Animals in Spain
Dangerous Spanish Wildlife
Bees, Caterpillars, Hornets and Wasps etc
The sting from any of these insects can be very painful. Try to withdraw the sting immediately but do not use tweezers because squeezing or pressing the sting can inject more poison into the skin.
It is recommended that you scratch off the sting with your fingernail, a knife or the edge of a credit card. Normal reaction to a sting is pain, itching and swelling of the injured area but these symptoms will pass off within hours.
Treatment: Clean the injured area and bathe with cold water.
Warning: Some people are severely sensitive to insect venom and can suffer respiratory and cardiac problems. If a person who has been stung shows signs of wheezing, breathing difficulties and/or facial swelling or has a rapid pulse, it is a sign that he/she has an allergy.
Do not delay: Call an ambulance or get to a hospital casualty department immediately. An allergy to such a sting can be life threatening.
Caterpillars (Processional Pine Caterpillars)
Pine Caterpillars (Latin name thaumetopoea pityocampa) are probably one of the most unpleasant creatures you will find in Spain, certainly in areas where pine trees grow in abundance. They are found throughout the warmer regions of Southern Europe, the Near East and North Africa. As well as causing much damage to pine forests, they are a major danger to animals and, to a lesser degree, human beings.
Do not touch them. Warn your children that they are not like the friendly English caterpillars. The very fine hairs on these creatures are poisonous and most dangerous. They can be seen living in silk cocoon style nests hanging in the pine trees to which they are most harmful, stripping them of their pine needles. When hungry, they leave their cocoon to seek another uninfested tree on which to feed. They travel nose to tail in a line, hence the name Processional. They are most noticeable from January to mid April and are at their most dangerous in mid/late February. The caterpillars are often seen in the evenings, walking in procession from tree to tree.
If they drop onto you or your pet, don’t brush them off with your hands because the effect is most unpleasant, causing great irritation, rash and pain. Dogs, cats and people can suffer from shock. The hairs of the caterpillars are still virulent even when the creatures are dead. Do not hit them with sticks because hairs flying in the air are just as dangerous. Burn them, but be careful of floating hairs. If the caterpillars are in the tree cocoon state, first spray the nest with hair spray (to seal down the hairs), cover the cocoon and the affected part of the branch with a plastic bag, cut down the branch, place it on clear ground and burn it.
If the caterpillars are on the ground marching, it is better first to spray them with lighter fuel and then set them alight. This reduces the risk of flying hairs.
Take care to only do this where you cannot inadvertently start a forest fire because during the summer months the undergrowth and trees are very dry.
If you live near pine trees, it is recommended that you keep Anti Histamine tablets handy as an early treatment. In particular, avoid ingesting the hairs. Dogs are most at risk by sniffing the ground where the caterpillars have marched.
Take particular care with your eyes. If affected the result is serious, causing pain and swelling similar to a bad case of conjunctivitis.
Treatment: If a person or animal shows signs of shock, get them to a doctor, hospital or vet immediately.
If you have children and are considering buying property, take the above details into consideration.
Centipedes are generally considered to be more of a nuisance than a nasty, unless you have an allergy to their venom. They can give a sting, unpleasant but not dangerous, however all centipedes should be considered hazardous just in case you are one of the unfortunates who have the allergy.
Europe was rife with malaria until the middle of the 20th century but Spain made great efforts to clear its wetlands where the problem was endemic and in 1964 malaria was declared to be eradicated from the country.
However, mosquito bites aren’t just a painful nuisance, they can pass on serious diseases such as yellow fever, encephalitis and malaria to both humans and animals.
Additionally, this year, a strain of mosquito has brought West Nile virus into the Barcelona area and it is predicted to spread across the whole Mediterranean coastline. See iberianature.com
The areas most at risk are those that retain weed infested pools of stagnant water. These conditions encourage breeding and it is the bite of the female that is dangerous and can transmit disease. Town centres and well managed areas such as Gandia are fairly free but if you live near any area with stagnant ponds, take special precautions. Complain to the local Ayuntamiento (town hall).
Sand Flies (Leishmaniasis)
Your Pet Dog needs protection, otherwise it can be in serious danger
Dogs that regularly travel abroad may be exposed to Leishmaniasis (also known as Kala-Azar) which is carried from dog-to-dog by a bite from a Sand Fly.
The name ‘Sand Fly’ is misleading as the Sand Fly’s natural habitat is in wooded and garden areas.
