Portugal's diverse landscape and dry climate make it a perfect home for all kinds of wildlife, insects and aquatic organisms. The mix of European and North African animals is excellent and some of them are rare and spectacular, but there are also a few dangerous ones. The potential dangers on the ground, in the air and in the water in Portugal are described in this article.
Northern Portugal is still home to wolves, as well as the wild Iberian lynx. There are several poisonous snakes and spiders, as well as one unfriendly insect, not to mention the outstanding creatures that live in the ocean. Portugal has no shortage of unique wildlife to delight animal lovers, but beware of dangerous animals, which we'll list below. Let's go!
Snakes. Although there are only 11 species of snakes in Portugal, only three made our list of dangerous ones. The first is the Víbora de Seoane, also known as the Basque or Portuguese viper.
Found only in the far north of the country, this snake can reach a length of 75 cm. Unfortunately, it is not immediately identifiable because it does not have a unique color palette or a remarkable appearance. For example, some Portuguese vipers have a distinct zigzag pattern, while others have only faint markings or none. The second dangerous snake is easier to identify. The Lataste viper or nasal viper (Víbora de Lataste) has a scaly tubercle protruding from its nose, which gave it its second name. Its range is much wider than that of the Portuguese Viper, but it is less common and is considered endangered.
Also, as the poisonous Víbora-cornuda is a poisonous species, especially dangerous for children and the elderly, this viper is used to living in mountainous areas such as the Parque Natural de Montesinho, Serra de Montemuro, Serra do Espinhal and Serra da Estrela.
Bites from these three snakes are venomous and, although rarely fatal, can have serious consequences. If you encounter these or any other snakes in Portugal, stay where you are and allow them to escape. If you do get bitten, remain calm and seek medical attention (Urgência) as soon as possible. Self-treatment in the event of a snake bite is out of the question.
Furthermore, I would like to leave here a guide on what snakes there are in Portugal in general. We have listed the venomous ones, and just keep in mind the remaining 7 below, which are not venomous:
- Cobra-ferradura (horseshoe snake) is a species of snake so named because of the horseshoe-shaped spot on its head. In Portugal, this snake can be found throughout the country, except for the Azores and Madeira archipelagos, as well as the far north of mainland Portugal.
- Cobra lisa austríaca (Austrian smooth snake) is a snake that is considered harmless, although aggressive when disturbed. This species is common throughout Europe, in Portugal it is rare and lives only in the mountainous areas in the north and center of the country.
- Cobra bordalesa (Bordeaux snake) - existing all over continental Portugal, is very similar to the Austrian flat snake. Despite this, it is less aggressive.
- Cobra-de-escada (ladder snake) is another species of snake found throughout continental Portugal.
- Cobra-de-capuz (hooded snake) is a snake that lives all over the country: it can be found in forests, bushes, freshwater springs, rocky places, sandy shores, gardens, urban areas, that is, everywhere!
- The Cobra-rateira (rat snake) is the largest snake in Europe, measuring from 1.60 to 2.30 meters. It is common in all Mediterranean countries, it is poisonous, but only when it swallows its prey, i.e., it is impossible to be poisoned by an accidental bite of this species.
- Cobra-de-água-viperina (water viper snake). After talking about the giant snake, there is nothing better than to talk about a smaller snake, such as the water viper snake. As the name implies, this snake can be found in water bodies, it swims well and, curiously enough, it never bites, not even opening its mouth when it attacks its prey.
- Cobra-de-água-de-colar (ringed water snake) is a snake that also moves easily in bodies of water. In addition to Portugal, this snake is quite common throughout Europe, North Africa, as well as in some parts of the Asian continent.
And since we have already started with crawling creatures, let us dwell on a couple more dangerous specimens that crawl on the ground. Scorpions. The European scorpion (Escorpião europeu) is the only scorpion in Portugal, which is considered dangerous. It is easily recognized: its body and tail are black, and its legs are yellow or pale brown. The tip of its tail (its sting), is also yellow, hence its other name, the yellow-tailed scorpion.
