What Snakes Live in Europe and Which is the Largest?

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: March 23, 2022
Image Credit Piotr Velixar/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Snakes have been around far longer than humans—they were slithering on the ground and in trees when dinosaurs walked the Earth. Today, there are nearly 4,000 known species of snake, with some growing to over twenty feet long. All snakes share a few key characteristics – they’re carnivores with powerful muscles instead of legs for movements. They have extremely flexible jaws, and some have venom glands or even heat-sensing organs. A few species of snake, specifically cobras and vipers, have long fangs for delivering venom.

Today, snakes live on every continent except Antarctica. They can even be found in some of the remotest places in the world. Their habitats range from sandy deserts to lush tropical rainforests. But, what snakes live in Europe, and which is the largest?

Here, we’ll take a closer look at a few of the most common species of snake in Europe, as well as where you can expect to find snakes in Europe. We’ll go over the venomous snakes of Europe, then turn our attention to the biggest snakes in Europe. We’ll compare the two contenders for Europe’s largest snake.

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Snakes in Europe

Female common adder
Though there are snakes in Europe, they can’t be found in every country.

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Snakes abound in Europe, though they can’t be found in every country. Iceland and Ireland are famously snake-free, due to their cold climates and isolation. Great Britain is home to only three types of snake; the European adder, the grass snake, and the smooth snake. 

There are at least five families of snakes distributed throughout the European continent, with at least 50 species, many of them in southern and eastern Europe. 

Most Common Snakes in Europe

The common European adder, also known as the common European viper, is one of the most common species of snake in Europe. It lives from Great Britain to East Asia. Other species of viper, such as the Eurasian viper and the horned viper, are also common in many parts of Europe. 

Other types of snake, such as the whip snake and racer snake, are also prevalent in Europe. These include the red-bellied racer, dwarf racer, and slender racer. Two of the most common whipsnake species are the Caspian whip snake and the Balkan whip snake.

Does Europe Have Venomous Snakes?

Common adder on leaf litter.
One of the most common venomous snake species in Europe is the common European viper (Vipera berus). 

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Europe is home to around 17 species in the Viperidae family of snakes. These include the common European viper, the Haly’s pit viper, and the asp viper. Each member of this family is venomous, though only one of them, the Haly’s pit viper, has heat-sensing organs. 

Bites from vipers are common, as they frequently live in urban areas or near places where human activity occurs. Luckily, viper venom is highly unlikely to cause life-threatening complications. It’s much more likely to become life-threatening in small children or health-compromised people.

Which is the Largest Snake in Europe?

Two species of snake vie for the title of “largest snake” in Europe. These are the Aesculapian snake and the Caspian whipsnake. Both snakes reach typical adult lengths of around 78 inches (6.5 feet) long.

Aesculapian SnakeCaspian Whip Snake
Size78 inches long78 inches long
HabitatForests and rocky hillsides Meadows, grasslands, and rocky hillsides
AppearanceAdults are light brown with yellow undersides and round, black pupilsAdults are brown to gray with lighter undersides and thick bodies
BehaviorExcellent tree climbersReadily bites in self-defense
Diet Rodents, birds, bird eggsRodents, reptiles, birds

Aesculapian Snake

aesculapian snake
The Aesculapian snake is non-venomous. Instead of envenomating prey, it catches and constricts prey before swallowing it whole.

GGRIGOROV/Shutterstock.com

Aesculapian snakes can be found throughout Eastern and Central Europe, as well as in some parts of Great Britain. They’ve even been seen in Wales, though they’re not common there. They’re not considered endangered, though they are an invasive species in areas outside their native Central and Eastern Europe. Out of all snakes in Europe, the Caspian whip snake may be the best tree climber. They’re frequently seen high up on tree limbs, hunting for small mammals, reptiles, birds, and bird nests with eggs. 

The Caspian whip snake generally grows to about 6.5 feet, though some even longer adults have been found. They’re oviparous, meaning that females lay eggs, rather than give birth to live young. They range in color from green-gray to brown-gray, with yellow undersides and black tongues. These snakes are eaten by a wide variety of creatures, including badgers, foxes, feral pigs, and birds of prey. When young, they’re at risk of predation by domestic cats, dogs, chickens, and even hedgehogs.

Caspian Whip Snake

The Caspian whip snake (Dolichophis caspius) does not have venom, but it is known for its short tempers.

Valentina Moraru/Shutterstock.com

These snakes are native to eastern Europe, the Balkans, some parts of the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. They’re not listed as endangered, though they are frequent victims of car accidents and other vehicles as they attempt to cross highways. They’re known for their quick defense, which generally includes hissing and multiple bites in quick succession. The Caspian whip snake’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, rodents, birds, reptiles, and occasionally amphibians. 

These snakes grow to an average length of 6.5 feet, though large adults can grow even larger. They’re thick-bodied, with narrow heads and large, black eyes. Their coloring ranges from solid brown to gray, with pale undersides. Females are oviparous and lay between 5-15 eggs per clutch. Like the Aesculapian snake, the Caspian whip snake is non-venomous but won’t hesitate to bite when humans come too close.

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