Cypriot Snakes 101: A guide by Yiannis Angeli
Cyprus has only 8 different snake species that are part of the Cypriot fauna. The most common are the viper (οχία/φίνα/πατσάλα/κοντονούρα), the coin snake (δρόπης/σαΐττα) and the whipsnake (μαυρόφιδο/περβολάρης/θερκό). Out of these, only the viper is considered dangerous to humans. So don’t worry, you won’t see a large cobra or a pit viper snake slithering around in Cyprus.
The expert suggests taking extreme precaution during summer months, as this is the time snakes mate. Snakes are cold-blooded, so during the summer months, they come out of their nests to absorb some heat and become more active.
Yiannis says that snakes are not dangerous, as long as you don’t bother them, but recommends to remain calm and walk away upon an encounter with a snake, no matter what species it is
The Whip Snake (μαυρόφιδο/περβολάρης/θερκό)
The whipsnake is the most commonly seen snake on our island. It can often be seen anywhere, but there is nothing to worry about as this snake is harmless. Although it is Cyprus’ largest snake, it can easily be distinguished from other types of snake, from its shiny black skin. The Cyprus Whip Snake is different from other whip snakes as it is not entirely black, but also darker in colour and can grow up to 1.1 m in length.
When younger, it can be confused with the viper, however, the whip snake is thinner than the viper and it is further distinguishable by a red mark on its throat and a white ring around its eyes. Even though it is an aggressive species, it does not attack, unless it is threatened. Its bite is also distinguishable, as the whip snake’s bite leaves multiple mini holes on the skin, shaping its entire jawline. Its appearance might be frightening, but this snake is not venomous, so in case of a whip snakebite, you should remain calm and visit a doctor who will only take care of the wounds.
The Coin Snake (δρόπης/σαΐττα)
The coin snake is considered one of the most attractive snakes in our area, thanks to its distinguishable pattern, of dark, almost circular markings on its pale brown body. The coin snake only grows up to 1.7 meters in length and is non-venomous, however highly aggressive when provoked. Its bite is also distinguishable from the dangerous species, as it also leaves an imprint of its jawline on the skin and can cause extreme pain.
The Cypriot Viper Snake (οχία/φίνα/πατσάλα/κοντονούρα)
The Cypriot viper snake is usually not found in city centres. If you live in areas with empty fields around, you need to take extra precautions. The expert suggests that identifying the snake is very important and it plays a big role in the overall psychology of a person in case of a snake attack.
The Cypriot viper snake has a thick and short body, with a triangular-shaped head, often distinct from the neck, with two black dots on top of it. The viper snake also has long and narrow pupils that resemble those of a cat. It looks something like the images shown here. The Cypriot viper does not attack unless provoked. It remains camouflaged and motionless, waiting for the birds or animals it preys on to approach it. It is often found near areas with water, especially during the summer months when temperatures are too hot. The snake has been reportedly seen near swimming pools.
In case you can’t see the snake, whether the attack takes place in the dark or whether you are too stressed out – which is totally understandable – you can also identify the bite. Cypriot viper snakes have a distinctive way they bite a human. After the bite, the human skin usually has one or two dots/holes, as the viper snake uses only its two fangs to attack. In case of a viper snake attack, do not panic, you have quite a lot of time to go to the hospital. But continue reading this article, as the expert has given us some insightful tips on how to avoid getting bitten and how to react in case of a snake attack. Statistically speaking, an average of 20 attacks on humans are reported in Cyprus every year, and there has not been a single death from a snake bite in 15 years.
Precautions to avoid snakes at home
- Education: It is better to have a general knowledge of snakes, instead of finding yourself in a dangerous situation of not knowing what to do.
- Visibility: Make sure you have a clear vision of your surroundings, whether that is at home or anywhere where snakes may be found and especially during the summer months.
- Do not walk barefoot: Do not walk barefoot on both paved yards, dirt or even grass, as snakes can be found anywhere.
- Reptile repellants: If you live in an area with a high concentration of snakes use reptile repellants. Yiannis has his own repellants that are neither dangerous to animals, nor humans, and keep snakes and other reptiles away from your area instead of killing them.
- Clean the area around your home from any fodder: If you live near a field or any other place where there is a high concentration of vegetation or fodder, clean up the area around you.
- Water attracts snakes: If you have a pool or a pond, or even water buckets, be extremely cautious during the summer months. You know that summer in Cyprus can be unbearable for both humans and animals. Reptiles also want to cool down during those high temperatures, so they approach any water source they find.
- Close the windows and doors: If you live in an area with a high concentration of snakes, close your windows and use protective screeners instead. Snakes are not like mice and other rodents, they cannot squeeze themselves in from small openings.
What to do in case a snake bites you
- Do not panic: Research has shown that most of the times, it is our stress that might cause more harm than the snake itself. Also as medicine advances, we discover more details on how the venom reacts. If the snake is indeed venomous, you have 2-8 hours to get to the hospital. Wherever you are in Cyprus, a hospital or a doctor is within 2 hours drive at most. So you have more than enough time.
- Identify the snake: As we have seen from the characteristics of the snakes in Cyprus, only one is dangerous. If you identify the type of snake (whip/coin/viper), you will know whether you are in danger or not.
- Identify the bite: If you are not in a state to identify the snake have a look at the bite. If you have one or two holes, then the snake is venomous. If you see multiple tooth imprints and excessive bleeding, then the snake is most likely non-venomous.
- Go to the hospital: Leave the scene as fast as you can, without rushing and go to the hospital. It is imperative to stay calm at all times. Many incidents have been reported of people who abandoned everything, drove recklessly – almost killing other people – to only find out that the snake that bit them was not venomous.
- Do not try to suck out the snake venom: The expert says that this is extremely wrong as you spread venom to other parts of the body and may cause further harm.
- Do not tie the wound tightly: This may cause a faster spread of the venom and also cause gangrene in the area. Trust medical professionals who know how to attend to wounds.
- Do not kill the snake: Most snakes in Cyprus are on the endangered list, mainly due to ignorance. Snakes are not a dangerous pest, but rather an important part of the Cypriot ecosystem. They prey on rodents that can be harmful to the human due to the diseases they carry.