You are probably afraid of snakes, right? Well, I wouldn’t like to step on one, either! Are there actually snakes in Croatia? If so, which places should you avoid if you dislike snakes?
- There are around 16 species of snakes in Croatia. Most are totally harmless. Except for the 3. Yikes. But take heart, Croatians are known to be brutal to snakes.
- Expect to see the snakes at national parks, in the bush, and especially in the mountains. Or just look away.
- If you’re bitten by a viper, take a deep breath, relax, observe the wound and… cry for HELP!
But wait! Shouldn’t I cut my skin and suck the venom out? Not really. Hold on. The answer will soon come up.
Croatia – (Not Exactly) Heaven For Snakes
If there were not for Croatians, Croatia would be a promised land for snakes. However…
Croatians kill snakes. They usually crush their heads with a piece of rock. Even though they might be strictly protected by law, like this one here.
BTW, allow me to introduce you to the most poisonous, venomous, deadly and dangerous snake in Croatia, the NOSE-HORNED VIPER (Vipera ammodytes) or poskok.
Apart form zealous Croatians, the other reason why snakes may not enjoy their time in Croatia so much are, believe it or not, the mongooses!
These cute bundles of fur (you’re right again, they are related to the adorable meerkats) were first introduced to the island of Mljet in southern Croatia in 1910 to, you guessed it, kill the snakes.
And they did a fine job.
However, eventually they themselves became a pest, spread all over the place and now they’re on the EU list of invasive species.
So, if you despise snakes, you will love the mongooses!
Snakes (And Snake-like Creatures) That Might Only Give You A Heart Attack
However, most snakes in Croatia are quite sweet. For example, take this one here…
Since my childhood, I would see these snakes on walls and around the houses, and was terrified. Once I learned more about this particular snake, my fear of them diminished greatly. The Aesculapian Snake (bjelica, in Croatian) is, in fact, the non-venomous snake that’s found on the symbol of medicine (or pharmacy).
The Rod of Asclepius is part of the symbol of the World Health Organisation.
The snake on the rod is the Aesculapian snake.
Asclepius was a Greek god of medicine. According to a legend, a snake whispered secret knowledge of healing in his ear. Being symbols of wisdom, healing and resurrection, snakes became the inventory of the temples of Asclepius. They would be introduced to these heated facilities throughout the Roman Empire, contributing to the spread of this particular snake throughout Europe.
Now, what would the snakes do there? WARNING: don’t read on if you’re fainthearted.
Well, they would bring the sick people into the temple to sleep with snakes. In the morning, the patients would reveal their dreams to the priests, who would, in turn, prescribe the therapy.
So, this is what it meant to be a doctor back then. Interestingly, doctors today still have the Hippocratic Oath… I hope that the procedures changed in the meantime.
The conclusion: The Aesculapian Snakes are good for you!
The other creature you might encounter in Croatia and get absolutely terrified is actually not even a snake. It’s a LIZZARD! (That looks like a snake, and that’s what counts, right?)
I have to admit that these creatures can really terrify you. As they are usually sunbathing, when unexpectedly disturbed, they suddenly start moving away.
Again, they’re harmless, and can be kept as pets. A friend of mine befriended a wild sheltopusik, or blavor, in Croatian (The common name “sheltopusik” comes from Russian желтопузик (zheltopuzik), literally “yellow-bellied”). She would feed it with entire chicken legs!
But, how do you know it’s not a snake after all? Well, it’s got eyelids and ears. Snakes don’t. So, they will blink at you in a staring competition.
The Bad Guys
I have already introduced you to the most infamous one: The Nose-horned Viper. Or Poskok, in Croatian. (Btw, the other two, Common European Adder (riđovka) and the Karst Viper (žutokrug) look almost the same. As a rule or thumb, venomous snakes in Croatia have a triangular head and this zigzag line on the back).
Looks scary, right?
I had two close encounters with this fellow. Once, when I was a child, it passed in front of me. Since it looked dangerous, I ran like mad. Only later I realised I met the most venomous serpent in Europe, that might have even killed me.
The second instance was couple of years ago when I was visiting the Plitvice Lakes national park with a group of 40 people. We walked right by it. When I realised what we’re looking at (you can’t really miss the unique zigzag line on it’s back), I called the park rangers to do something about it.
To my surprise, they were not excited. Just leave it there. It will go away – they said.
A colleague guide walked by with her group and had an even more shocking story: She was bitten by one. During a tourist visit!! !!. (Please, read on to find out what to do if same happens to you).
Where Are You Most Likely To Find Snakes In Croatia?
The SAFEST place to see snakes in Croatia are two national parks: Plitvice Lakes and Krka. Why? Because the non-venomous water snakes, DICE SNAKES (Natrix tesselata) are a common sight there.
Classified as non-venomous, dice snake produces a potent antihemorrhagin in its serum (a substance preventing blod clotting) and has been said to produce a neurotoxin through a gland in its mouth. As a defence it spreads a very bad smelling secretion from its cloaca. Another defence mechanism is thanatosis, playing dead.
