When planning a French holiday, worrying about dangerous wildlife is not usually high on the to-do list. But whether you want to avoid these animals or see them with your own eyes, knowing which dangerous animals you might encounter in France can make your trip a much better experience.
From insects to mammals, fish to reptiles, we’ve nailed down the 7 of the most dangerous animals found in France today.
We’ll run through the animals, where to find them, how to avoid them and just how dangerous they are to humans!
Are there Brown Bears in France?
Although still very rare in France, Brown Bears are making a comeback in the Pyrenees. They were hunted to near extinction from the middle ages onwards but were finally made a protected species in 1979. Although this was certainly the right move, it was arguably hundreds of years too late!
With only a small handful of bears left in the country by the 1990s, more were introduced in ’96 to try and rebuild the local population. This was met with a furore from local farmers as they feared for their livestock. These fears were proved to be founded as there have been confirmed reports of bears killing sheep along the French-Spanish border. To keep the populace on side, the French government offers generous compensation packages to any farmer who can prove their livestock was killed by a bear.
Since their reintroduction in 1996 and after a few more were introduced in 2006, the local population has flourished and risen from around 5 individuals to somewhere between 60-100!
Clocking in at 2.5 metres tall and weighing between 150-450kg, with males being on the larger end of this spectrum, Brown Bears strike an imposing form. Thankfully, they are rather timid in the grand scheme of things and due to their low population density, you’re unlikely to come across one.
They usually inhabit mountainous forests but also need rocky areas and open grassland nearby. This makes the Pyrenees the ideal habitat!
Contrary to what their name suggests, Brown Bears aren’t necessarily brown. They can also be rust or straw coloured and black Brown Bears are not uncommon.
If you should see a bear close by, ensure you are not between a mother and her cubs as this is when they are most likely to attack. Make sure you stand tall, wave your arms around and make as much noise as possible to reduce any chance of attack. Generally, fruits, seeds, berries and nuts make up 80% of a brown bear’s diet – they only hunt when particularly hungry!
Found in the southeast and eastern regions of France, wolves certainly clock in as one of the most dangerous animals in the country. They’re covered in mottled black, brown, grey and white fur and weigh 35-40kg. Your average French wolf will be between 105-160cm in length and if provoked, could easily take down a human.
Thankfully, wolf attacks on people are almost unheard of in France as they tend to be timid, fearful creatures who roam vast territories. If you do run into a wolf, stand up tall and make as much noise as you can. Consider throwing sticks or stones to scare them away.
Their timid behaviour is a survival mechanism. In the year 1800, there were over 20,000 wild wolves in France but just over 100 years later, there were none. French wolves were hunted to extinction to protect sheep and other livestock.
The population of wolves in France today were not reintroduced but naturally migrated across the Alps from Italy. They were confirmed to be in the country in 1992 and since then the population has grown to almost 500 known individuals!
Much as with bears, local farmers are not happy about the expanding population but because wolves are a protected species in France, there is little that can be done to change the situation. The French authorities compensate farmers generously should their livestock be killed by a wolf.
France is home to a number of venomous snakes but the most dangerous of them all is the Asp Viper. This slippery creature can be found across the whole nation, except for the far north and northeast. It can even be spotted high up in the Pyrenees but as this snake tends to prefer lower elevations, these sightings are rare.
Asp Vipers can grow anywhere between 30-75cm with the average French Asp being somewhere in the middle of that range. They are light grey or brown with a dark, irregular zig-zag pattern running along the length of their back. The Asp Viper has a flat, triangular head that is distinct from the rest of its body.
Often spotted in dry stone walls, hedgerows and rocky slopes, they tend to be found in warm dry habitats, with plenty of access to both direct sunlight and shade. However, Asp Vipers seem to dislike farmland and are very rarely spotted in such areas.
Asp Vipers are dangerous because of the potency of their venom, not because they are aggressive. In fact, they are much more likely to flee than attack if disturbed. If they are unable to flee, they will resort to defensive bites. The huge majority of the time, these defensive bites are dry and contain no venom but you should ALWAYS seek medical assistance if bitten by a snake.
Symptoms Asp Viper venom include dizziness, impaired visions, acute pain and eventually, haemorrhagic necrosis. Around 4% of untreated bites end up being fatal so having access to as much information as possible is a must. Make sure you know what to do if you’re bitten by a snake in France!
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Portuguese Man O’ War
While not common in France all the time, Portuguese Men O’ War have appeared on the country’s shores numerous times over the last decade, so it is well worth being aware of their existence.
Named after an 18th-century Portuguese sailing ship, because it is said to resemble one at full sail, the Portuguese Man O’ War is often considered a jellyfish by most folk. However, the Man O’ War is actually a Hydrozoa, a colony of individual organisms that cannot survive without one another.
Blue in colour, with pink or lilac tones, the Portuguese Man O’ War does not actively attack or harm humans but can inadvertently cause serious harm and even death to those who come in contact with its 50 metre long tentacles.