They like warm, moist habitats and live under rocks and stones in forests and parks. Not afraid to live near people, they hide in houses, in cracks between bricks or in cracks in walls. These scorpions are not aggressive innately; when they hunt, they stalk their prey rather than chase or chase after it. However, if provoked or frightened, this scorpion can defend itself. It can bite with its front claws and, in extreme cases, sting with its tail. Its stinger contains venom that can cause mild irritation and swelling. The bite becomes more dangerous if the stung person has an allergic reaction to it. In this case, you should immediately seek medical help.
Spiders. Portugal is home to many different species of spiders, but only three of them are considered dangerous. The first endangered species is the wolf spider (Aranha-lobo).
This giant can grow up to 12 cm, has a poisonous and painful bite, but it lives only on the island of Madeira. We will put in second place the spider called the Black Widow (Aranha Viúva Negra). It is characterized by a red sand glass on its torso and lives in dark, quiet areas such as garages and outhouses. Its venomous bite can cause swelling, muscle cramps, and abdominal cramps.
This spider can be deadly for children, elderly people or people with poor health. And finally, third in our list of spiders to watch out for is the violin spider (Aranha de violino), so called because of the shape of marks on its back (also called hermit spider).
Its bite contains venom that can cause necrosis or tissue death. Bite marks can enlarge as the tissue around them dies away, becoming large and deep wounds. The recluse spider bites only when provoked: it likes to hide inside seldom-worn shoes and clothing, bites usually occur when it is involuntarily pressed against human skin.
Rounding out our list of crawlers is the Portuguese pine caterpillar (Lagarta do Pinheiro). Caterpillars are not usually on the list of dangerous animals, but caterpillars in Portugal are unique.
Portuguese or pine moths (which are not dangerous) lay their eggs in large webs on the tops of pine trees. After the caterpillars hatch, they leave the pines, searching for soil in which to burrow and turn into moths. When they make this journey, they do so together in one long procession that can be hundreds of caterpillars long. It is this procession that gives the caterpillars their name and also attracts curious onlookers. These caterpillars have soft prickly hairs all over their bodies, which are highly irritating to human and animal skin and can cause severe allergic reactions. If the hairs get into the eyes, mouth, or lungs, the consequences can be more serious. If you see a procession of caterpillars, stand back and observe the phenomenon from a distance. If you or your pet comes in contact with the harmful hairs, seek medical or veterinary attention immediately.
The crawlers on the ground are sorted out, but what awaits us in the air, let's see.
Insects. The velutina hornet (vespa velutina) - its population growth is of concern because this species is not usual in Portugal. The main concern is that they destroy local honey bees because they have no defense mechanisms against large and hostile hornets. These insects grow up to 5 cm in length and have a reputation for being aggressive. They are known to attack humans, especially when defending their nests, and their growing numbers make them one of the most dangerous animals in Portugal. A hornet bite is painful and contains venom that can cause local tissue damage, kidney failure, and, in rare cases, can be fatal. Although one hornet bite is not enough to kill a person, several bites can be fatal.
If you don't have an identified allergy, you won't react to the bite, and you don't need to do anything except put ice on the bite area, which will just reduce the pain. If you are allergic, you may have 2 types of reaction (local or systemic):
- Reaction at the bite site in which, if it is very severe (>10 cm in diameter), you should take an antihistamine pill, and in the most severe cases, e.g., a bite to the face (eyelids, lips) add a corticosteroid pill. If the swelling of the eyelids and/or lips is very severe, you should be seen by a doctor in the emergency department.
- If you get hives (drooling and itching) after a bite that spreads all over your body, you should call the emergency services for an intravenous antihistamine and a corticosteroid.
- In case of anaphylaxis (which can be severe or even fatal), immediately after the bite (10-15 minutes) with shortness of breath, unconsciousness, dizziness, throat constriction, severely swollen tongue, itching and reddening of the whole body) you should immediately call INEM (112) or go immediately to the emergency room.
