What are the most poisonous animals in Italy?

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The Most Poisonous Animals in Italy

How common are spider bites in Italy and are there any other poisonous species you should be aware of?

Poisonous animals in Italy that put most at risk the lives of people are divided mainly between vipers, spiders, and fish. Many other poisonous animals do not represent a risk for human life.

This is the case of scorpions, bees, wasps, hornets, processionary moths, jellyfish, and others. All of these animals have no venom capable of killing a human. The only risk is anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergy to the toxins of the various venom. In these cases, even a bee sting can be fatal.

Related article: Iconic Animals in Italy and Where to Find Them

Vipers and snakes

In Italy, there are 4 species of venomous vipers and 1 snake. 3 of these species are potentially lethal to humans. Sardinia is the only region in Italy where there are no poisonous snakes.

Horned viper

Horned viper in the Friulian Dolomites Natural Park (author: Dario Quattrin)

The horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) is one of the most poisonous vipers in the Italian region. It is found mainly in the Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto provinces. It usually does not exceed one meter in length. It is a rather shy species, which is not very aggressive except in cases where it is provoked. Its venom damages the nervous system of the victim and contains hemotoxins with blood coagulant properties. Bites provoke pain, swelling, dizziness, and discoloration, all of which may be immediate. 

Asp, Vipera aspis

Vipera aspis (author: Pepp.cristiano)

The Vipera aspis also known as asp or aspic viper, is a snake belonging to the Viperidae family and the Vipera genus. The asp viper males reach a maximum total length of 85 cm. It is clumsy, slow in its movements but able to react lightning fast if trampled or harassed. Its venom is very active towards small animals since it contains both neurotoxins and hemotoxins, however, it is rarely fatal for humans, although it requires immediate help and causing serious effects. 

Meadow Viper, Vipera ursinii

A Vipera ursinii photographed in Croatia (author: Zwentibold)

The Meadow Viper is a rare species due to the alteration of its natural habitat by man and for this reason, it is considered a protected species by various international conventions. It is characterized by a squat body and a narrow head; it is up to 50 cm long. Its coloration is creamy gray or reddish, with a brown or black zig-zag stripe on its back. It is generally diurnal and spends the day hunting and warming itself in the sun at the edge of bushes. It hides at the slightest sign of danger within holes in the ground, rock cavities, and in the dense tangle of junipers. 

Common European adder, Vipera Berus

Vipera berus melanotica, Regional natural park of the Friulian Dolomites (author: Dario Quattrin)

Its bite, which can be very painful, is not considered dangerous for humans and is rarely fatal, however, it requires immediate rescue. At-risk are mainly children, those exposed to allergic reactions, the emotional, the elderly, and the chronically ill. It is present in the regions of northern Italy, north of the Po River.

Montpellier snake, Malpolon monspessulanus

Montpellier snake (author: Juan Lacruz)

The Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) is a venomous snake widely distributed in the Mediterranean region. It is a large snake that can reach 220 cm in length and can reach a considerable diameter in older specimens. In Italy, it is found on the island of Lampedusa, in western and central Liguria (up to 800 m) including Gallinara Island.


Mediterranean recluse spider, Loxosceles rufescens

Mediterranean recluse spider, Loxosceles rufescens (author: Syrio)

Loxosceles rufescens is a small spider, not exceeding 9 mm in body size. It has an inconspicuous appearance, with a rather uniform yellowish-brown color, except for a spot on the prosoma that vaguely resembles the outline of a violin. This spider is capable of biting man as well, it is a very shy spider and not aggressive at all, preferring to flee whenever possible; bites are more likely in case it takes refuge inside of shoes or clothes and is subsequently crushed. The bite is painless immediately and symptoms appear even several hours later; in two-thirds of the cases, the spider inflicts injects a low amount of venom for defensive purposes, causing only moderate soreness and local redness, without further complications. In about one out of three cases, the spider injects its cytotoxin, which, especially in weak or debilitated individuals, can cause loxoscelism, i.e., the formation first of edema, and then of necrotic ulcer that can last up to several months and can lead to further complications.

