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Advice on how to protect yourself against snakes

April 16, 2019 at 12:12pm

Spring is the season when snakes stop hibernating and come out to feed.

Are Cypriot snakes dangerous? Which species of snakes are there in Cyprus? Can a snake bite kill? Where can people call when they find a snake in their property?

Philenews contacted Forestry Department officer and herpetologist Charis Nicolaou  for answers to these questions.

Season

Besides being the season when snakes come out to search for food and water, spring is also the mating season for snakes, Nicolaou told philenews.

Snakes stop being active in the summer due to high temperatures, however they can often come out at night when temperatures drop.

Can snake bites kill?

According to Nicolaou, there is no recorded death, exclusively from a snake bite in the past 50 years in Cyprus. However, there are cases of people with pre-existing health conditions who died after being  bitten by a snake.

The only snake whose poison can be lethal to humans in Cyprus is the Cypriot blunt-nosed viper (fina). Despite having the ability to cause death, there is enough time for people bitten by a fina to go to the hospital and receive treatment before the poison takes effect.

There are another two species of snakes in Cyprus that carry poison but it does not affect humans.

When do snakes attack humans?

Nicolaou says that snakes do not attack people out of the blue but become aggressive only when they feel threatened. They usually attack other animals to acquire food, or when humans step on them or try to touch them.

How can you protect yourself from snakes?

A simple protection measure people can take against snakes is clearing their property from weeds, which can become home to rodents, thus making it attractive to snakes.

According to Nicolaou, the use of snake repellents is not recommended as they are not particularly effective and can harm the environment.

If you wish to go on a hike, it is better to wear sturdy shoes and long trousers. You should also carry a stick to hit the ground in bushy areas to alert snakes. Snakes have an extraordinary ability to hear vibrations and leave on their own when people are passing by.

The most important thing to have in mind is that there is no reason to panic if you see a snake. They are more afraid of us, than we of them and they won’t chase after us if we change direction, Nicolaou said.

What is the legislation on killing snakes?

According to Nicolaou, EU and national legislation on killing snakes is strict.

A person who kills a snake can face up to three years in prison and €10,000 in fines. Despite this, fines for killing snakes have yet to be imposed in Cyprus. Uploading pictures of dead snakes on social media is illegal, he added.

What citizens should do when they see a snake on their property is call the fire service, which although not the authority responsible for handling the reptiles, will remove the snake.

Sometimes, the fire service redirects citizens to private reptile keepers who rush to the scene to remove the snakes.

In other countries there are responsible authorities which remove snakes from urban areas. The efforts to create such services in Cyprus are still at an early stage, Nicolaou said.

Which species of snakes live in Cyprus?

Fina – Macrovipera lebetina (blunt-nosed viper)

Saitta – Malpolon insignitus

Dropis – Hemorrhois nummifer (Coin snake)

Hierophis cypriensis (Cyprus whip snake)

Nerofido – Natrix natrix cypriaca (Grass snake)

Xylodropis, ayiodifo –Telescopus fallax (European cat snake)

Therko – Dolichophis jugularis (black whip snake)

Anilios – Typhlops vermicularis