Snakes: recognize them and respect them

Snakes are often killed without thinking, unaware that most of these reptiles in Italy are harmless and poisonless, so the dreaded pit vipers, when undisturbed, run away. In addition to an unnecessary act of cruelty, the killing of a snake deprives the garden of a natural defender, a tireless predator of mice and rats which often ruin crops. It is very useful to get to know the snakes present in Italy better, to know how to behave and to learn to live with them as much as possible. Among Italian snakes, only vipers are venomous, other specimens are hummingbirds that do not harm humans.


Snakes, between fears and traditions

Since ancient times, the figure of the snake has been the protagonist of nature and human imagination, religious cults and ancient traditions, folklore and popular and peasant legends. It begins with ancient pagan rites and ancient religions, which worshiped him as a deity, some of them still do today, then continues with allusions in the Holy Scriptures, in the stories of adventurous explorers, in the books of various writers and to close with the stories of our grandparents of their life in the countryside. In some cases, this reptile was venerated and feared by entire peoples, to such an extent that human sacrifices were made in its honour, whereas today it is found as a tourist attraction: the Marrakech cobras of Moroccan enchanters or the brains of the procession. from Saint Domenico di Guzmán to Cocullo in Abruzzo. The snake is also hunted and killed for its skins in Southeast Asia.

Here, on the contrary, the snake is always seen with atavistic fear and almost always, however harmless or venomous, meets a sad fate, that is, a pitchfork or a stick ready to strike to suppress. This attitude is also the daughter of ignorance and forgets that these reptiles have a specific role in nature, which is also very useful for those who cultivate them.

garden snake’s friend

Killing snakes is not always a good choice. In doing so, we are depriving nature of an important link in the environmental chain and at the same time depriving our cultures of a faithful ally. In fact, we must not forget that mice, field mice and rats of different breeds and are among the main destroyers of our garden, especially during the winter months and at the beginning of spring: when nutrients are scarce, the mice of the field they will look for food in our “green food”. The snake with its silent and surgical action can quickly free our garden, and in some cases even a larger field, from the annoying action of rodents. Hunting or killing snakes, on the contrary, will modify an ecosystem, it lacks natural predators and this allows rodents to proliferate. Especially those who want to practice an organic culture, based on natural balances and not on chemical interventions, must respect these crawling reptiles instead of trying to eliminate them.

Italian snakes: presumed and real danger

The fear of being bitten by the viper is understandable, but it must be remembered that not all species of snakes present in Italian territory are venomous: in Italy certain races of vipers persist in the territory, all venomous, but also different species of hummingbirds, harmless snakes. To this is added the small orbit which is not really a snake but a legless lizard, also without venom.

It is useful to know the habits and characteristics of these crawling reptiles, especially the Italian ones, so as not to be frightened unnecessarily. An important detail: the snake is almost blind, its eyes see little. The reptile senses our presence and that of the prey through its belly, perceiving the vibrations that we transmit to the ground, up close, it uses its infrared sensor, called “Jacobson’s organ”, named after the scientist who discovered it, this organ is located in this part which we call the nose, where we can see the two holes. To this the snake integrates the tongue which constitutes its sense of smell, which is why it continues to take it out of its mouth.

Regarding the possibility of attacks against humans, it must be taken into account that the snake never attacks out of pure desire to bite or harassment: the reptile only attacks when it feels threatened, or if its nest with eggs is nearby. Also the viper, which also has a more accentuated aggressiveness, like all snakes, does not like the presence of man and tends, above all, to avoid contact with flight. As for the bite of vipers, it is not always poisonous, indeed, the viper often prefers to keep its venom for prey rather than to be eaten and it happens that it bites the man without releasing its venomous fangs, to which case we speak of “biting”. dry”.

Obviously you must always act with caution: it is important to remain calm and avoid annoying reptiles in case of encounter, if you are bitten in doubt you must immediately go to the emergency room and do not underestimate the danger of poisoning. Advice for all visitors to forests, wastelands and rocky areas is to wear long, not short, boots for protection.

