Snakes In Switzerland: Should You Worry About Them?

snakes switzerland

Are there snakes in Switzerland, you ask? The answer is yes. This Central European country has a long and storied history, but there are no fabled tales about a patron saint who drove out all the snakes. The good news is that the majority of snakes in Switzerland cause minimal harm to humans.

You still need to be careful hiking through the Swiss countryside. Bites are generally no more serious than a bee sting but some people may have a severe allergic reaction. The snakes in Switzerland are hard to spot because they have a way of blending into the surroundings. And a snake bite is a good way to ruin your hike.

Let’s talk about the snakes in Switzerland.

Are Snakes Common in Switzerland?

Nine species of snakes have been identified living in the Land of the Alps. They include two venomous species and snakes that immobilize their prey using constriction. Snakes in Switzerland are found in rocky open spaces, in quarries, at the edges of woodlands, in tree canopies, and near the water. Snakes are common enough that most residents will see at least one in their own backyard during their lifetime.

Types of Snakes in Switzerland

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Smooth Snake is dark brown or grey in color. It has a crown-like shape on the top of its head and two rows of dark spots down its back. It is smooth and flat to the touch.

This snake is small and slender and hard to see. Even when basking in the sun, it likes to hide in plants to stay camouflaged. After rain showers, it may come out to escape the water. It remains motionless when threatened but will bite if captured. Its bite is not venomous.

Adder (Vipera berus)

Adder (Vipera berus)
Adder (Vipera berus) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Adder is a venomous snake but not particularly dangerous. The bite is painful and can cause swelling or internal hemorrhaging, but death from the bite is very rare. The coloring on an Adder may be brown, light grey, or red and you’ll see a zigzag strip on its back. Or they may also be entirely black.

The Adder is found in marshlands, forest clearings, pastures, and alpine meadows. It is not very aggressive but will bite if provoked or stepped on.

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Grass Snake (Natrix matrix)

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) – Image courtesy of xulescu_g

The Grass Snake is brown, grey, or olive-green in color and has rows of black spots on its back and sides. It has a black and yellow collar-like marking behind the head.

Grass snakes are swimmers so watch out for them around wet areas such as lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes. It’s also possible to see them in drier habitats such as backyard gardens and grasslands. It rarely bites, even when threatened, but may hiss and spray a foul substance from the anal glands.

Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)

Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)
Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Aesculapian is a long and slender snake that’s bronze in color and has smooth scales that give it a metallic look. Adults may also be brownish-green or almost black. It typically lives in humid forests. It is a very good climber and may be found in tree canopies.

These snakes don’t shy away from humans, and you may see one in gardens or sheds. Its bite is not venomous.

Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica)

Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica)
Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Barred Grass Snake can be identified by its dark greyish-green upper body, black bars along the sides, and a black and yellow collar around its neck. They like to live near the water.

This snake is not venomous, but you should not pick one up because it has some very nasty defensive mechanisms. It may ooze a foul-smelling odor from the anal glands, throw up what they’ve been eating, or secrete blood from the mouth and nose.

Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)

Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)
Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The non-venomous Dice Snake may be greyish-green, brown, or almost black. It has vivid spots of yellow and orange similar to dice on its belly. It is an excellent swimmer and lives mostly in aquatic habitats where it feeds on fish and amphibians.

Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)

Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)
Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

One of the most common snakes found in Switzerland, the Green Whip Snake is small and slender with a well-defined head. The coloring is greenish-yellow with bands of black or dark green. It lives in a variety of habitats, especially in trees since they are excellent climbers.

This snake is very aggressive and will bite hard. Fortunately, they are not venomous.

Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)

Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)
Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Southern Smooth Snake is a smallish snake with a round body. The coloring is brown or grey with black markings down its back. The back of its head has either two dark elongated spots or a dark U-shaped mark. It looks very similar to the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca).

This non-venomous snake’s habitats include rocky open spaces that are dry, quarries, stone walls, and woodlands. It is mainly active after dark and rarely bites but may secrete a smelly substance onto your hands if you touch it.

Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)

Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)
Asp Viper (Vipera aspis) – Image courtesy of Wikimedia

This venomous snake is fairly small and has a broad and triangular head with a slightly upturned snout. It ranges in color from brown to light grey or a shade of orange. It has a dark zig-zag pattern on its back. You should seek medical attention immediately if bitten.

Some say the Asp Viper is the type of snake that bit and killed the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.

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Snake Encounters in Switzerland

Switzerland has two venomous snake species, but no one has died from a snake bite since 1961, thanks to modern anti-venom medications.

According to the Tox Info Suisse Foundation, around 50 people were bitten by venomous snakes in 2021. No one died, and only one serious reaction was reported. Five people were bitten by exotic non-venomous snakes that were being kept as pets.

Children under the age of 16 account for 13 of those bitten. Severe symptoms were reported in 18 cases; six were mild, three were asymptomatic, eight were moderate, and one was severe.

Venomous snakes bit seven dogs that year. One dog had severe symptoms and one died.

If you get bitten, call 145, the Tox Info Suisse’s emergency hotline. Trained physicians are available 24/7 for advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many venomous snakes are there in Switzerland?

Switzerland has two venomous snakes: the Asp Viper ( Vipera aspis and the Adder (Vipera berus). They are mostly found in the Alps and Jura mountains, and not in the Swiss Central Plain.

Are there snakes in Swiss lakes?

Snakes have been spotted in Lake Zurich in recent years, but they were reported as not venomous.

Are there snakes in the Swiss Alps?

Yes, the Asp Viper and the Adder are found in the Swiss Alps.

Is it permissible to kill snakes in Switzerland?

Snakes in Switzerland are a part of the ecosystem and should not be killed.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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