Dogs can be bitten up to 100 times an hour during the sand fly season which begins in May and ends in October. August is the worst month. The flies are mainly active between dusk and dawn. Early morning, 2 to 4am, is the worst period. They are not high flyers so your dog is better off in an upper room or flat at night. Fitting a preventative collar will protect your pet from approximately 95% of sand flies bites for the whole season. Dogs left out in the garden as security guards are particularly at risk.
It is thought that there may be very rare suspected cases of the disease being passed to humans; this is currently being research by the World Health Authority.
Prevention: The best preventative treatment up to now is , “INTERVET” invented a year ago and based on mosquito repellents It is impregnated into a very effective collar called “SCALIBOR”
Please note, this collar lasts for one season only and needs replacing each May. Do not let children play with the collar, we have also found the smell somewhat unpleasant.
See your Vet about a collar before you travel to Spain. Mosquito repellents, sprays and some mosquito nets etc help to keep them out of the house. These flies are very tiny.
Scorpions are found mainly in the dry country areas and on open foreshores. I would suggest that when camping in these areas, you check your footwear each morning before inserting your foot. I found it paid off many years ago when I was stationed in Africa.
The Mediterranean Scorpion (Buthus Occitanus – Escorpión Amarillo) is not as dangerous as the North African type but the sting is extremely painful.
As they are quite numerous, wearing boots covering the ankles is a good idea in dry rocky areas.
The European Black Scorpion is present in the northern regions of Spain. This scorpion’s sting is unpleasant but soon wears off.
Spiders are in the undergrowth but mainly harmless except for a funnel web spider which I have been told is not found in coastal areas.
Funnel web spiders (Hexathelidae) I can find little data stating in which province they are to be found but I am told they are not of the very venomous type indigenous to Sydney, Australia.
Tarantulas are very common in the western portion of Toledo province but fortunately the venom is weak and supposedly has little effect on humans.
Black Widow Spider (Latrodectus Tredecimguttatus) is the most widely distributed species in Europe and is the most dangerous spider in Spain giving a nasty bite but not fatal. Whilst they are rare, it is said to be commonest in the arid parts of Almeria and Aragon and also in the Valencia and Andalucian regions.
Brown Recluse Spiders (Loxosceles Reclusa) are found in parts of Spain but are less virulent than in other parts of the world and is not lethal. Bites from this spider cause a tender blister to develop, characteristically with a “bull’s eye” appearance (a red centre). At the time a person is bitten, it is often hardly noticeable and it can be several hours before the venom to takes effect. Then, it is very painful.
If you are bitten: Always try to kill the spider and keep the body. This helps the doctor to identify which spider anti venom is needed for treatment.
Treatment: Do not ignore bites. Always get medical attention as early as possible.
Stinging Ants (Myrmica rubra laevinoides – hormiga roja chica)
This is, I believe, the only species of poisonous ant but whilst its bite is unpleasant it is said to be not serious.
Tapeworms can affect humans, particularly children crawling on the ground in gardens and parks where dogs are allowed to roam. Always use a Poopy Scoop and dispose of your animal’s rubbish safely. Again, ensure your animal has regular worming treatment.
As in most hot countries, Ticks are prevalent in Spain and they can transmit nasty diseases to your pet such as canine Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. They can cause dogs and cats incurable damage which incurs lifelong administration of drugs. There is as yet no known cure. If you find one on your pet, it is suggested that the tick should be doused with alcohol or spirit. This makes the tick contract and allows you to pull it out whole. Leaving a portion of the tick inside the dog/cat is likely to cause an abscess.
Prevention and Treatment: Various forms of prevention are available.
Caution: if you live in an area where your animal needs to wear a special collar against Sand fly, I am advised that this will not also protect against Ticks and wearing Anti Tick and Sand Fly collars together is detrimental to the dog’s health.
In areas where Sand Fly is a problem, protect your animal against ticks with anti tick drops which do not react against the chemicals in the collar. These drops are easily placed around the pet’s neck.
If ignored, in exceptional cases, tick fever can be fatal to the animal.
It is most important that you are advised by a qualified vet.
The word salamander comes from the Arabic and means “lives in fire”. This is a myth. Salamanders cannot withstand flames but need to live in a moist environment and prefer their home comforts in or under damp logs. When people put logs onto campfires they often see these little creatures scuttling out. They can grow 5 to 12 inches long and look like lizards with big eyes. They have a black body with bright yellow or orange patterned markings; this is a warning that they are poisonous. Their skin produces a nasty substance that tastes awful, irritates the eyes and can even kill small mammals. They have poison glands on their backs and they can squirt this toxic liquid into the face of any unsuspecting animal. If you come across one of these creatures, leave well alone.
If you hear someone shout, “Serpiente” – watch where you are treading.
