Did you know, there are 45 individual species of snakes in Turkey? Don’t worry if not. It’s hardly the sort of thing you think about when you’re dreaming of those sun-splashed poolsides on the Turquoise Coast, those bobbing yachts in Bodrum harbour and those spice-plumed bazaars in Istanbul. Still, now you’re here, we may as well take a look…
Yep, 45 species, but only a few of those can be counted among the dangerous snakes in Turkey. Most aren’t venomous at all. A select bunch are, and have caused the occasional injury or death in humans in the vast country that ranges from the Caucasus Mountains to the Aegean Sea.
In this guide, we take a look at seven of the species that might be worth having on the radar. Some are commonplace and might pop up during your trip to the sweeping mountains and pebbly beaches of Anatolia. Others are far more elusive and have even proved difficult for scientists to document over the years. Let’s take a look…
The rock viper, the Near East viper, the mountain viper, the coastal viper – there are oodles and oodles of different names for this snake. The reason? It’s among the largest and the most prolific of the dangerous snakes in Turkey, and one of the most common venomous serpents in the whole of the Mediterranean basin besides.
Yep, you’ll find these rodent-eating sliders far out in the hills around the immersive city of Kayseri in the depths of central Turkey, but also in the wave-splashed pebble coves of the eastern Greek islands. They tend to prefer scrub-covered and overgrown areas where they can escape direct glare and lay in wait for prey. That means olive groves and the thickets of wild herbs that dash through Anatolia are just about perfect.
You certainly won’t mistake the Ottoman viper. These guys sport a distinctive zig-zag pattern all down their back. It’s an alternating meander line in beige and deep black, spread over a body that grows to an average of around 90cm. Don’t approach and don’t disturb if you do cross paths: This is a particularly aggressive type of viper that’s got strong venom and is known to attack without provocation.
You probably won’t have to worry about crossing paths with the Anatolian viper. They’re among the most elusive and hard-to-find snakes in all of Europe. In Turkey, it’s thought that there’s a possibility that they inhabit the cypress forests and cool ridges of the Taurus Mountains on the edge of the Anatolian Plateau. However, very few have ever been spotted and they are currently listed as critically endangered. (In fact, there was a period when only five grown adults had been officially documented since the snake was given species status back in the 1960s!)
Also known as the Anatolian meadow viper for its penchant for residing in long grass and wildflower fields in the ranges of southern Turkey, the snake looks a lot like its Ottoman brother. It’s got the trademark viper back pattern of light brown and squiggling black. It’s got that flat-topped head coming to an arrowhead snout
Although the venom of the Anatolian viper is largely reserved for its small prey, it’s thought to be strong enough to have a powerful effect on humans. At first examination, up to 96 separate toxins from 18 toxin families were found. What’s more, because it’s such a rare species, there’s currently no known anti-venom. So, beware if you’re heading off to hike the beautiful Taurus!
The European adder is one of the most recognisable snakes on the whole continent. They’re actually much more common in northern and western Europe than in Turkey. Some of the highest numbers are found throughout France, the UK, Scandinavia and Germany. However, there are also significant population clusters in the hotter Mediterranean regions flanking mainland Greece and the Adriatic Sea.
A member of the viper family, the European adder has a venomous attack. However, it’s not even close to being quite as formidable as some of the other most dangerous snakes in Turkey listed here. For starters, an estimated 70% of bites don’t involve venom injection at all. On top of that, the adder is considered to be a generally timid snake that rarely attacks unless provoked. Finally, the species has muted venom potency, which typically results in localised swelling, although some sporadic fatalities have been recorded.
European adders can grow to around half a metre in length. They’re noticeably thick around the centre of the body, and have trademark ridged snouts and smooth scale patterns. Colours vary from animal to animal, but there’s usually a standout V-shape marking close to the crown of the head.
Nope, Wagner’s viper isn’t named after the revered German composer. It’s named after the intrepid German explorer, Moritz Wagner, who’s thought to have retrieved and identified the first specimen of this snake all the way back in 1846. It couldn’t have been an easy task – these guys only live in a very small enclave of far eastern Turkey, in the remote mountains above glistening Lake Urmia close to the Iranian border.
Hopefully, that means you won’t be at too much risk of getting bitten when you’re soaking up the rays on the Turquoise Coast. After all, it’s thought that attacks from a Wagner’s viper are powered by a cocktail of neurotoxins that won’t leave you standing for very long. However, very little is known about the weapons in this one’s arsenal thanks to a lack of scientific research into the rare species.
