Asp Viper in the Pyrenees

Snakes in the Pyrenees

Ian a regular reader of the blog recently sent me a couple of photos of some snakes he’d seen on the French side of the Pyrenees to identify.

Ian's mystery snake

Ian’s mystery snake

He’d found a lovely example of a green whipsnake. It’s a long thin snake which can rach up to 2 metres but is usually quite a bit shorter than this around 1 to 1.5 metres.

You can find them across most of southern Europe and like warm scrub covered areas. I don’t come across these very often but when I do they often stay perfectly still and then shoot off very fast. The name whipsnake is for the speed of their movement. They’re non-venemous so there was no need to worry Ian!

Our guide Hannah came across a fantastic sight last summer on one of our Lakes & Valleys holidays of a pair of courting green whipsnakes coiled around each other and sliding fast down the middle of the footpath. She got this fantastic photo.

A pair of courting whipsnakes

A pair of courting whipsnakes

I’m often asked by guests about whether they’ll see snakes on our hikes – although I get the feeling they’d usually prefer not too! There are quite a few snakes around however they usually feel your vibrations long before you see them. The best time to see them is on a cold morning when they lay on the warm paths to heat up – they are often reluctant to move when like this so you have to be careful not to stand on them although it does make for great photos!

The only venemous snake that I’ve seen is the Asp Viper (vipera aspis) which is a lovely coloured snake. It has a distinctive dark zig-zag pattern along it’s back and is usually around 50 cm long. These are quite common on the GR11 alongside the Rio Aguas Limpias towards Refugio Respomuso near Sallent de Gallego. The picture below (and the header image above) was taken while there was stil snow alongside the path and the snake stayed still for ages obviously too cold to move. These are reasonably venomous so try to avoid being bitten and if you are seek help straight away.

Asp viper seen by the Rio Aguas Limpias

Asp viper seen by the Rio Aguas Limpias

Good luck in your snake spotting this summer and send me any good photos you manage to snap!

9 thoughts on “Snakes in the Pyrenees”

  1. Hi Hannah, i read with great interest your latest article on snakes and Phil has helped me previously with the identification of a Whip snake. Four weeks ago i was climbing Pic de Gerbe (off path) and was taken by surprise when i nearly trod on a small Asp Viper which understandably seemed defensive and reluctant to move out of the way. Sadly it sped off the second i tried to photograph it, happily without biting!
    The same week in Beost an unidentified snake passed under my frightened wife’s sun lounger! For the first time she was pleased it was her last day of the holidays for this summer. All the best for the forthcoming season, Cheers, Ian.

  2. Hi Ian, many thanks for your message and I’m glad you liked the latest snake installment on the blog. They’re quite tricky to photograph aren’t they! We’ve seen quite a few Asp Vipers here in the Valle de Tena this season and just like you I get a bit of a surprise as I don’t notice them until they move just before I nearly step on them! If you do have any snake queries, send them our way and we’ll try to help. All the best, Hannah

  3. Hiya
    Hiking along a marsh area on the Camino when I spotted a very long black snake. It disappeared before I could photograph it. Cannot find info on it. Hope you can help.

  4. Hi Johanna,
    I’m not certain exactly which snake that would be. The most common snake for watery locations in the high Pyrenees is the Viperine snake but this isn’t black – more a grey colour with viper like black zig zag markings running down it’s back. Along the coast they have different species so it could well be one I’m not familiar with.
    Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.
    Cheers, Phil

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