Snakes & Safety:
Bitten by a snake? Act quickly: the sooner you get to a hospital the better! Make telephone calls while on the move! Try to identify the species. This will help if antivenom needs to be administered. Think: colour, length, shape of head, markings, eyes.
Get in touch with the Pronto Socorso in Domodossola Hospital.
Or get to the Ospedale San Biagio in Domodossola.
Piazza Vittime dei Lager Nazifascisti, 1, 28845
tel: +39 0324 4911
One of the peculiarities of Zonca and surrounding areas is the high population and variety of animals, including (unfortunately for some) snakes. Although there are also scorpions in this area, snakes deserve a little more attention due to the severity of some snakebites.
We should stress that snakes do not willingly attack humans and that most species are incredibly shy and not poisonous, however visitors to the area should be aware and pay attention to the possibility of encountering snakes and take measures to protect themselves.
Snakes come out to sun themselves on warm rocks because they are cold blooded and must warm themselves before hunting. They generally live among the rocks but may also hide in woodpiles. They may also get into houses to go after mice and rats, so care should be taken when walking or climbing on rocks or moving them and also when working with wood. In addition, it makes sense to be careful when going through piles of clothes, opening old cupboards and trunks or walking around areas that haven’t been disrupted for a while like old houses. Also, pay attention when walking along paths and through high grass.
In general, snakes are sensitive to vibrations and will quickly move to get away when given adequate warning. However, they may be slow and therefore you might surprise them. It is good practice to carry a stick and stomp it on the ground to shoo away snakes.
The most serious snakebites are those of vipers and this page is to provide information on what to do if bitten. Snakebites should always be treated with care, and children should be taught to identify the different types of snakes because misidentification is a major cause of medical delays and overtreatment.
Vipers are easy to recognise due to their broad heads, thick bodies, clear markings and the symptoms of bites. Instead of scaring children it is best to teach them to take care and pay attention to the possible presence of snakes.
It is generally not a good idea to kill snakes; there will always be others. In addition, snake population density is self-limiting. Snakes are territorial and the more there are, the less there is for them to eat. Eliminating snakes therefore disturbs the delicate balance between predator and prey, and may, at least initially, cause a jump in numbers.
Public opinion has it that the snake population in and around Zonca has increased either due to the encroachment of forest lands which prevent predators like hawks from catching them. But climate change may also be causing changes in population density.
There are two main family types of snakes found extensively in Italy. The most common is the ‘Whip Snake’, which belongs to the family, ‘Colubridae ‘. There are 21 different types of snakes within the ‘Colubrids’ found in Italy. None of them are poisonous, although three: the ‘Montpellier Snake’ (Malpolon monspessulanus), the ‘False Smooth Snake’ (Macroprotodon cucullatus), and the ‘Cat Snake’ (Telescopus fallax) all have fangs at the back of their upper jaw.
All of these snakes are active during the day (Diurnal) except for the ‘Southern Smooth Snake’ (Coronella girondica), the ‘False Smooth Snake’ (Macroprotodon cucullatus) and the ‘Cat Snake’ (Telescopus fallax), which are all active during the twilight hours (crepuscular).Poisonous snakes:The other type of snake is the ‘European Viper’, which belongs to the family ‘Viperidae’. There are four types: the ‘Asp Viper’ (Vipera aspis), the ‘Nose-horned Viper’ (Vipera ammodytes), the ‘European Viper’ also called the ‘Adder’ or ‘Northern Viper’ (Vipera berus) and the ‘Orsini’s Viper’ or ‘Field Adder’ (Vipera ursinii). All of these snakes are poisonous. They all have true venom glands (thick connective tissue, lumen, compressor musculature and a duct connecting to a fang) and are front-fanged.Vipers are very heavy bodied and slow moving, with well defined heads and short tails. Key features are the keeled dorsal body scales, vertical pupil and undivided preanal scale. They are not aggressive unless disturbed and it is extremely inadvisable to handle them due to their potent venom.
First aid for snake bites
Should you be bitten by a snake, it’s essential to get emergency treatment as quickly as possible. However, there are some tips that you should also keep in mind:
- Call emergency number immediately.
- Note the time of the bite.
- Keep calm and still as movement can cause the venom to travel more quickly through the body.
- Remove constricting clothing or jewelry because the area surrounding the bite will likely swell.
- Don’t allow the victim to walk. Carry or transport them by vehicle.
- Do not kill or handle the snake. Take a picture if you can but don’t waste time hunting it down.
- Make sure the victim is breathing and administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if necessary.
First aid myths
There are also several outdated first aid techniques that are now believed to be unhelpful or even harmful:
- Do not use a tourniquet.
- Do not cut into the snake bite.
- Do not use a cold compress on the bite.
- Do not give the person any medications unless directed by a doctor.
- Do not raise the area of the bite above the victim’s heart.
- Do not attempt to suck the venom out by mouth.
- Do not use a pump suction device. These devices were formerly recommended for pumping out snake venom, but it’s now believed that they are more likely to do harm than good.
Treatment for snake bites
The most important thing to do for a snake bite is to get emergency medical help as soon as possible. A doctor will evaluate the victim to decide on a specific course of treatment. In some cases, a bite from a venomous snake is not life-threatening. The severity depends on the location of the bite and the age and health of the victim. If the bite is not serious, the doctor may simply clean the wound and give the victim a tetanus vaccine.
If the situation is life threatening, the doctor may administer antivenom. This is a substance created with snake venom to counter the snake bite symptoms. It’s injected into the victim. The sooner the antivenom is used, the more effective it will be.
Poisonous! A bite from this species is severe and is very painful. About 4% of all untreated bites are fatal. This species is responsible for 90% of all cases of snakebite in Italy and it is the only mortal snake in Italian mountains.