If you find a nest, it's a good idea to report it:
- Through SOS Environment and Conservation Service (SOS Ambiente e Território do Serviço de Proteção da Natureza e do Ambiente da GNR - 808 200 520);
- Via platform SOS Vespa. The SOS Vespa platform, created by the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forestry (Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e Florestas);
- By personally contacting the parish council of the area (Junta de Freguesia) where the nest was spotted.
What about mosquitoes (mosquito) in Portugal, you ask? There are mosquitoes in some areas of Portugal, especially in warm weather. There is no risk of malaria in Portugal, but in the past five years, mosquitoes that carry Dengue fever have been found. The threat to human health is very low. Nevertheless, it is advisable to use insect repellent and to seek medical attention if you have any symptoms, such as headache, fever, joint pain and muscle pain. In any case, it is better to use anti repellents (both topical on the skin and special devices powered by an outlet).
Let's move on to the most pressing question of whether it is safe to swim in Portugal. In general, yes, but there is a list of marine animals to be wary of and to follow strict rules when encountering them (sharks are not found in Portugal, if anything).
Sea creatures. Our chart is topped by the Caravela-Portuguesa, or Portuguese shipwreck, not a jellyfish as is commonly believed, but a siphonophore, one of the most dangerous animals in Portugal and certainly, one of the most painful. Fortunately, they are easily recognized by the blue or pink bubble filled with gas that protrudes above the water.
This sail-like characteristic shape will not cause you any harm, the danger is the long tentacles, which can extend underwater to a distance of up to 50 m from the body. These tentacles contain poisonous spines capable of killing small fish and shrimp, the usual diet of this carnivorous creature. For humans, a bite from one of these tentacles leaves a long red scar, and the pain can last for days after contact. The venom can also cause fever, shock, swollen lymph nodes and larynx, impaired cardiac function, and, in extreme cases, can lead to death. The most severe cases occur when a person has had prolonged contact with numerous tentacles. Tentacles remain dangerous even when separated from the main body or discarded. They can sting for days after the creature dies, so they should never be touched. How to save yourself if you do get a burn:
- the burn site should be washed abundantly with seawater (freshwater destroys the poison cells and increases the surface of the burn), you can heat it up or additionally apply heat, the effect will be faster;
- gloved or with an auxiliary object, remove tentacle and mucus residue from the skin;
- if the burns are severe or do not go away after a couple of days, severe allergic reactions, respiratory disorders, etc. - it is necessary to contact a doctor (INEM recommends calling the special poisoning service: CIAV (Centro de Informação Antivenenos) do INEM - support line 800 250 250).
Peixe-aranha or spider-fish is the most poisonous fish in Europe, because of the frequency with which they cause accidents, mainly - with swimmers, although their venom is not as strong, but they are able to cause extremely painful injuries to humans on contact (mostly we step on them because the spiderfish is almost impossible to see on the sandy bottom: only eyes and spines on the surface). The majority of cases are recorded on the coast of the Algarve and Costa Vicentina, and very few on the Azores and Madeira (mostly smaller species of these fish).
So, if you feel that you have stepped on a thorn in the water, and the consequence is red swelling, then likely you have come across the spines of a spider fish, which are considered extremely poisonous. What you need to do:
- if a spike is still present at the puncture point, it must be removed with tweezers;
- as we have already found out, heat helps to kill the poison, so the big place should be treated with hot water or something hot (up to a heating pad);
- theoretically, the swelling and pain should go away within 24 hours (you can take something from the usual antihistamine for reassurance). If other more serious symptoms (severe swelling, difficulty breathing, fever) occur, it is better to see a doctor immediately.
Well, these two are the most dangerous creatures waiting for us in the ocean. There is also a small list, as with snakes - scary, but not particularly harmful.
We present to your attention:
- Águas-vivas e anêmonas (small jellyfish). This species does not occur in the Azores and Madeira and is considered rare in mainland Portugal, except in the waters of the Algarve. Burns are not particularly painful.
- Crustaceans (dinosaur claws, better known as persebesh, exquisite delicacies on the plate, but unpleasant when encountered) can cause medium severity lacerations when falling on them, such as in strong waves, simply because of their claw-like shape. They are not considered poisonous.
