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Are There Snakes in Ireland?
Ireland is a country full of rich folklore and mythology, with many tales surrounding the Irish countryside. From banshees to leprechauns, Ireland has always had something strange on every corner. But what about snakes? Do they exist in this land of legends?
There are myths and stories about snakes in Ireland, but not one of them has been proven. Aside from pets or zoo residents, no snakes are living in Ireland, and there never was. Let’s talk about why this might be!
Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?
The reason is straightforward: Ireland is an island, surrounded by water on all sides. Snakes are cold-blooded, and the oceanic temperature is much too low for them to survive. Since they can’t swim across from the mainland, there has never been a native snake in Ireland!
Of course, we can’t prove that there have never been any snakes on Irish soil. Snakeskins have been found in many other parts of Britain and Northern France. This doesn’t mean these were native snakes to those places; all it means is that they existed at some point between 10 000 BC and 5 000 BC when the last Ice Age ended.
Back then, Ireland was connected to Great Britain, so there might have been some snakes that crossed the channel. Or maybe they were brought in by traders from other countries. One thing’s for sure, the Irish were never blessed (or cursed) with the presence of snakes. In fact, the only venomous animal native to Ireland are three species of spiders.
Snakes In Irish History
Though they may not have been present on Irish soil, snakes still managed to engrave themselves in Irish culture.
Legend has it that the famous St. Patrick was the one to drive all the snakes away from the island. There are conflicting stories about how he killed them all; some say he threw Shamrock at them, while others say that he just cursed them. Either way, the island hasn’t seen a snake since!
Though this tale has been passed down through generations, there is no proof of any snake ever having existed on Ireland soil, at least not since the last ice age.
Is Ireland a Good Habitat for Snakes?
Let’s say, hypothetically, that Ireland was once again connected to the mainland, and snakes were able to cross. What types of snakes would we find? Let’s have a look at the habitat! The country has an average temperature of 9.8°C (49°F), with cold winters and warm summers, although temperatures do sometimes reach exceptional highs or lows in some parts of the country.
Sandy soil is perfect for burrowing snakes like vipers and adders, but Ireland has plenty of peat bogs with little to no access to sand, so we would never find these types of snakes here.
Also, due to their climate, few reptiles can survive outdoors year-round without hibernating in winter. The chilly weather would kill off most lizards and snakes before they even had a chance to settle down. Because of this, Ireland is not a good habitat for any type of snake.
Is Ireland the Only Place in the World Without Snakes?
There are only a handful of places on earth that are known to be snake-free.
1. Iceland (and other sub-polar places)
Ireland isn’t the only place in Europe to have never had snakes; Iceland is also free of this reptile. But it’s not just Ireland and Iceland! For some reason, no one has ever been able to find any native species of snake in the subzero polar regions. They freeze to death before they can settle down.
Ireland isn’t the only place with no venomous snakes. Just like Iceland, Antarctica has no native species of viper or cobra. This is simply because there are no warm-blooded animals in this area to prey on!
3. New Zealand
Surprisingly close to the land where everything wants to kill you, New Zealand is also free of any venomous snakes. This is despite there being many native species of non-venomous snakes that have successfully adapted to the Australian ecosystem. New Zealand’s lack of native snakes could be due to it having never been connected to Australia, but we still don’t know for sure!
There are, however, marine snakes around New Zealand.
This giant island off the coast of Canada is entirely snake-free. It’s not only venomous vipers who are absent from this island; even non-venomous snakes have never managed to settle here!
There are no snakes in Ireland due to a combination of the climate, lack of habitat, and distance from any snake population.
We have established that Ireland would be an extremely unsuitable home for any snake. The cold temperatures, lack of sand, and scarce reptiles make it very unlikely to find one here.
So, the next time you visit the Emerald Isle, don’t expect to see a family with green skin or pointy tongues! Snakes aren’t native to Ireland, and they never were. But do let us know if you find any fossils!
Featured Image Credit: Stifos, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.