If you come into contact with a Portuguese Man ‘O War, expect painful red welts marking exactly where the tentacles touched you. These can swell up and cause a strong burning sensation. The welts may fade in a few hours but it’s common for the rash they leave behind to last around six weeks!
In severe cases, coming into contact with a Portuguese Man O’ War can cause fever, cramps, sweating, sickness and diarrhoea. In extreme cases, the venom causes an anaphylaxis type reaction which can lead to death.
The Portuguese Man O’ War cannot actually propel itself through the water and is instead pushed along by wind catching on its exposed sail. If you see one of these creatures, either on the beach or in the water, move away as best you can and do not let it touch you. If you come into contact with one, seek medical held immediately.
When thinking about dangerous animals in France, most of us don’t automatically jump to cows but these heifers are far more dangerous than you’d expect.
Across the world, more than 20 people are killed by cows each year. Four times the number of people killed by sharks and up to ten times as many as are killed by bears. France is home to 19,000,000 cows so it is well worth knowing how to keep yourself safe when around them.
If you still don’t believe that cows can be dangerous, let’s take a closer look. Cows can run at close to 40 kilometres an hour and on average weigh 600-900kg. They can be incredibly protective of their young and reports of them chasing walkers are common, especially if those walkers are with a dog!
Being stampeded by a herd of cattle is no joke so ensure you know how to behave around cows and what to do if you are being chased.
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Thanks to local lockdowns and climate change, the wild boar population in France grew massively in 2020. It is estimated that close to two million of these wild pigs now roam across the country, with the largest populations being in the northeast and around the Mediterranean coast in the south.
On average, wild boar weigh between 60-100kg but historical specimens in France were as large as 200kg! Sadly, or not so sadly depending on your point of view, these giant wild boar are no more in France. Thanks to immense levels of hunting during the early 20th century, the largest swine have all but disappeared.
The boar you’re most likely to encounter in France today will stand between 70-80cm at the shoulder and be around 140-150cm in length. They are dark brown or grey when fully matured and the males are significantly larger than the females. Baby boar are often a light red or brown with long stripes for camouflage. Wild Boar tend to live in large social groups, numbering between 10-50 individuals.
Wild boar in France are generally nocturnal so you are unlikely to come across them when out during the day. Even if you do stumble across some, they’ll tend to run away rather than attack. However, if you get between a mother and her young, or startle a particularly aggressive male, then it might be a different story.
They have sharp tusks which can inflict serious damage and they can also run at well over 25mph. If that isn’t bad enough, they can easily jump a three-foot fence and can use their large head to smash through any undergrowth. Your best bet for escaping a wild boar is to climb a tree but if there are no trees nearby, anything over three feet will do!
They’ve gained some infamy in recent years thanks to their accidental introduction to the USA but you might be surprised to learn that Asian Hornets have been living in France for over a decade.
They arrived in France in 2004, nestled inside a container full of pottery that entered Bordeaux from Asia. Since then, they have propagated and have spread across the entire country, even making their way across international borders into Belgium, Spain and Portugal!
Asian Hornets are actually considered less aggressive than their European cousins and each individual sting is no worse than that of an everyday wasp. They are actually slightly smaller than European Hornets too, only measuring between 2-3cm. However, when they feel their nest is under threat they gain a new motivation and can attack en masse.
Unlike bees which tend to only be able to sting a human once, Asian Hornets are capable of delivering sting after sting which can cause severe reactions in people with or without allergies!
Asian Hornet nests can be as tall as a metre and up to 80cm across, potentially containing thousands of these flying insects. Although Asian Hornets are responsible for 30-50 deaths a year in Japan, the real fear for Europe and France itself is that the Asian Hornet feeds on bees and could be the final blow to the fragile bee population in Europe!
What is the most dangerous animal in France?
Historically wolves were the most dangerous animal in France. However, although they are responsible for thousands of deaths over the centuries, there have been no human fatalities attributed to wolves in the last 100 years. Today you are much more likely to be killed by a cow than a wolf in France.
Are there bears in France?
Yes, there are bears living in France today. France’s bear population was hunted to near extinction in the middle ages and had almost completely disappeared by the 1900s. In both 1996 and 2006, Slovenian bears were introduced into the French Pyrenees and the population has been growing ever since. Today there it is estimated between 60-100 bears live in France.
Are there wolves in France?
Yes, there are wolves living in France today. During the 1800s, there was over 20,000 wolves living in France but by 1930, they had been hunted to extinction. Wolves were seen once again in France in 1992 but they had not been officially reintroduced, instead making their own way across the Alps from Italy. The population of wolves in France today is over 500.
Are there dangerous spiders in France?
There are a number of dangerous spiders in France but the good news is, they are very rarely deadly. The most notorious of France’s deadly spiders is the European Black Widow, which can be found along parts of the Mediterranean coast as well as in Corsica. Often found in fields and animal sheds, European Black Widows rarely come into close contact with humans and their venom is much less potent than that of their North American relatives.