Whilst there are many snakes in Spain, they are mainly found in the mountainous and heavily forested areas. The most dangerous period is in the spring and summer as they hibernate during the cooler months of autumn and winter.
Generally speaking, snakes are rarely seen (unless you are a hill rambler) and very few people are bitten.
Please note: The Spanish population is over 40 million, expanding each year by the same number of tourists to 80 million people.
Deaths from snake bite in the whole of Europe are estimated at about 50 persons per year and only 3 to 6 in Spain. Of these 1 to 3 occur in Catalonia, it being the highest risk area.
These facts give the odds of being a victim of death by snake bite in any part of Spain at more than 13.3 million to 1 or put another way the same odds as winning the UK national lottery. Death by bee or wasp sting is more likely, although still very rare.
Hill Walkers/Rock Climbers: If you are an ardent hill walker, climber, rambler etc you should keep a particular eye out to spot snakes. There are 13 different types in Spain but only 5 of which have venom and only the vipers, they say, can cause death.
Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei – víbora de Seoane). This snake is dangerous. It lives in Galicia, León, the Cantabrian coastal strip (Cornisa Cantábrica) and the Basque Country.
Lataste’s Viper. Snub nosed. It is present throughout the Spanish Peninsula though nowhere is it common. It is grey, short (around 50cm) and is distinguished by its triangular head and the zigzag pattern on its back. It lives in dry, rocky areas. Be particularly careful when collecting firewood not to stick fingers into holes or crevices as viper bites can be fatal.
Asp Viper (Vipera aspis – víbora áspid). A particularly nasty venomous snake (of Cleopatra fame) it is of the cobra family whose venom can cause death by stopping the heart. If confronted it issues a hissing warning and a jerking movement of its head. It is not prolific in Spain and is thought to be restricted to the Pyrenees.
If bitten seek medical attention immediately.
False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus – culebra de cogulla) Not aggressive and is mainly seen in Catalonia. I still recommend leaving all snakes alone.
The Adder or Common Viper (Vipera Berus) is in most parts of Europe including the UK and Spain. The adder reaches a length of up to 24 inches. Its bite is painful and can be dangerous, particularly to children and older people. It can even be fatal to someone in a poor state of health. If you are bitten, obtain medical assistance immediately.
This snake is not aggressive and moreover it is a rare reptile. If you see one just look but don’t kill it. Stay clear.
The Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Fully grown adults are blackish, a dark grey or olive with a white underbelly and can grow to over 6ft long. Its rear fangs are poisonous. Its bite is not fatal but is unpleasant and painful, and you are advised to see a doctor if bitten.
This snake lives in open, sunny habitats around the Mediterranean.
Medical treatment: If you are bitten by any venomous snake, remain calm and seek medical attention immediately.
Make an emergency call on your mobile, tel No 112 and try to keep the bite area well below the position of the heart.
Toads in Spain are very poisonous to animals. If molested they exude a poison from their skin or produce saliva and an animal ingesting this can suffer heart failure. They are not particularly harmful to humans so don’t kill them, just keep animals and children away.
Treatment: An infected animal needs urgent treatment by a Veterinary within 40 minutes or death is quite probable.
Badgers, related to otters and ferrets, are found throughout the mainland of Spain, in both the green forested areas and the semi-desert scrub areas such as Alicante. They have also been found in the Pyrenees.
Barbary Ape (Barbary macaque)
This tail-less monkey is native to Morocco and Algeria, has settled on the Rock of Gibraltar and is not found in any other part of Spain or Europe.
In British forces slang, the Royal Marines and R.A.F. Regiment have both at times been referred to as Rock Apes – a sobriquet derived, some say, from this distinctive denizen of the Rock.
It is estimated that today there are only about 80 brown bears left in the whole of Spain. These animals are to be found in several mountainous districts in the Asturias, Cantabria, Cordillera, León, Lugo, Palencia and even in the Spanish Pyrenees. In some areas they are almost extinct but even where more numerous, they are very rarely seen unless your main sport is mountain climbing or walking. Even then, attacks on people are extremely rare. Wild animals usually avoid human beings.
I believe the last recorded attack by a bear was in May of 2004 when a man came upon a nursing bear and her cubs. He was badly mauled and bitten, but survived.
Are found in many parts of Spain. They are not a protected species and are considered almost as vermin and fair game for any hunter with a gun licence. They are intelligent and crafty and whilst they do seem to prefer to avoid humans, if cornered or injured, they are extremely vicious and will attack.
Wild boar are largely night foragers but if you are walking through woodlands and hear a grunting, barking and snorting sound in the undergrowth, be sensible, don’t investigate!