You’ll be able to identify one of Wagner’s by the noticeable patchwork of grey, green and brown blotches that pattern the back, all interlocked by lines of beige and coffee. The snake also has the iconic viper head style with thick ridges overhanging the eyes (known as the supraocular scales) and a backwards V marking towards the top of the neck.
Armenian rock viper
Montivipera raddei, the Armenian rock viper, is native to the far eastern fringes of Turkey. Found in the peaks and plains that roll down from the Caucuses to the Armenian highlands and onto the vast plateaus of Eastern Anatolia, they’re also thought to be present in the upland northern quarters of Iran.
There’s no denying there’s something elegant and beautiful about the Armenian rock viper. A stark ochre and yellowish pattern dashes across the back scales, with alternating spots of dark brown thrown in for good measure. The head is a greyish or orangey point with protruding eyes that are centred on a brooding slit of black. It’s very much the quintessential viper look.
When it comes to venom, these guys earn their place among the most dangerous snakes in Turkey with a potent mix of blood coagulant and fantastic camouflage. Unsuspecting hikers could easily happen upon one basking on a rock and not even notice. That’s becoming less and less likely, though, as numbers are thought to be in steep decline in the wild due to climate change and habitat destruction.
With a name like the horned viper, you’d be wise to avoid this devilish creature. The moniker is the result of the noticeable duo of protrusions on the front of the head, which jut out from the eyelids in truly formidable fashion. Size wise, these guys usually hit a maximum length of around a metre from forked tongue to tail, while fully grown adults can weigh up to half a kilo. Check out the colouring – a sandy mix of beiges and light browns that let the creature conceal itself in dusty desert environments.
The Middle East and Asia Minor are two of the main stomping grounds of the horned viper. Encounters are possible under the gaze of the great Petra temples in Jordan and in the shifting sand deserts of the UAE. In Turkey, they tend to prefer the drier, desert-like confines of inland Anatolia and the north and east of the country, which means human contacts are kept to a relative minimum.
Bites are not something you’d want to have to deal with, though. Most cause sever haemorrhaging at the site of contact, and there’s currently no known anti-venom to deal with cases. The best protection is prevention and awareness, so be cautious when moving around rural areas of Turkey where the horned viper is known to reside.
Black desert snakes
The black desert snake is rare and elusive. It’s largely limited to the arid territory of northern Turkey, but also inhabits the scrub-clad hills that roll into Anatolia and the more central and western provinces. What’s more, the desert black snake can be found all throughout the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, preferring the hotter, less-moist climates that its name implies.
Technically a cobra, the creature isn’t prone to typical cobra-style attacks – you know, the ones that involve raising the head and fanning the hood. Instead, encounters with victims tend to be stealthier and more silent, with sudden bites from a sideways direction. The venom of the black desert snake has been measured to be stronger than that of an Indian cobra, and causes inflammation at the site of contact along with subsequent shutdown of the nervous system.
The black desert snake is often confused with the more-common black whipsnake. However, that serpent compadre isn’t poisonous at all and can regularly be spotted closer to the Mediterranean coast, in and around Turkey’s popular tourist resorts. Both snakes have a long, shiny body with a shadowy black hue, but the desert snake tends to be much smaller and has a broader, flatter snout.
So, what dangerous snakes are there in Turkey?
Of the 45 species of snake that are known to live in Turkey, around 10 are considered venomous. The most common of those include the Ottoman viper, which is an aggressive slider that reigns as one of the largest of the venomous snakes in all of southern Europe. You’ll not only find them in Turkey, but also on the Greek Islands, in Thrace, and across the Mediterranean basin. Other examples of dangerous snakes in Turkey are positively rare. Just consider the Wagner’s viper or the Anatolian viper, which only live in very remote parts of high and faraway Turkish mountain ranges. Phew!
Of course, it’s always worth being cautious about snakes when traveling to Turkey. We’d suggest learning about the various creatures you might encounter when you’re exploring the amazing country. Also, get to know the proper process for dealing with bites, and how to behave around snakes, especially when they start to get aggressive. In addition, try to be wary of wildlife and respectful of natural habitats, especially if you’re out and about in more remote, rural, and undeveloped areas. You’re much more likely to encounter a viper in the Taurus Mountains than you are a snake in Istanbul, after all!