What do you think? A viper or something else????

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Is this indeed the vipera aspis, or a European Cat Snake?

My most recent post was about what I thought was the appearance of a viper, just a few feet from our back door. I admit, I was thoroughly freaked out, being a complete wuss since childhood when it comes to snakes. And, I haven’t been able to quit obsessing about it.

I was certain it was a viper after viewing the attached YouTube video, and my neighbor Elena, who has been working this land for more years than I have been alive, saw the photo and concurred it was a viper.

[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcE4upgpscI”][/pexyoutube]

After my good friend Jill suggested it might be another type of snake – one that is harmless, I was eager to believe I had made a mistake. Plus, there were two glaring inconsistencies with nailing this as a vipera aspis. From the eye, down to the body, the vipera aspis seems to have a black stripe, which makes the face/head even more menacing. “Our” snake is missing this marking. Also, a vipera aspis usually tops out at around 33″ and “our” snake looks to be at least a meter long – and more tapered than the usual fat body of a viper. However, from the neck down this snake looks a lot like the one in the video.

Now what?

I hopped online and looked up “snakes of Italy” and went to a website that listed every snake you might find here. I went through every one, looking at pictures and reading descriptions. Then I came across what, to me, seems to be the leading candidate for identification – the European Cat Snake, which matches almost all the criteria for “our” snake. It has the same markings, it can be 1.3 meters long, it loves rock walls, and it is readily found in Italy, and many other Mediterranean countries. Bingo. Our photo doesn’t get close enough to the head to provide more information, but the European Cat Snake, like ours, doesn’t have the stripe emanating from the eyes and going down the body.

[pexyoutube pex_attr_src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-9JOZwvgUQ”][/pexyoutube]

I thought that the viper is the only venomous snake in Italy. The European Cat Snake is also venomous. However, it’s fangs are rear-facing and constructed in a way to deliver venom only to small prey. Supposedly, this snake is not a danger to humans because it has no way to bite and deliver its venomous and this larger scale. Is this supposed to make me feel better and safe? I don’t think so.

So, my obsessive compulsive nature has been driving me to identify and catalog this snake – and to know the identity of all of my neighbors here in the country. Maybe then I’ll accept the facts and move on.

I’d love to hear your opinions and if anyone has expertise in snake identification, I’m all ears. Let me hear from you!


By |2015-07-04T00:59:13+02:00July 6th, 2015|My Life in Italy|8 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Shelley Hobson July 6, 2015 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    Since there is a kitty in the foreground of the photograph, shall we assume it’s a cat snake? Do these snakes like to eat cats? Since the cat is still alive, shall we also assume that Simone saved its life when he came and took that photograph?

  2. Ann July 6, 2015 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Know thy enemies! The snake is beautiful. I have garter snakes and the rattlers are on the other side of the mountain that I live on. Hope you come to terms with yours. He’s probably keeping the mice under control.

  3. Debby July 6, 2015 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    You’ll be an expert by the time I visit next June, and I am very glad.

    • Jed July 7, 2015 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      We’ll see! By the way…some developments regarding where we will be located next June. I’ll write more later….

  4. Nancy July 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    Hi Jed,
    I am no expert but zooming in on the head of “your” snake it does NOT look like a viper to me. For nearly all poisonous snakes it is the head shape that is distinctive. The vipers have a triangular hear with the back of the jaws wider than the body. Your snake seems to have a streamlined head that goes into the body. I think the wide back of the jaw holds the venom.

    • Jed July 7, 2015 at 3:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Nancy, There has been more conversations and opinions than you can image about this snake. Simone, who took the photo (I was in the States) watched the snake move slowly (like a viper) and he confirmed that the head was distinctly triangular-shaped. From the distance he took the photo, and from the angle, it is impossible to ascertain the shape of the head, so I must rely on his eye-witness account. The locals all are in unison that it is a viper. And, upon reviewing the YouTube video in the post, it looks pretty darn close! Still, everyone reminds me these vipers are shy and normally not dangerous to humans who are paying attention!

  5. Elizabeth Wholey July 6, 2015 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    The local viper moves slowly, languidly. . .did yours? Or did it just shoot away as quickly as possible? The ones I’ve seen are not as decorative as yours either, they are shorter and uglier. So I vote no, this was not a viper siting!

    • Jed July 7, 2015 at 3:18 pm - Reply

      Ciao amica! So, I check with Simone and he confirmed that the snake moved slowly (like a viper) and that the head is indeed triangular shaped, which is impossible to ascertain from the distance and angle of this photo. The locals also concur that this is a viper. I’m still considering the European Cat Snake, but this snake doesn’t seem to have the same eyes. Every time I look at the YouTube video of the vipera aspis, I lean more firmly back into the “yes” camp.

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