How to recognize snakes

The main characteristics that distinguish a viper from other harmless species are:

  • head shape . The viper has a triangular head, while hummingbirds usually have an oval head.
  • head plates . In the viper there are 7 main plates on the head, in the collectors there are 9 plates.
  • Eyes . The viper has narrow eyes with a vertical elliptical pupil, similar to that of cats during the day, while in collectors the shape is round like the human.
  • The body. Adders have a thick, stocky body with an irregularly tipped tail, while hummingbirds have a slender body with a tapering, tapering tail.
  • Dimensions. The common viper has a length of about 50-60 cm, with rare peaks of 90 cm for the more adult specimens or of particular races, the colubers, on the other hand, generally exceed the meter and can even reach 240 cm, in the case of the brain.
  • The type of connection . The viper attacks with jerks and leaps, while the loons have more strategic and silent tactics, except for the white plumb which generally has a nervous character.
  • fangs . Adders have poisonous fangs, hummingbirds don’t.

innocent italian snakes

To clarify the species of snakes present on Italian soil, let’s see which are the most widespread. Let’s start with the harmless snakes, belonging to the genus colubridae or colubrian and also known as bisce, they are in the majority, but they are often suppressed by those who are not able to distinguish them from vipers.

Lead White (Hierophis Viridiflavus) . A completely harmless large snake reaches a length of one and a half meters. It is one of the most widespread snakes in Italy, it can be black and yellow or totally black when adult, ocher with stripes and a black head when young. It is very fast and for this reason it is a very effective predator of voles and rats, very useful for the garden.

Matrix Necklace (Natrix Natrix) . Along with white lead, it is the most widespread in Italy, it is found everywhere and it mainly inhabits wetlands. It is a medium-sized, very scaly snake, with a gray or greenish livery striped with black. It has a gland that produces a poison reserved for fish and amphibians, which are its favorite prey, harmless to humans.

Cervone or pasturavache (Elaphe quatuorlineata). Large muscular snake, two meters long, brown striped with black, spotted with white when young. It is found in central and southern Italy, especially among stones and in the countryside. It eats rodents, eggs and birds and is therefore another gardener’s friend.

Saettone (Zamenis Longissimus) or Hummingbird of Asclepius. Another innocuous snake, with a long and slender body, starting from the yellow of the head and changing to greenish brown approaching the tail. It is found throughout Italy, it prefers forests.

Viperine Matrix (Natrix Maura). The name viperina should not be scary, it is attributed to the triangular head, similar to that of the poisonous snake, this natrix is ​​however harmless. It is an aquatic snake that feeds on fish and amphibians.

Other Varieties of Non-Poisonous Snakes that are found in Italy are the native tassellata, the smooth snake (Coronella austrica), the leopard snake, the horseshoe snake, the lake snake and the grass snake.

Then there is the small orbit which is technically not a snake but a legless lizard, sometimes the small legs are present on the sides but stunted and very small.

Italian poisonous snakes

The poisonous snakes found in Italy all belong to the family of vipers. The most common varieties are listed below.

common viper (aspis viper) . It is the most widespread among the venomous snakes present in Italy, it is found throughout the territory and it is divided into three sub-varieties: the viper atra, the francisciredi and the hugyi. It is a small snake that is easily found in rocky and arid areas, it has the livery of various colors and patterns. The common adder is venomous but usually, if threatened, it escapes, only biting if it feels cornered.

Marasso (Vipera berus) . A stocky snake, slightly larger than the common viper, it is found mainly in northeastern Italy. It is mainly found in the mountains and is a more venomous pit viper than the aspis variety.

Horned Viper (Ammodytes Viper). A short, robust pit viper, widespread in Friuli, it is the most venomous of the Italian pit vipers, notable for the horned viper atop the head, just above the mouth.

Bear Viper (Vipera Ursinii) . It is found in central Italy, especially in the Abruzzo Apennines, it is a very small snake, with an average length of about 30 centimeters. It has a calm character and its poison is less powerful than that of other varieties.

In conclusion: avoid killing

This article is an invitation to get to know and respect snakes. This does not mean forgetting to be careful: the risk of snakebite exists and you should not take it under your wing. However, it is necessary to contextualize this eventuality and not to transform fear into an irrational demonization of all reptiles, leading to killing them “by shooting on sight”.

In the event of an encounter with a snake, you must be careful, first of all you must not forget that the most common specimens in Italy are harmless and non-venomous, such as white lead and the ring-necked snake. Second, the viper only attacks to defend itself, so it is often possible to avoid the shock. Killing every snake you find a priori is a stupid and wrong attitude, both from an ethical point of view and in order to maintain a useful ecosystem also for the producer, especially for the organic farmer.

Post Scriptum. A necessary precision: unlike the other posts of Orto Da Coltivare this text is largely thanks to a person who shared his knowledge on Italian snakes in our beautiful facebook community, he prefers anonymity but I still want to thank. I only wrote the initial introduction, the list of Italian snakes and the conclusion, in the rest of the article I limited myself to small additions and content revision, to adapt them to the editorial format of OdC.

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