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:
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..
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.
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