Are there any dangerous or poisonous animals on Crete?
It is often one of the questions you get as a walking guide: are there any dangerous or poisonous snakes or other animals on Crete? Since there are so many walkers enjoying the Cretan landscape, it is logical to think about such issues, so in this article I describe some animals / insects that might cause a problem (or not) for walkers. Also some tips and tricks about what to do. In this blog I don’t mention animals in the sea like sea urchins etc, only on land! Of course feel free again to write a comment and share your experience or knowledge!
(pictures of the snakes are from www.cretanbeaches.com)
Leopard Snake (Elaphe situla)
Alongside with ticks, the question about snakes is the most common one. Are there snakes in Crete? Are they dangerous? In Crete there are only 4 different snakes, the Balkan whip snake, the dice snake, the cat snake and the leopard snake. Snakes on Crete are not dangerous to human, unlike in many other parts in Greece. Only the cat snake has venom, but its poison is very weak and harmless for humans. It is rare to find a snake because it has most probably already disappeared before you are able to notice it. If you are lucky to spot one, don’t get scared and leave it in peace!
The Balkan Whip Snake (Coluber gemonensis)
This whip snake is preying largely on rodents – although it will also take birds, lizards and large insects. It is completely harmless for humans, as it’s non-venomous. It usually lives in rocky areas near sea level, as it prefers warm places, but has also been observed at altitudes up to 1400m. Whip snakes are diurnal (active during the day) and usually like sunning. The whip snake is capable of biting fiercely if threatened, but normally they are quite docile creatures and, of course, the bite itself is non-venomous.
Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)
The cat snake is the only snake in Crete with venom but it is considered harmless because it is rear-fanged and doesn’t possess the wherewithal to deliver the venom to humans. It is the only nocturnal snake (active at night) on Crete and is therefore very difficult to come across. Its eyes look like cat eyes, hence its name. The snake feeds on small lizards and uses its poison for relaxing their bodies.
The Dice Snake (Natrix tessellate)
The Dice Snake is a kind of water snake, which you find often in the permanent wetlands, the sea shores and rock pools of Crete. Most of its time, this snake passes hunting in the water (both fresh and salty), up to 1000m altitude. Inside the water it moves very fast and its main diet consists of fish, frogs and toads. If picked up, this snake will rarely bite, but it can and does emit a strong-smelling fluid in an attempt to put its tormentor off. It also pretends being dead by turning upside down, with open mouth and its tongue out. It is non-venomous and usually reaches 80cm in length.
Leopard Snake (Elaphe situla)
The leopard snake is a very beautiful snake and is common throughout many low-lying parts of Crete. In Crete it is called ochentri, which means viper, which is incorrect as the snake is completely harmless. Like all Cretan snakes, the leopard snake rarely gets much above one metre in length and is generally found in sunny areas with some cover, such as dry-stone walls. Should you come across one, it may well rattle its tail in an attempt to scare you off and it is capable of striking and delivering a nip to the fingers of those who try to pick it up. Although the leopard snake does eat birds and small lizards, its diet consists mainly of rodents and their young.
Also in Crete you find ticks. With the many sheep, goats and cats and dogs they are also here quite common. Especially when you walk through bushes/grass it can happen that you find or are bitten by a tick. Many walking areas in Crete are stony and barren (high up in the mountains / south coast) and there it is much more unlikely to find them. In Crete it is by far not as bad as in many forests and other areas in northern Europe where many ticks are infected and can cause Lyme-disease. In my 15 years of walking around on this island I found only one time a tick crawling on my leg (not bitten yet luckily). In case you get bitten by a tick you should remove it (in the proper way) as soon as possible and disinfect it with alcohol or iodine. As far as I could find information, there are no cases of Lyme disease on Crete. But you should always be cautious because also here it might happen that a tick is infected.
Bees / Wasps / hornets
Crete is a big producer of honey so there are plenty of bees around. Crete has even one of the highest bee densities of Europe! In the autumn there are also many wasps. Hornets can be found near springs and water places. Normally none of these will sting you unless they are threatened. Generally you have to follow the old principle: “I don’t mess with them, so they don’t mess with me”. Although a bee sting hurts, there is no other danger, unless you are allergic. If you know you are allergic, always take the proper medicine with you! Especially in south Crete it is good to know that many taverns have in their fridge an EpiPen for emergency.
As a walker on Crete you often pass from beehives and here it is advisable to be careful. Normally there is not a problem and a beekeeper should (officially) have his hives at least 25 metres from the road or path but often this is not the case. If you have to pass from beehives try to keep a safe distance (if possible around 25 meters or more).
Especially when a beekeeper is active or has just finished his work, the bees can be quite nervous. The danger is when you get stung close to a beehive; the other bees can “smell” the danger and may attack. This can be very tricky.
In certain periods of the year there are locations on Crete where there are massive amounts of beehives. One of these areas is the big pine forest in East Crete at Selakano and Kato Symi. In autumn (approximately from August till beginning October) there are thousands of beehives here and especially with groups it is not advisable to walk here. Also in many other areas in Crete, depending on the time of the year, you can come across many beehives.
Beehives on Crete
Like all scorpions, Cretan scorpions are venomous, but their venom is normally not life-threatening. There are at least three species of scorpions in Crete. Stings are rare, but have been known to happen. Scorpion stings hurt a lot. To be on the safe side you should see a doctor or a pharmacist, particularly if you suffer from a rare allergy against this poison – in this case, being stung is dangerous. You should be careful when lifting stones and especially rummaging in old wood piles. Also in the holes of olive trees they like to hide! Cretan scorpions are smaller than most tourists think. Some species like the frequent black Euscorpius Carpathicus are only 3-4 cm long. The species Mesobuthus Gibbosus are lighter and much bigger, growing up to 12 cm long, and pretty scary!
Black Euscorpius Carpathicus
The only reports of harm to humans from spiders on Crete are related to small “jumping spiders” that can bite at night and the bite can frequently become infected, requiring treatment. The bite itself is not venomous and the numbers of reports are very low.
Thankfully, Cretan mosquitoes are harmless and do not seem to transmit any diseases (e.g. Malaria, Dengue Fever). But remember that a bite from one is not equivalent to a bite from a mosquito local to where you live; your body is not used to them and as a result each bite will result in a big red spot with a small swelling – with plenty of itching! Close to water, like ponds or springs you find many mosquitoes but luckily most of them are mainly active when the sun goes down, so not many walkers are active then!
There are quite many stray dogs on Crete but the ones found in the villages and other populated areas have usually learnt to behave and are not dangerous. The sheepdogs seen up in the mountains can be aggressive and bark a lot! Often they are chained up.
The dogs that are chained up are often very aggressive but also afraid! Be careful when you want to give them food or water!
In case loose dogs make a move towards you, pretend you are picking up a stone (or actually pick up one). Usually without having to throw it the dogs run away.
In case you do get bitten it is advisable to see a doctor. Most probably you will get a tetanus shot. On Crete there have not been reported cases of rabies!
There are badgers in Crete and if threatened they could cause harm to a human. However, the badgers are rare and live in isolated environments away from humans. The only circumstance where you might threaten one would be if you enter an area where it has its offspring, e.g. an isolated mountain cave. There are no known reports of attacks on humans by badgers in Crete.
Altogether you can say that for walkers there are not many dangerous animals in Crete. In my opinion passing from beehives is something to be careful about and also dogs can cause problems.
If you have any experiences / adventures / knowledge about this subject, please leave a comment!