Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Snakes in Malta!

Yes there are snakes in Malta, although fortunately I haven't come across any of them in person yet.  In fact there are four distinct types of snake slithering around the place and all four of them have suitably cool/dangerous sounding names.  There's a Cat Snake; a Leopard Snake; an Algerian Whip Snake and the biggest of the bunch is the 2 metre-long Black Whip Snake.  Now the good news is that despite the impressive names, none of these guys are dangerous to humans, although they may give your heart a bit of a jump if you spot one sliding under your bed covers.  So you know what to look out for, here's a brief description of each:

 Cat Snake:
Described as 'shy and nocturnal', which is probably a good thing.  It does have poison fangs, but they're stuck in the back of it's mouth so they only work on things like rats and mice, and the poison is too weak to harm us anyway.  Lives in the south-east of the island.

 Black Whip Snake:
Can grow up to 2 metres and has a worryingly fearsome name.  According to the Shadowservices site (see below) it is 'lively' and 'when cornered it strikes and bites furiously'.  Furiously!  Don't like the sound of that, whether it's venomous or not.  (Just to clarify, it's not venomous).
 Algerian Whip Snake:
There aren't too many of these about - in fact there's a wider selection of photos of (for example) the Loch Ness monster available on the internet than this fellow.  Lives in rocks and eats small critters.  You won't, but if you do manage to snap one, please forward a picture..
Leopard Snake:
Also called a 'Ratsnake' which gives scope for all sorts of unpleasant mental images.  Likes nature and is something of a tree-hugger.  It's not a hippy though - it doesn't wear tie dye shirts and practice extremely liberal parenting - it just literally wraps itself around a tree whilst waiting for something edible to wander past.

Saint Paul and the Snake:
Legend has it that St Paul shipwrecked on Malta (hence numerous Paulian placenames about the island) and upon landing was promptly bitten by a venomous snake.  A hardy soul, Paul is said to have tossed the creature into the fire and remained unharmed himself.  Now this story works well on allegorical levels (satanic snakes and all that), but scientists say that there were no venomous snakes on the island at this time either.  Which is kind of a spoilsport approach to the story.  Scientists.

Not Venomous:
Notice the way I refer to "venomous" snakes all the time as opposed to poisonous ones?  Little language fact for you here:  'venomous' means they can inject you with poison, 'poisonous' means containing poison which is harmful when ingested.  So a Death Adder or an Australian Copperhead is venomous, and that apple the witch tries to give to Snow White is poisonous.  The Maltese snakes aren't venomous.  I've no idea whether they are poisonous, but would suggest you refrain from eating them just to be on the safe side.

This site is excellent if you want a rather more professional-eye's view of snakes in Malta:  Shadowservices - Maltese Snakes


  1. The Bible indicates that THE PEOPLE expected Paul to die. It does NOT say the snake was venomous, only that the people expected Paul to drop, indicating the very real possibility that they were not completely familiar with snakes that chewed on hands. Further, when Paul did NOT drop, the people figured he was some kind of god, indicating they were a rather suspicious lot.

    1. Not to come across as a doubting Thomas, but I was curious so I looked it up. Turns out we're both right - depends which version/translation of the Bible you go for:

      King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
      And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.

      English Standard Version (©2001)
      When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”

  2. We saw a snake when we were staying at the Hilton in Malta about 4 years ago. It was black so i'm guessing (rather intellectually) that it's the black whip snake.

    1. It's the most common snake in malta

  3. I saw an awesome black whip snake catch a mouse and slither off with it and I have the photo to prove it!

  4. I am Maltese and I often trek in the countryside. All the snakes we have in Malta are harmless, and you will have a very difficult time in seeing any, because they slither away for shelter as soon as they sense a human approach.

    The whip snake is indeed fearsome looking, but it likes wrapping itself of trees well above the height of a human and unless you are completely inane and asking for it, it will ignore you. As for the leopard snake, there is a mistake, it does not like to wrap around itself on trees at all. It usually slithers around rocks. The only local snake I have seen wrapping around trees is the whip snake, and it does actually grow longer than 2 meters.

  5. Hey, this is nice and informative. I am an amateur herpetologist so I am very interested in what I might encounter whilst climbing the rocks in Malta. I'm probably not going to find alot as it's not exactly the best time of year for attempting to find snakes.
    But, just a little addition to your last fact. There are no snakes in the world that are Poisonous, you can ingest any type of venom as it is protein based. What the snakes inject through their fangs is venom, not poison. But I really appreciate that you have researched this as most places on the internet do not even do this level of research.

  6. I have seen 2 black whip snakes in malta in the 10 years I have lived here

  7. We saw a black whip snake last week - well, we saw a black snake on a rather deserted hiking trail, but it disappeared in the undergrowth before I could get my camera out. The snake twitched when it saw us, my wife jumped about 1 metre, so I guess it was a lot more relaxed than we were (and even though I was curious and aware that Maltese snake aren't venomous, I wasn't stupid enough to follow it).


Please feel free to comment below, all feedback welcome - it's great to hear other people's opinions and experiences.