Keep your pet dog under control. Boars will attack and kill a dog that confronts them.
Farmers hate boars because they do tremendous damage to orchards and can even destroy a whole maize or corn crop in a night. They can also spread disease within a farmer’s purebred pig stock.
Deterrent. You will often see a fruit orchard with pieces of cast off clothes hanging from the branches, the theory being that the human scent remains on the garments and discourages the boars from lingering.
Wildlife Enthusiasts: If you are keen on seeing wildlife in the woods at night, always take a large torch and a mobile phone for emergency use.
Common Genet (Genetta)
A night-stalking, house-cat-sized carnivore, is nonetheless one of the most common predators in southern olive groves and other agricultural lands. This seldom-seen animal may have found its way to Spain via Moorish colonizers, who brought the animals from Africa and domesticated them to control household rats. Do not approach.
Ibex and Arruí (wild goat)
Are surefooted and agile; they usually travel in small herds of about a dozen animals, feeding on a wide variety of vegetation. The males are particularly impressive with long beards almost reaching the floor. They do not like interference. You’re far more likely to see the domestic goats (Capra) which are herded by shepherds in the mountains.
It is estimated that there are no more than 200 Lynx surviving in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula, their main habitat being Andujar and Donana. Lynx are rigorously protected.
Are found in various parts of Spain. They have a highly protected status.
Are found in many parts of North-Western Spain’s mainland, particularly in the Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla-León and Galicia. It is estimated there is a growing population in excess of 2,000 of these animals, however, wolves are rarely seen as they have learnt to be wary of humans.
Dolphins and other Cetacia
Many of these delightful mammals can be seen around the coasts of Spain. Striped, Common and Bottlenose dolphins are the most frequent sightings, though long-finned Pilot whales, Fin whales, Sperm whales and Orcas also frequent many of Spain’s coastal waters. In the Bay of Biscay, one might also find Minke whales and Risso’s dolphins.
A popular whale watching spot is the Bay of Algeciras near Gibraltar
Jellyfish are found in all coastal areas here as they are in the UK. They are often difficult to see or avoid and coming into contact with them is sticky and unpleasant, but most are harmless.
See below for the nasties:
Pelagia Noctiluca is a very common small jellyfish with a really painful sting which leaves marks on the skin. It varies in colour from mauve to brown.
Portuguese Man-O-War (Cnidaria) is not a true jellyfish but a colony and can inflict extremely painful stings depending how close you are to the main body of the creature. The tentacles can be as long as 20metres. Symptoms include severe shooting pain and intense joint and muscle pain which can be followed by headaches, faintness, hysteria, nausea, shock and even collapse.
Initial contact may cause only a small number of stings. Try to move away gently, frantic efforts to escape may cause further discharge of venom and intensify stings. Get out of the water as soon as possible. Take extra care when removing the tentacles from a person’s body as severe stings can occur even when the Man of War is beached or dead.
Treatment of Jellyfish Sting
If you are unlucky enough to be stung by a jellyfish, rinse with sea water. Do not rinse jellyfish stings with fresh water because it will re-trigger the stingers. Use sand, clothing, towels, seaweed or other available materials to remove any clinging tentacles. Whilst the tentacles remain on the skin, they will continue to discharge venom. Gently bathe with vinegar. Cover with talcum powder or shaving cream, let it dry and then scrape it off. Stings will usually fade within an hour.
Caution: DO NOT USE Methylated spirits, other forms of alcohol, picric acid or human urine, because recent research has found that all of these old remedies actually stimulate the stingers and may increase pain and cause severe skin reactions.
Warning: Some people are particularly allergic to the sting of the Jellyfish. If the person stung starts itching over other parts of the body, has breathing problems, swelling of the throat or feels feint, seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or hospital.
Are seen in Spanish waters and are highly protected against hunting. Anyone who would like to assist in preservation projects may be interested in the following two websites:
OceanLaw and Mediterranean Monk Seal Action Plan
If you are unlucky enough to tread on an Urchin, do get proper treatment from a doctor or visit the hospital casualty without delay.
Sharks are found in the Mediterranean and are sometimes caught by fishermen but I have not heard of any problems caused by swimming from the beaches here although there have been isolated attacks in past years.
Sting Rays (rayas)
Stingrays can sometimes be found in shallow sandy sea beds. They are not aggressive but if trodden on, may lash out with their tail, resulting in grazing and irritation and also risk of infection.
These are more dangerous. They bury themselves in the sand waiting to attack smaller fish. Again if trodden on their poison-laden dorsal fin can cause intense pain and infection.