How fast are brown snakes

Fear of snakes?

Mountain know-how
Tips & Tricks • September 16, 2020
by Christina Schwann

If you are out on the mountain, it can happen that you come across a snake from time to time. But do you have to be afraid of them at all? Is every snake poisonous and what can I do in case of a bite? Christina Schwann explains.

Many people are afraid of unexpectedly encountering a snake and maybe even being bitten. In fact, bite injuries are rather rare. In Austria, around 40 people have to be admitted to hospital after a snake bite every year.

Many people assume that snakes are generally poisonous and dangerous. It is even said that a dream in which snakes appear indicates dishonest and devious people in the area. It seems as if the serpent simply cannot get rid of the bad image it was given in the biblical creation story. But the all-clear: only three of the species found in the Alps, and one of them is practically extinct, are poisonous, although their bites are not life-threatening under normal circumstances (more on that later).

Non-poisonous snakes in the Alps

The representatives of the snake belong to the non-poisonous snake species. They have no fangs, large eyes, and their pupils are round or oval. They include the representatives of the real snakes and those of the water snakes: the smooth snake prefers open, sunlit terrain with many hiding spots, the Aesculapian snake sunlit areas on river banks and alluvial forests and is very long at 140 to 160 cm. The yellow-green wrath snake is no longer found in Austria and Germany. Grass snake, barring snake, dice snake and viper snake (does not appear in Austria and Germany) belong to the water snakes. The grass snake prefers moist meadows and forests near water. The dice snake can be found on the banks of slowly flowing waters with a lot of bank vegetation. And because it looks like a snake, it should be mentioned briefly: the blindworm - which belongs to the lizards and is therefore not a snake and is of course completely harmless.

Poisonous snakes in the Alps

The family of the otters or vipers is the poisonous species of snakes that have tubular teeth. They include the following species found in the Alps:


It often occurs in the area of ​​moors, swamps, mountain meadows and in the area of ​​the tree line. It is not uncommon for her to sunbathe on warm stones right on the path. The adder is on average between 50 and 70 cm long, its basic color is very different (from silver-gray to black) and it has a dark zigzag band on its back. In the Alps it occurs up to an altitude of 2,500 m. Your bite can be very painful - a typical sign are the two symmetrically spaced puncture wounds.

Sand otter or horned viper

She loves dry areas such as scree slopes, bushes, light oak forests or stone walls. However, further south you can also find them on river banks or ponds. The sand otter reaches a length of up to 95 cm, its basic color varies greatly from mostly gray to yellowish or red-brown with a zigzag or diamond band on the back. Its triangular head is clearly set off from the body, it has a conspicuous horn on the muzzle and strong ridges over the eyes. You can find them mainly on the south side of the Alps. Their bite carries strong and dangerous poison for humans.

Meadow otter

Very rare, loves steppe-like terrain with damp spots or watercourses. In Austria it is considered to be extinct and does not play a role in the Alpine region. It is the smallest European venomous snake with a maximum length of 50 cm. Their basic color is brown or gray, sometimes even dark yellow, and a zigzag band runs across their backs.

Three simple precautions

If you are out and about in the mountains in summer, you should consider the following three recommendations:

  1. Confident, steadfast demeanor: Snakes feel the vibration and usually flee before they can be seen.
  2. Always look at the ground to avoid stepping on a snake.
  3. Be careful when turning stones, collecting wood or picking berries.
  4. When climbing, if possible, check handles and steps - traditionally holes and cracks - beforehand.

What to do if you get a snake bite

However, if you are bitten by a snake, you should in principle remain calm, especially since the poison is usually not life-threatening. Most of the time, the tissue around the bite swells, turns red and hurts considerably. In some cases, however, allergic reactions (swelling of the tissue in the area of ​​the eyes, upper lip, tongue and larynx), respiratory and circulatory disorders (rapid heartbeat, drop in blood pressure) or shock behavior can occur and then one speaks of an emergency. A snakebite in children should definitely never be taken lightly.

The following has to be done:

  • Keep the injured part of the body still
  • Calm down the affected person
  • Place cold compresses on the bite site
  • Possibly shock positioning
  • Depending on the symptoms, either send an emergency call or consult a doctor independently

Under no circumstances should the wound be sucked out or tied!

In the hospital or at the family doctor, the doctor will treat the wound first, administer painkillers and, if necessary, treat circulatory problems. The administration of an antiserum is not common with our native poisonous snakes and in the majority of cases it is not necessary either. How much poison you actually got depends on the type of bite and the current filling of the fangs. If the snake has only just made prey, the poison fangs are practically empty. In fact, around 50% of the time it is “empty” or “dry” bites, with virtually no poison being released into the body.


There is no need to be too scared of our native snakes. If you see one and approach it carefully, it is also very nice to look at, but please do not bother with a stick or something similar! They are well equipped with sensory organs, especially the sense of smell is very strong. Their skin is dry and warm (the scales are shiny but not wet) and all snakes can swim elegantly.

In addition, the snake has an important regulating function as a predator in the ecosystem, so all snakes are strictly protected. Nevertheless, even in protected areas where the habitat hardly changes, a decline in populations can often be observed. So, walk carefully through the mountains, be careful when playing in stone piles and picking berries, but be happy if you are lucky enough to see a snake.

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