Mediterranean black widow, Latrodectus tredecimguttatus

Mediterranean black widow (author: Sphoo)

Latrodectus tredecimguttatus commonly known as Mediterranean black widow can reach 15 mm and it is marked by the presence of 13 red spots. In Italy, it is, together with Loxosceles rufescens, one of the few species whose bite can be very dangerous for humans. It is found in Liguria, Tuscany, Latium, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, Apulia, Sardinia, and Marche. Initially, the bite of the female is not painful, but then causes sweating, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache, severe abdominal cramps and in severe cases unconsciousness and sometimes death, fatal cases are very rare. Its bite is dangerous for children.

Noble false widow, Steatoda nobilis

This spider, native to the Canary Islands, has been introduced to the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. Its bite is painful, but normally no worse than a wasp sting. Bites from Steatoda species generally do not have long-lasting effects. The bite may cause general discomfort that lasts for several days. Symptoms may include moderate to severe pain that increases for the first hour (without severe sweating). Some people have reported mild to moderate nausea, headache, and lethargy. The duration of all symptoms and effects can range from 1 to 60 hours.


Silver-cheeked toadfish, Lagocephalus sceleratus

It is a species widespread in the tropical and equatorial belts of the Indian and Pacific oceans. It penetrated the eastern Mediterranean Sea from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. Its presence in Italy was first recorded in 2013 on the island of Lampedusa; soon after, a specimen was caught in the southeastern part of Sicily, and subsequently, other specimens were caught in the Sicilian Channel and the Adriatic Sea. The silver-cheeked toadfish is extremely poisonous: some parts of this fish contain a substance (tetrodotoxin) that causes respiratory paralysis and problems with the cardiovascular system: there have been cases of fatal poisoning in Egypt and Israel.

Greater weever, Trachinus draco

Trachinus draco photographed near Giglio Island (Tuscany, Italy). Depth: 11 m. Photo by Stefano Guerrieri

The Greater weever is a very common fish in the Italian seas. It lives on sandy bottoms usually in shallow waters, between 5 and 20 meters of depth but it can go up to 100. The opercular spines and the first dorsal fin are poisonous and can cause painful stings, even if the poisoning rarely becomes serious. Accidents are most common in shallow or sandy water. To relieve the pain it is advisable to put the affected part in the warmest water or sand possible and to seek medical attention.

Red scorpionfish, Scorpaena scrofa

Scorpaena scrofa RED SCORPIONFISH
Scorpaena scrofa (author: NasserHalaweh)

The red scorpionfish lives on hard, rocky bottoms at depths greater than 20 m. The spines of the rays of the dorsal fin and the gill operculum are connected to venom glands that make the sting very painful, which can sometimes be serious and in some rare cases can cause loss of consciousness, dizziness, and hypotension.

Atlantic stargazer, Uranoscopus scaber

Atlantic stargazer, Uranoscopus scaber (author: Colman)

The Atlantic stargazer is widespread throughout the Mediterranean Sea and is very common along the Italian coasts. Its habitat consists of soft sandy or muddy bottoms at depths between 15 and over 100 meters. The opercular spines are poisonous, but the poison, little known, seems less dangerous than that of the Greater weever. For first aid, it is useful to immerse the affected area in very warm water (even salty) for two hours (at least one hour), or even 30 minutes under the sand, since the venom is thermolabile.

Aquatic Animals

Portuguese man o’ war, Physalia physalis

Portuguese man o’ war, Physalia physalis (author: CostaPPPR)

The Portuguese caravel (Physalia physalis) is a marine coelenterate present but uncommon in the western Mediterranean Sea, where sightings are increasing from year to year in Spain (Murcia) and Sicily. Stings from a Portuguese caravel, although rare, can be lethal to humans. Being often mistaken for a jellyfish, sometimes inappropriate remedies are used: the composition of the venom differs in fact from that of real jellyfish.

Topics: deadliest animal in Italy, most poisonous animals in Italy


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