Despite the number of visitors, these snakes seem to be quite fine with all the attention they get. Actually, they are so well camouflaged that most people just walk by, without noticing them.
Where To Look For Dice Snakes?
At the Plitvice Lakes, before the water gets warm enough, dice snakes take every opportunity to bask in the sun. They favourite place is on top of the floating reeds. Just look for spiralled patches as you walk on wooden bridges.
However, the empire of snakes at the Plitvice Lakes is situated at the lowest part of Lake Kozjak, the biggest lake in the park (the one you cross by boat).
At the point where the asphalt road joins the triple wooden bridge, look carefully over the side of the road. Dozens of snakes soak in the precious sunshine there, away from the views of annoying tourists.
Once the water gets warm enough, in Summer, dice snakes conquer the water, catching, what an irony, a fish called COMMON DACE.
Can you spot the snake on the photo?
Same principles regarding dice snakes can be applied to the Krka National Park. They are usually found in the water just above the watermills at the entrance.
As for other snakes, including vipers, Croatia offers unlimited opportunities to those who want to see them.
All of the national parks in the mountains (Risnjak, Sjeverni Velebit, Paklenica) as well as all areas away from cities, are the realm of snakes, especially of the nose-horned viper (poskok). This snake can often come to the close vicinity of villages and enter gardens, searching for food and water.
As you presume, the snake won’t attack you if you don’t disturb it. However, the problem with nose-horned vipers is that they usually keep a low profile, and wait for their prey in AMBUSH. So, inadvertently you may get in TOUCH with one no matter how careful you are…
What If The Snake Bites You?
According to the Croatian Institute Of Public Health,
In self-help procedures, it is suggested not to go after the snake because of the risk of an additional bite. If the snake is killed, then it is advisable to bring it to the hospital for accurate identification, which significantly affects the therapeutic procedure.
At the site of the bite, two stab wounds by snake teeth are usually seen, 6-8 mm apart, although it is possible that there is only one wound or even just a scratch. The presence of a wound does not mean that the poison has been safely injected into the body. According to the data, as many as 22% of proven bites show no signs of poisoning. Namely, the snakes don’t always release the poison, just when it’s absolutely necessary.
Symptoms of a snake bite
Pain and swelling occur at the site of the bite within two hours. In severe poisonings, the pain occurs quickly and is exceptionally sharp; the swelling also spreads rapidly and may be accompanied by heavy subcutaneous bleeding. In addition to redness, blisters with bloody contents may appear on the skin.
Immediately after the bite, almost half of the bites experience general symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting, a feeling of general weakness and swelling of the regional lymph nodes (in the groin when bitten in the leg or in the armpit when bitten in the hand). Pale and cold skin, drenched in sweat, with rapid heartbeat and drop in blood pressure are signs of shock, which usually develops gradually and is the main cause of death.
Steps To Take After A Snake Bite
If the snake is not poisonous, the wound should be rinsed with plenty of water, smeared with antibiotic ointment and wrapped in a bandage. It should be checked when the person was last vaccinated against tetanus, and if more than 5 years have passed, re-vaccination is required.
If a venomous snake is suspected, the bitten person must rest strictly, ie even the slightest movement should be avoided, and the arm or leg on which the biting wound is located should be immobilised.
Attempts to suck out venom at the site of the bite are not recommended! Bandaging above the bite wound is also not recommended and is not applied as it can lead to complications. Eventual compression is performed by specially trained health professionals in emergencies.
It is necessary to urgently transfer the bitten person to the hospital.
In principle, every case of a snake bite is hospitalised, without thinking too much about whether the snake is poisonous or non-poisonous.
Today, the generally accepted view is that the wound should not be incised, the poison not sucked out, and ice not placed at the site of the bite !!!
The antidote for snake bite (antiviperinum) comes from horse serum and contains antibodies produced by the horse after being injected with snake venom. Antiviperinum is given exclusively intravenously in hospital conditions, and only when it is strictly indicated, since the antiserum itself can cause serious and even life-threatening reactions.
How To Prevent A Snake Bite?
Some bites, like those when a person accidentally steps on a snake are almost impossible to prevent. However, there are precautions that can significantly reduce the chance of a snake biting you:
- Leave the snake alone. Many people are bitten when they try to kill a snake or get as close to it as possible. Snakes mostly escape. Their attacks are an exception, not the rule.
- Avoid tall grass if you do not have suitable footwear (thick leather boots), and move as much as possible along existing, beaten paths.
- Do not place your hands and feet in places that are not visible (for example, do not drag your hand into a bush (most cases of snake bites in Croatia happen during the season of wild asparagus) or behind a rock). Do not pick up rocks or pieces of wood if you are not far enough from a potential snake attack.
- Be especially careful and prepared if you are climbing rocks.
The Bottom Line
Snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, are an amazing part of nature. They are useful for the ecosystem and integral to the unspoiled landscape of Croatia.
Instead of fear, I believe there’s a better word we should use when we speak of snakes: REVERENCE, a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.