snake or Arrow Snake (Coluber Najadum)

Dahl’s Whip Snake or Arrow Snake (Coluber Najadum)This snake gets its second name from the way it holds its head as it moves; raised from the ground and pointing forward. It can grow up to 1.4m and can be pink, ochre or brown in colour. It’s distinguishable by its large eyes which are surrounded with a band of yellow. It’s a very thin snake that inhabits
scrubland and favours areas close to homes where its prey; small lizards and insects, can be found. The snake can climb trees and bushes and is often seen wrapped around them.  It isn’t poisonous and can be quite timid.

The Dwarf Snake (Eirenis Modestus)

The Dwarf Snake Eirenis ModestusAs its name suggests, the Dwarf Snake grows to a maximum size of 40cms and is thin. It is silvery grey in colour with lines of small dark rectangles down its back and is found in open countryside on grassy, scrubby soils. There is some discussion whether it truly exists in Cyprus or whether sightings have been of juvenile Montpellier Snakes. The snake eats mostly insects and small lizards and is non-venomous.


 
  Cyprus Snakes - Questions and Answers
   
Questions Icon How many kinds of snake are there in Cyprus?
There are ten species of snake that are known to live in Cyprus although there are reports of localised colonies of recent arrivals of snakes from the Middle East and North Africa that have come into Cyprus in shipping containers.
 
Questions Icon Are the snakes all endemic to Cyprus?
No, in fact, despite the island having many endemic species of animals, plants and birds, there are only two snakes that are endemic to the island and they are the Cyprus Whip Snake, Coluber Cypriensis and the Cyprus Grass Snake, Natrix Natrix Cypriaca. The other snakes are also found in other countries around the Middle East, sometimes with small localised variations due to evolution in their specific environment.
 
Questions Icon Are any of the snakes a protected species?
In theory yes, but Cyprus is synonymous with big business ruling over the environment and no formal government programmes exist for the protection of any of the island’s snakes. In many cases, their environments have been deliberately damaged despite calls from environmental organisations and long running action is currently underway from the EU protesting the Cypriot government’s negligence in imposing protection measures on Cypriot wildlife. The snakes in most need of protection are the Cyprus Grass Snake which is nearing extinction in its natural habitat, and the Blunt Nosed Viper which is systematically slaughtered because of its potential danger to humans and animals.
 
Questions Icon What time of year am I most likely to encounter a snake?
With the warm Cypriot weather lasting through much of the year, the season for snake activity is long. Even on warm winter days it’s not unusual to see snakes basking on warm tarmac or on south facing rock. During the winter they go into a state of low activity, almost hibernation, emerging in spring to breed. It is during the period when the young are being protected by the mother snake that the danger from the few poisonous snakes is greatest. During the summer months snakes are very active and whilst you may see many, you are unlikely to get close to them.
 
Questions Icon How common are snakes?
It depends on the species and the location. The one that is most likely to be encountered is the Cyprus Whip Snake which seems to enjoy time crossing the island’s roads, often to its demise. Anyone walking for any distance along a road in Cyprus often encounters squashed victims of cars, especially as many Cypriot drivers aim for them. Other than that, you will rarely encounter snakes, even if walking in the countryside.
 
Questions Icon Are any of them dangerous?
It depends on what you call dangerous. The only one known to have caused fatalities is the Blunt Nosed Viper and the last fatality on the island was nearly fifteen years ago. Hospitals report around twenty people a year are bitten by a Blunt Nosed Viper and with timely medical attention you are unlikely to suffer more than pain and flu-like symptoms. Old people, children and those with medical or neurological complaints are more likely to suffer serious effects. Two other snakes are said to be poisonous, the Montpellier Snake and the Cat Snake although there have been no recorded attacks on humans in Cyprus.
 
Questions Icon Where are the dangerous ones found?
Snakes can be found just about everywhere but the Blunt Nosed Viper is often found near bodies of water or streams. It has even been seen in and around swimming pools, especially in the height of summer. As previously mentioned, few will attack unless they feel threatened and using common sense, few people will even get close to a snake.
 
