Your Italian life will undoubtedly include time in the campagna.
That’s where the chances of encountering one or more of these featured Italian critters run highest. At least it’s not like moving to Australia, the continent known for having the highest number of dangerous reptiles and insects (many with the ability to deliver a sure-fire death sentence). Relatively speaking, Italy’s dangers in this regard remain quite low. Still, I urge you to get to know these Italian critters, their potential dangers, and how best to protect yourself.
La zanzara tigre, the tiger mosquito.
I’m starting with the one you’ll find almost everywhere in Italy, especially mid-to-south Italy. Featured above, this varietal was imported from hotter climes (like Africa) and has easily taken up residence in Italy and now other parts of Europe. This pesky bugger is one aggressive mosquito and has the stripes, literally, to prove it. Of the dangerous Italian critters, my experience with this one is extensive, particularly when I was living in the countryside of Umbria. The first encounter of note was when I’d just flown over from the States to survey the newly completed renovation project on my house. I hadn’t yet made the move. I arrived on the evening of my birthday, exhausted from the long journey. I barely unpacked, took a shower, and fell into a freshly made bed. The problem was that mosquito screens hadn’t yet been installed in the house, and I slept with the window open since it was late summer. Well, that night I rang in my birthday by offering my body for feasting to the tiger mosquitoes, all while I was chained in the depths of a deep, deep sleep.
I woke up scratching myself, somewhat unconsciously. I made my way to the bathroom mirror and my jaw dropped when I saw that, from the neck down I looked like I was covered in a case of severe measles. A hot shower only made me want to scratch more, so I made a beeline to the closest pharmacy and bought tubes of cortisone and antibiotic creams. Only after continuing to slather these all over my body for two solid days did the agony of constant itching abate and the angry red bites begin to fade.
“Never again,” I promised myself, which is why any reservations I might have previously had about using chemical mosquito repellants flew out the window. Physical discomfort aside, the tiger mosquito can pose quite a danger, including a strong allergic reaction. I encourage you to read the online article in researchitaly.it to learn more. Two quotes from this article should command your attention:
“Over the past 30 years, invasive mosquito species – notably Aedes albopictus, the notorious tiger mosquito – have established in Italy and other Mediterranean countries, “imported” through trade, and have found excellent conditions to survive and reproduce in southern Europe. However, these mosquito species have also become potential vectors of viruses capable of causing highly debilitating diseases in humans, such as Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika viruses.”
“The tiger mosquito”, explained Alessandra della Torre, “is not only a ‘nuisance’, but also a real public health emergency. Like other invasive mosquito species, when it comes into contact with a person infected with an exotic virus, it gets infected itself and, after a few days, transmits the virus to a healthy person”.
The Italian Viper. Think “rattlesnake without the rattle.”
Of all the dangerous Italian critters, this one I fear the most. That’s because snakes, as a general rule, REALLY freak me out. Like a rattlesnake, the venom from its bite can cause fatality in a small percentage of untreated bites. But, apart from death, the damage the venom can do to one’s body can be devastating. So, be very, very aware of how to identify the Italian viper and understand where it loves to hang out so that you don’t cross paths.
The good news is that this snake isn’t known for being confrontational. Rather it usually will slither away into safety if it hears danger (humans or large animals) coming. The bad news is that, while they have clear markings to help identify them, unless they’re wet they look grey and kind of like dirt. And they tend to be thicker and shorter (less than two feet). That means they blend into rocks and rock piles (which they adore), earth, grasses, and other ground covers (like ivy). If you’re not watching, you can step on a sleeping viper, and then you most likely will be bitten and have to head to the hospital for anti-venom treatment.
Again, my life in Umbria revealed their presence, far too close to my house. Fortunately of the two sightings, one was by my neighbor’s son, who saw one dozing on the rock step leading into my vegetable garden. He killed the snake, since having something so dangerous in close proximity to our grouping of houses and other residents posed too much of a risk. The second sighting one was by his mother. She saw one slithering up the hill and into the grasses of yours truly’s backyard. Believe me, these neighbors have lived in the Umbria hills for decades and they know the wildlife.
I encourage you to read up on this particular member of dangerous Italian critters. Wikipedia has a thorough page about Vipera aspis.
Regarding effects from a Italian viper bite:
“Severe haemorrhagic necrosis may occur within a few hours. Vision may be severely impaired, most likely due to degradation of blood and blood vessels in the eyes. The venom has both coagulant and anticoagulant effects. The venom may also affect glomerular structure, which can lead to death due to renal failure.”
I have a love/hate relationship with cinghiale (wild boar).
Theses hairy and tusked wild pigs can cause all sorts of problems. Yes, their meat is prized for roasting, ragus, sausages, salami, and even prosciutto. Hunters can’t wait to head outside when it’s open season. There are PLENTY of these destructive Italian critters throughout Italy, so much in fact, that many regions are trying to pare back the population. Cinghiali have ground-ripping capabilities that rival any mechanical backhoe. I know because I can’t count the times they’ve turned chunks of my Umbria property upside down in search of tasty bulbs and other edibles. And, if you encounter a cinghiale with your car, you can end up with serious damage. Think punctured tires (those tusks are deadly), and dented fenders, etc. I’ve known people who have had their cars totaled by a cinghiale that charged. We had one, probably at least two hundred pounds, smash into the left side of our last car, leaving a permanent indentation.
If you encounter one on foot, especially a protective mama, start moving backward slowly and find cover.
But, in addition to tasty meat, there is one other thing for which I love Italy’s wild boar: one of their favorite foods is viper!!!
Years ago, the cinghiale population was dwindling, so much in fact that hunters were complaining and Italy resorted to importing wild boar from the northern parts of Europe. They’ve more than rebounded, causing problems for crops and wine production (they love to snack on grapes).
