You might not expect Norway to have a lot of snakes due to the harsh winters, but there are actually several species of snakes in Norway. The snakes hibernate in the winter, but come out from their nests in the early summer to soak up on the long Norwegian summers.
There are a total of 3 snake species in Norway, including one that is considered to be venomous; the European adder (Vipera berus). The European adder has the potential to kill humans, but that is considered extremely rare. All three snake species in Norway are endangered, and protected by law.
We will be looking closer at each of the three different snake species in this article, as well as a pseudo-snake that people often mistake for being a real snake species.
European adder (Vipera berus): the only venomous snake in Norway
The European adder is the only snake that is considered to be venomous in Norway, but it’s not really a super dangerous snake. Its venom is mainly harmful to a small percentage of people who are bitten, and bites themselves are rare.
The Norwegian word for European adder is hoggorm. Most European adders are found in the southern part of Norway, in areas south of Lillehammer, but they can occasionally also be found in more northern parts. They usually rest under rocks or vegetation, but will be active when it’s sunny outside.
I often see European adders when hiking close to the sea in southern Norway, and they chill out on the rocks when it’s sunny. If you see one, stay at a safe distance and just observe them, but don’t try to touch or hold it.
The European adder can be either zigzag patterned as on the photo above, or completely black (known as a melanistic variety) as seen on the photo below. Both are common in Norway, but the regular zigzag patterned one is most common.
Read more: All the dangerous animals in Norway.
What to do if you get bit by an European adder
If the European adder is bothered, it will most often back away, but it will bite if it feels cornered or is afraid. About 70 % of the bites contain venom (the rest are warning bites only), and only a selected few get serious reactions to the bite.
That said, you should always call the legevakt (ER) if you get bitten by a European adder. Call them on 116 117 and they will decide if you should come in for a check up or not. This often depends on how serious your symptoms are. Children and certain groups always need to visit the ER if they get bitten.
If you have serious reactions to a bite, call the emergency service number on 113! These cases include people who become dizzy, have slurred speech or other serious symptoms.
Most people only become a bit swollen in the bitten area, but some people will have serious reactions that can potentially lead to death!
Since it can potentially kill you, the emergency room urges everyone who gets bitten to go for a check up. They will then monitor how your body reacts to the bite, and have antivenom ready to be given on short notice if you get sick.
That said, it’s very rare that people die from bites by the European adder here in Norway.
Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
The grass snake is the second of the three real snake species in Norway, and this one is completely harmless. It is the biggest snake, and can reach a length of 120 centimeters, so it’s by far bigger than the other two snakes.
The Norwegian word for grass snake is buorm. The natural habitat for the grass snake is ironically not the grass, but rather close to streams and small pools of water. It preys on small fish and amphibians, and spend much of its time in the water.
Despite being venomless, it can bite, and the bites are a bit painful, so don’t try to touch one if you see a grass snake. It’s very rare to get bitten by one though, as long as you don’t directly interact with it.
Some people find it a bit difficult to tell the grass snake apart from the European adder, especially the melanistic version that is completely black. However, completely black grass snakes are rare in Norway, so most black snakes are in fact the European adder.
Regular grass snakes are either grey or brown/grey, and have a yellow spot on their neck. This yellow neck spot is unique to the species, so it’s a sure sign that its for sure a grass snake. It also lacks the zigzag pattern on its back.
Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca)
The smooth snake is the third and final Norwegian snake, and it can reach up to 80 centimeters in length. Most of them are closer to 50 cm than 80 cm though.
You can find the smooth snake along the coast of southern Norway, but it’s super rare to see it far from the coast. The Norwegian name for the smooth snake is slettsnok.
The body of the smooth snake is either brown or grey, with rows of two black dots along its body. It also has a characteristic black spot on the top of its head.
It might look a bit like an European adder at first glance, but the dots on the back are very different from the zigzag pattern of the European adder.
This snake is a fast one, but prefers to spend most of its time under rocks that get heated by the sun. It’s very rare to see, and by far the rares of the snake species. It does not have venom, so it’s completely harmless to humans.
Slow worm (Anguis fragilis): The “snake” that’s not really a snake
The slow worm is actually a type of lizard that has evolved to be limbless. It is very easy to mistake is for a snake, and I’m sure most Norwegians are completely unaware that it’s not a real snake.
The good part is that the slow worm is completely harmless to humans! It’s far more common than any of the three snake species, so you might come across a few of these during your summer visit to Norway.
The slow worm can reach a length of 40 cm, so it’s also a lot smaller than any of the real snakes. The Norwegian word for it is stålorm.
Slow worms tend to be waiting underneath a stone or another object for its prey to pass by, but will be active when it’s hot outside. They are common to find as roadkill on sunny days, and are often the food item for real snakes.
All Norwegian snakes are protected
All the snake species of Norway are rare, and are considered to be endangered species. This means that they are protected by law, and you could potentially face criminal charges if you kill one.
This has lead to some conflict in the past since many people are afraid of the European adder and wants it gone. There hasn’t ever been any documentation of people who get fined or taken to court because of killing them, so it’s not really a big issues, only something to be aware of.
So if you see a snake in Norway, enjoy the sight and leave it be.
Nicklas is the owner and editor of The Norway Guide, and is responsible for most of the content on the website.
He lives in Skien, Norway with his wife and two children. Nicklas is specialized in Norwegian ecology (including Norway’s geology, wildlife and flora) from his degree in Ecology And Nature Management at University of South-Eastern Norway, but has a particular interest in tourism and content creation.
His biggest hobbies are fishkeeping, going on hikes with his dog, and rooting for the local football team.