- Octopus (common Octopus vulgaris) - can transmit toxins through its "beak" and cause moderate neurological phenomena. When encountering it (found mainly under rocks in both shallow and decent depths) may be observed weakness, general malaise, as well as a decline in temperature. If these symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, a doctor should be consulted.
- Diadema (sea urchins of the genus Diadema) are traditionally inhabitants of tropical waters, but can occur sporadically in temperate zones and are relatively common in Madeira as well as in the Azores. They live in colonies and have thin and long calcium carbonate spicules, which cause very painful sensations. The toxin is in the skin of the spicules, causing a stabbing pain in the affected area, which lasts several hours and reappears when pressed, accompanied by swelling, sometimes hemorrhages, rarely nausea accompanied by vomiting, weakness may be observed. Tips are still the same - seawater for irrigation, local heat, if necessary, see a doctor.
- Chordata (chordates, specifically stingrays) have electrical organs capable of producing shocks of up to 200 volts, enough to at least stun an adult. They are fearful, nocturnal animals that remain motionless during the day and never attack. However, if they are approached and attempted to be caught, for example with a harpoon, they almost always produce a strong electric shock from which the hunter may lose consciousness by drowning.
We will conclude our review with wild animals - this information will be useful to those who like to hike in unfamiliar places without a guide. The three finalists in this article may pose a danger in the woods if you disturb their peace.
Wild boar. With their long fangs, chunky hairy body, which can weigh up to 200 kg, and the ability to run at speeds of up to 40 km/h, wild boars are quite dangerous. However, they are generally peaceful. With their tusks, they mostly scrape through the forest floor, uprooting grass and brush searching for acorns, tubers, and larvae. Despite their mostly harmless activities, boars are not popular: they can carry parasites and diseases and sometimes attack agricultural livestock, killing lambs and young calves. They are also actively breeding, and their numbers are almost constantly increasing. Therefore, the Portuguese are happy to hunt them for population control, though certainly also for their meat. Cases of wild boar attacking humans are rare. Most often, injuries occur as a result of traffic accidents, when boars run out onto the road unexpectedly. But the worst accidents and fatalities occur while hunting. When a boar is chased or injured, it turns against attackers or bystanders, and then the damage the canines can do is extremely severe. Although boars cannot be blamed for these incidents, they did make our list of dangerous animals in Portugal.
Iberian wolves. Once common throughout Portugal, wolves are now a rare and special species. It is estimated that only 300 individuals remain in the wild in Portugal. You can come across these endangered animals in the Vale do Côa in northeastern Portugal and the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Peneda-Gerês. The rugged landscape, old forests and river valleys are ideal habitats for the Iberian wolf. You can go there on guided tours and vacations searching for wolves, as well as guided tours that allow you to safely search for this magnificent animal. Iberian wolves do not attack people without extreme provocation. There have been no wolf attacks in modern times in Portugal. Wolves long ago learned to avoid humans for their safety. But because they can weigh up to 40 kilograms and run at speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour, not to mention their fangs and claws, a wolf attack can result in injury or death. Always hike with a guide and treat any wild animals you encounter with respect.
The Iberian lynx. This majestic animal, found only on the Iberian Peninsula, has been called the world's most endangered wildcat. At the beginning of this century, hunting, habitat destruction, and a reduction in natural prey have brought this animal close to extinction. Efforts are now being made to save the Iberian lynx, but it is estimated that there are only 100 wild lynx left in Portugal. They live mostly in the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana. In addition to being rare, lynxes are also elusive and few people are lucky enough to see them. If you do see a lynx, you will recognize it because it is very distinctive. They have grayish-yellow fur covered with darker patches and large ears with the trademark long tufts of hair sticking out of the tips. As with the Iberian wolf, although the lynx has teeth, claws, and strength capable of causing considerable damage, it does not hunt or attack humans, preferring to stay away.
Wish you good luck and new achievements, see you soon!
Translated from Ukrainian by Rodion Shkurko