Read this inverse.com article about how the Ligurian city of Genova is struggling with these beasts.
“Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people.”
The Brown Recluse Spider, aka the Brown Violin Spider, lays in wait.
This cousin of the Black Widow (who also can be found in Italy) is one that I’ve personally seen on my property in Umbria. The violin-body is a pretty sure sign you’ve come across one. I’d seen at least two, one in an old shed, since torn down, and another under the porch of my house where I store tools. They love to take up residence in places that are not frequented for large periods of time.
The bite of a brown recluse can cause all sorts of problems, especially if you don’t identify the bite right away and the spider venom starts its journey towards a systemic infection. That when you hear the true stories of people have limbs amputated.
Here’s an excerpt from an article from the Italian Journal of Emergency Medicine about poisonous spiders and their habitats:
‘The violin spider lives in the tunnels, in the cracks of the trees and under the rocks. It loves the mild climate, for this reason it is often found in homes where it is a serious danger for those who live there. Cellars, attics, garages, closets, furniture, dark places and little frequented in general. When it settles in homes it can take refuge inside shoes, clothes, sheets, furniture.”
I recently had an encounter with a spider, most likely a brown recluse, this past June. I’d gone back to open up, clean, and air my houses in Umbria after being away from them for almost five months—ample time for a host of spiders to take up residence. When I entered the main house, there were spiders and webs everywhere. I cleaned and cleaned, clearing the webs from nooks and crannies. But, I really didn’t do a thorough inspection of the bed in the master bedroom. I’d left fresh sheets on the bed, pulled back to make sure the bed stayed aired. All I had to do was climb in and sleep. BIG mistake. The following morning, I woke up, the inside of my upper left arm itching. I didn’t think much about it. I jumped in the shower and took a nice long, hot rinse. Standing in front of the mirror, toweling off, is when I saw “it.” By “it” I mean a little line of what looked like three tiny bites in a mound of what looked like a rash. But, what freaked me out was when I saw the red line working its way up my arm and toward my lymph nodes under my arm. Something in the back of my mind flashed “danger.” I quickly went online and searched for “spider bites” and “red line.” Almost unanimous advice was to not wait but to hasten to a doctor or an emergency room.
I didn’t waste time. I drove to the guarda medica at the Città di Castello hospital. Guarda medica is pretty much urgent care. Fortunately, I was seen pretty quickly by a doctor, whose eyes widened when she saw the bites and the distinct red line snaking up my arm—so much in fact, that she grabbed her phone to take a photo and send it to a colleague. I told the doctor that I’d applied antibiotic cream but, from what I knew, a course of antibiotics might be in order to halt an infection in its tracks. She didn’t hesitate and she immediately wrote me a prescription for a ten-day course of the highest dose. I was also instructed to keep slathering on the cortisone cream with a topical antibiotic.
The red line crept up my arm a bit more during the next few hours—I guess until the oral antibiotics started kicking in. Only two days later did it lighten up and begin to noticeably fade. Further after-the-fact research seemed to confirm that the tiny line of three bites is characteristic of a spider. One bite isn’t good enough, add two bites for good measure, I guess.
I also remember a neighbor who’d had tiny bites on the back of her hand. Her hand started swelling, and redness started creeping up her arm. She waited a day before seeing a doctor, who scolded her for waiting and telling her that if she’d waited a few more hours she’d have been dealing with a systemic infection. Scary stuff.
I didn’t have an actual sighting of a brown recluse in my bed. But, I knew I’d seen them on the property before. The bite pattern and the infection spreading from the site all fit.
Lesson learned; when opening up a house that has been sitting unoccupied for weeks or months, shake the sheets or make the bed fresh!
These scary insects. also called Asian Hornets, arrived in Italy several years ago. They’re big and their stings are quite painful. Generally, they aren’t deadly, though people have died from extreme reactions to their stings. Stay away from them so that you’re not one of the unlucky few. Plus who wants a sting that feels like having a hot poker driven into their flesh?
But, the bigger issue with these recently arrived Italian critters is how their aggressive behavior is endangering Italy’s bee population. Here’s an excerpt from an article in The Local:
“Unfortunately, the European Honey Bee has not had the time to evolve any defenses against this new predator. This means Asian hornets can easily kill 40 bees a minute and a small group of them can decimate a hive of 30,000 honey bees in just a few hours, before scoffing the larvae inside the hive.”
Honorable mentions go to the wolf and the red fox.
Wolves are wolves and you don’t want to come across one or a pack. Recently they’ve been making a comeback in Italy, having been almost driven entirely out of Italy’s wilds. A concerted effort has been underway to bring the wold population up to healthy levels.
|The Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus or Canis lupus lupus), also known as the Apennine wolf, is a subspecies of grey wolf native to the Italian Peninsula. It inhabits the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps, though it is undergoing expansion towards the north and east. As of 2019, the Italian wolf population is estimated to consist of 600–700 individuals.”
Wikipedia (read more here).
I’ve seen red foxes on several occasions in the hills of Umbria. I’m always excited when I do see one. I include them on the honorable mention list because they are known to prey on small mammals up to 3.5 kilos (just over 7 lbs.). So, if you have kittens or a small cat that you allow outside in the countryside, be aware that they could be carried away by a red fox.
“Red foxes are implicated in the predation of game and songbirds, hares, rabbits, muskrats, and young ungulates, particularly in preserves, reserves, and hunting farms where ground-nesting birds are protected and raised, as well as in poultry farms.”
Wikipedia (read more here).
That, my friends, is the skinny on the most dangerous Italian. Educate yourselves and be watchful and prudent in the right ways!