Questions Icon What should I do if I or my pet is bitten by a snake?
If you or your pet are bitten by any type of snake, it’s best to seek medical or veterinary help as soon as possible. It’s not possible to predict how you or your pet will react to any bite but with swift attention, you should only suffer a couple of days of discomfort. Almost all medical and veterinary facilities across the island carry the antidote to the Blunt Nosed Viper’s venom and as the risk of dying from a snake bite is said to be a thousand times less than dying in a car accident, there is almost always no need to panic.
 
Questions Icon What do they eat?
Snakes have a varied diet which includes small and medium sized rodents such as mice and rats; lizards and other snakes; insects and birds eggs whilst the amphibious snakes will also take small fish. The Montpellier Snake and the Whip Snakes even eat the Blunt Nosed Vipers reducing the chance of you encountering one. Snakes don’t have a detrimental effect on the island’s fauna and are a part of a finely balanced ecosystem.
 
Questions Icon Are they beneficial or a pest?
Overall, the snakes are beneficial and are often destroyed through ignorance or cruelty. The snakes that kill and eat small mammals are particularly useful in keeping down the mouse and rat population in Cyprus which would otherwise harm food crops, stored food or multiply out of control.
 
Questions Icon How can I protect myself against snakes?
Most of the time it’s unnecessary to use any form of protection but families with young children, the elderly or those with pets may want to consider getting a repellent called ‘Snake Buster’ which, when sprayed on surfaces, interferes with a snake’s olfactory senses. There’s no need to keep doors closed to keep snakes out as they are very unlikely to enter buildings. To discourage snakes, try to keep outdoor areas tidy and be careful when disturbing areas such as woodpiles where snakes may be hibernating.
 
Questions Icon If I want to see snakes, where can I go?
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to see snakes in the wild so you need to visit one of the snake parks across the island. Due to the lack of support from the authorities many of them are short lived and so you should check websites and tourist information offices locally for more information.
 
   

 
Posted: July 16, 2012 by Global Administrator | with 11 comments

Comments
Gabriel
Thanks for the very useful information. I would like to share with you that I have seen snakes in central Nicosia just adjacent to a v.busy road. Case1: worm snake under a terrace. Case2: A long (dead) whip snake along the curb. But I am a Cypriot and love (most) snakes. Thanks
10/11/2015 9:29:05 AM
Keith
great site
6/5/2015 7:16:08 AM
lea
What snake is that which is black and have gray colour under. I saw one in Cyprus it was thin and it was 1 meter long
8/26/2014 2:36:10 PM
richard
i would just like to point out to vassos that fox hunting in the uk has been band for many years
6/7/2014 4:06:40 PM
Yiannis Ioanides
I like all snakes.
4/16/2014 6:24:20 PM
Jeroen
The picture with the Cyprus whip snake is actually a grass snake. Just so you know ;-)
1/8/2014 2:42:19 PM
Rhino
If you send a picture to info@rhinocarhire.com we will ask the snake expert to take a look.

Thanks
10/15/2013 9:50:30 AM
Tassos
Just found a snake that I cannot identify. Willing to email the picture. Please provide an email address
10/15/2013 6:47:17 AM
Arto
what a wonderful page, congratulations.

Its been hard locating pictures of some of these snakes, as, like you have so rightly pointed out, they are hard to come by, even if you are looking for them. The fear of snakes is also ingrained in people since the beginning of time, and even re-enforced through ignorance and just plain stupidity. Sorry Vassos, but what he says about the Cypriots (myself included)is sadly very true. Many belive they have a "God given right" as described in the "bible" to arbitrarily decide who and what lives. This is a wide spread belief, and even though this is not a rule, the is widely spread.
2/20/2013 4:38:25 PM
Colin
Superg images and article. I have been a fan of snakes for some 40 years and lived in Cyprus for 13 years but yet to see the last 3 snakes listed yet.
1/16/2013 10:52:58 AM
vassos
useful info.shame about comments for cypriots.at least they don't hunt barbaric on horses backs dressed like clowns chasing poor foxes. I personally know a lot of people that look after snakes .thanks.
11/22/2012 5:08:31 PM
 Security code