Are There Snakes in Ireland?

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: March 25, 2022
Image Credit Audrey Snider-Bell/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Even people who have never personally seen a snake before can describe them. They’re scaly reptiles of the suborder Serpentes. Snakes are limbless, though some lizards have also evolved to lack arms and legs, and have extremely flexible jaws designed for swallowing prey whole. Some snakes, like the king cobra or rattlesnake, are highly venomous and dangerous to humans. Others, like the garter snake or grass snake, have no venom, and present little danger to humans.

Snakes are found on almost every continent on earth, with the sole exception being icy Antarctica. They can survive in almost every climate, from rainforests to deserts, snakes thrive all over the world. But, are there snakes in Ireland? Snakes may thrive in many places, but there are a few snake-free zones left in the world, and Ireland just may be one of them.

Here, we’ll answer the burning question on everybody’s mind: are there snakes in Ireland? To do this, we’ll take a look at whether or not Ireland has native (endemic) snakes, and why. Then, we’ll go over the legality of pet snakes in Ireland, and whether or not Irish zoogoers can visit snakes. After that, we’ll discuss other reptiles found in Ireland. Finally, we’ll go over all the places on Earth you can visit if you just can’t abide snakes slithering about.

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Does Ireland Have Snakes?

Ireland Landscape - Cliffs of Mohar
Ireland is an island in northwestern Europe directly to the west of England. Its nickname is the Emerald Isle, so named for its lush landscape.

Andrew_Clancy/Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately for Irish snake enthusiasts, there are no snakes in Ireland, and there never have been. Unlike Great Britain, which is home to at least three species of snake, the Emerald Isle has no native snakes. According to Irish lore, Ireland used to have snakes, until St. Patrick chased them all into the ocean hundreds of years ago. But, according to the fossil record, snakes have never made Ireland their home.

Read on to find out why snakes aren’t part of the luck o’ the Irish.

Why are there No Snakes in Ireland?

Ireland Flag in Snake Skin
Not long ago Ireland was entirely covered in ice during the Ice Age.

Dmitrij Plehanov/Shutterstock.com

You may not know it, but Ireland was once connected by land to the rest of Europe, it was also covered in ice. At the end of the last ice age, when all the ice disappeared and rising sea levels cut Ireland off from the rest of Europe, the island was left without one thing: snakes. Since then, cold weather and a climate that’s not conducive to snake life have kept the island free of slithering snakes.

Snakes can live in many places, but they have a couple of basic needs for survival. These are light, and warmth. Snakes are ectothermic, which means they can’t keep their own bodies warm. Instead, they have to rely on the heat of the sun. Temperatures in Ireland never get quite warm enough to sustain a healthy snake population. So, even if snakes did make their way to the Emerald Isle, they probably wouldn’t last long.

Can You Have Pet Snakes in Ireland?

ball python in human hands
A few of the most popular choices for pet snakes in Ireland are ball pythons, corn snakes, boa constrictors, and gopher snakes.

Krisda Ponchaipulltawee/Shutterstock.com

Irish snake enthusiasts are in luck, because although there are no native snakes living in Ireland, pet snakes are completely legal. Other countries or islands, like New Zealand and Hawaii, have a total ban on the importation of snakes for any purpose, but not Ireland. So, if you’re in Ireland, and you’re hoping to add a scaly new member to your family, you’re in luck. 

Are there Snakes in Zoos in Ireland?

There are snakes in Ireland, even if they’re not living in the wild. Snakes as pets, snakes in zoos, and even snakes in the world-famous National Reptile Zoo located in Kilkenny. This zoo houses a variety of snakes and other reptiles, including tortoises, crocodiles, snapping turtles, boa constrictors, pythons, and lizards. For many Irish children, zoos may be the only chance they get to see snakes in Ireland. 

Why aren’t Snakes Banned in Ireland?

Other countries, like New Zealand, have total ban on snakes for environmental preservation reasons. 

Krisda Ponchaipulltawee/Shutterstock.com

The islands of New Zealand are, and have always been snake-free—just like Ireland. But, unlike Ireland, there are no snakes allowed in New Zealand. So, what’s the difference? Why are snakes strictly restricted in New Zealand, but not in Ireland?

The answer is in the climates of the two countries. New Zealand has a very snake-friendly ecosystem, which means that any snake that becomes invasive there has the potential to throw the entire ecosystem out of balance. Whereas in Ireland, no breeding population of snakes has yet become invasive.

This is because, when there are snakes in Ireland—such as when pet snakes escape or are released by their owners—they’re confronted by an environment hostile to snakes. Ireland is simply too cold to sustain many snakes, therefore, they don’t have any reason to ban them outright.

Are there Reptiles in Ireland?

Ireland is almost, but not quite, reptile free. In fact, the Emerald Isle has only a single native reptile: the common lizard. These lizards live all over the island, they’re often observed basking on rocks for warmth, or hunting insects. In recent years, pond slider turtles have started showing up in Irish lakes and ponds, likely as a result of escape or owner release. These turtles, however, aren’t native to Ireland.

In addition to the common lizard, Ireland is also visited by five species of sea turtle, including the loggerhead sea turtle, green sea turtle, and hawksbill sea turtle.

What Other Islands Have No Snakes?

Common Lizard
The viviparous lizard, also known as the common lizard, is the only reptile native to Ireland.

Erni/Shutterstock.com

The Emerald Isle isn’t the only snake-free island out there; Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, New Zealand, and Hawaii also lack snakes. Additionally, many of the small islands of the Pacific Ocean also have no snakes.

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