Snakes in Switzerland: A Guide to the Country’s Snake Species

It’s impossible to think of Switzerland and not have its breathtaking green landscapes, rolling hills, snow-covered mountains, and crystal-clear lakes. With picture-perfect green scapes, it’s easy to forget that Switzerland is also home to several species of snakes, two of which are venomous. 

Switzerland is home to nine species of snakes, two of which are venomous: the Common Adder and the Asp Viper. Although the exact population size of these two species is not known, they are believed to be widespread. The Common Adder, however, is protected in some parts of Europe.

In the rest of this article, we are going to learn more about these two venomous species as well as the other seven non-venomous species and find out their physical characteristics and behavior.

1. Common Adder

The Common Adder (Vipera berus), also known as the Common European Adder, Common Viper, and simply Adder (among other names), is one of the most widespread snake species in Europe. These venomous snakes can also be found in some parts of Asia. 

Although their population size is unknown, they are believed to be growing in large numbers and are not of any conservation concern.

Common Adders are also large snakes that grow up to 90 cm (35 in) and weigh up to 180 g (0.4 lbs) when they reach maturity. 

They come in either light-colored or dark-colored variations ranging from yellowish to light brown to dark gray. They also are known to have zigzagging patterns running along the length of their bodies. 

These snakes are diurnal, which means they sleep at night and are active during the day, and are ambush predators, waiting for their prey to fall or come within reach before they strike. They usually feed on small mammals like mice.

2. Asp Viper

The second type of snake that can be found in Switzerland is the Asp Viper (Vipera aspis). This species is venomous and widespread throughout Europe. Like the Common Adder, the Asp Viper also grows quite long, with mature ones growing up to 85 cm (33.5 in). 

Their colors can vary from grey to brown to orange, and their most distinctive feature is their broad, triangular head. They also have a snout that is slightly upturned, and their bodies that markings that resemble a zigzag.

More importantly, Asp Vipers may be venomous. Fortunately for humans, these snakes prefer flight rather than fight and would rather escape from larger animals and humans when threatened. Still, it’s always best not to provoke even the non-aggressive snakes. You wouldn’t want to mess with a venomous one.

If, on the rare occasion that this snake does bite, though, it can get pretty bad. An Asp Viper bite can cause hemorrhagic necrosis after a few hours. 

3. Smooth Snake

Smooth Snakes (Coronella austriaca) are a very unique non-venomous snake species because they are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live baby snakes, unlike most snakes that lay eggs. 

But this doesn’t mean that Smooth Snakes do not produce offspring through eggs. They still do. The only difference is that Smooth Snakes incubate their eggs inside their bodies.

Although they can grow quite long – up to 75 cm (29.5 in) – Smooth Snakes are pretty slender, and, as their name suggests, their bodies are smooth to the touch. Their scales are flat so that when you run your hand along their bodies, you don’t feel scales at all. Instead, you would feel as if you were touching hair-less skin (that’s cool to the touch).

Smooth Snakes are typically brown in color and have a habit of blending in with their environment to hide from sight. They are also quite secretive and solitary, which, in addition to their expert camouflaging skills, makes them extremely hard to spot.

4. Aesculapian Snake

Another non-venomous snake species is the Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). These snakes are considered to be tame and non-aggressive, even around humans. They prefer to hide from sight by blending in with their surroundings or staying away in select hiding spots. But when they are provoked, they will not hesitate to attack.

Although Aesculapian Snake bites are less harmful than those of venomous snakes, bites can still be painful and uncomfortable, even causing a bad allergic reaction or infection. So when you encounter this bronze-colored snake, it’s always best to stay away.

Aesculapian Snakes are not hard to see when they’re around as long as you know what you’re looking for. They have large bodies that grow up to 160 cm (63 in), with bronze or metallic-looking scales. Being excellent climbers, they are often up in tree branches.

5. Grass Snake

The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) is another non-venomous snake that can be found in Switzerland. They are also called Ringer Snake or Water Snake, which better describe their behavior. 

Grass Snakes are usually found in or near bodies of water, like streams, lakes, and ponds because they feed on amphibians. They’re also excellent swimmers, but they can sometimes still be found in drier habitats, especially when food is scarce. 

Also, though they are non-venomous, Grass Snakes do try to intimidate any predators or other animals that they perceive as threats by producing a garlic-like smell in the hopes of shooing predators away. With more intimidating animals, however, they tend to flatten their heads and their bodies in the same way that cobras do. 

They do this in order to trick other animals into thinking that they, too, have lethal venom. When these scaring-away tricks don’t work, Grass Snakes prefer to flee.

6. Green Whip Snake

The Green Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) is a non-venomous snake that is usually of a light-green or light-yellow underbelly and irregular black-and-green colorations throughout its length. It may be non-venomous, but it’s best to steer clear of this snake, as it is quite aggressive and will not think twice about biting when faced with a threat.

They’re also known to be quick to react and agile, which helps them actively catch their prey. Though they prefer terrestrial grounds as habitats, they may also be found up in the trees, as they are pretty good climbers.

7. Dice Snake

Another snake that you will commonly find in the water is the Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata). This species loves aquatic habitats mainly because that’s where they get their food. These snakes usually feed on fish and, like their prey, are excellent swimmers. 

When you see one, you wouldn’t mistake it for any other snake species because their bodies are marked with black and orange spots, hence the name Dice Snake. 

8. Viperine Water Snake

The Viperine Water Snake (Natrix maura) is a semi-aquatic snake species that can live both on land and in aquatic habitats. They are usually greenish-gray, brown, or reddish and have zigzagging marks along the length of their bodies. They also have central dorsal markings in the shape of circles. 

Viperine Water Snakes are non-venomous snakes that are not aggressive and prefer to flee rather than fight. They are active hunters of their prey instead of ambush predators and spend most of their time swimming in the water to catch their food.

They feed on aquatic animals, like fish and frogs. 

9. Southern Smooth Snake

Last on our list is the Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica), a small, slender species that grows up to 80 cm (31.5 in) and comes in either gray or brown. It also has distinct black dorsal spots and at the back of its head is a U-shaped mark. 

Southern Smooth Snakes are also quite secretive and hard to find, especially because they are nocturnal animals.

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