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Mount Etna is a safe environment for hikers, especially for those who venture onto the great volcano with the right information. The territory hides problems that can be avoided with the help of a good guide or with in-depth studies on geology, flora and fauna. On our volcano there are no dangerous predators: foxes are friendly, there are no wolves or bears. But there are snakes. And among these only one is truly poisonous: the viper. You certainly don’t joke with the viper... ever! … but if you respect it you can meet and even take a photo without any fear.

The viper of Etna

Etna viper is a representative of the classic European viper, a snake of medium length (never exceeding one metre), with a color ranging from gray to greenish-brown and the typical dark spots on the coat. The head, triangular and flattened, distinguishes it from other snakes so it is quite easy to recognize it.

Like all vipers, Etna viper is also a shy and fundamentally “non-social” animal. It loves being alone, in peace, and is not at all aggressive. Unless you give it reason to be! The viper attacks only if it is disturbed, if it is suddenly awakened from its seasonal “nap”, if it feels under threat. Otherwise you can also walk by it without it reacting.

Where does the viper live?

On Mount Etna, vipers love to create burrows among the warm black lava rocks. And given that the volcano is very rich in “sciàre” (ancient lava flows) exposed to the sun in every season, these are precisely the areas where you can easily meet vipers. When you go on excursion to Etna it is impossible to avoid the “sciàre”. For this reason it is good to know how and when to limit the damage of an encounter with the viper.

etna viper 2
Etna’s “sciare”-photo G Musumeci

Meeting the viper: what should you do?

The viper loves to come out into the open air in the warm seasons. So from late spring to early autumn it is easy to meet it.
If you want to “avoid this pleasure”, make sure you make a lot of noise with your walking stick or boots because this snake hates noise and tends to run away in fear if it hears it. But if you happen to encounter the viper anyway, don’t panic. Very calmly, stay away as much as possible or stay still and let it crawl away from you.

When you go hiking in the summer, always wear high, resistant boots, with thick socks and above all ankle-length trousers. The less skin you expose to the sun, the less chance you will have of being bitten by some annoyed viper. Always carry a First Aid box with antidote in, in case of an accidental bite. If you don’t have it or can’t carry ita long with you, when you get bitten apply the universal rules of common sense: don’t move and above all don’t run, block the blood circulation by tying a string just above the wound, call for help immediately explaining the situation.

Vipers and other snakes

Recognizing the viper is important, because Etna is also inhabited by other types of snakes... harmless and gentle ones, not at all dangerous. HERE you can read about their characteristics and learn to recognize them so as not to be afraid of them, if by chance they cross your path along the walk. And above all, avoid killing them. Avoid killing the viper too. It’s not its fault if YOU invade ITS territory!

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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