In Crete, snakes appear to have played an important ritual role in the Minoan period. Indeed, one of the most famous archaeological findings listed in Heraklion Museum is the statuette of the goddess of fertility, known as the Goddess of Snakes, who holds two snakes with both of her hands. Snakes were also used for treating diseases, from where the symbol of Asclepius comes, preserved in medicine even today.
Moreover, when Hercules arrived in Crete for the labor with the Bull of Crete, he wanted to pay honors to the birthplace of Zeus (Crete). Thus, he cleared the island from all hazardous animals. This beautiful ancient tale explains why Crete has no harmful animal species (such as venomous snakes). However, snakes are widely falsely thought as the evil-doers, with the dark intent on poisoning us with their painful venom.
The snakes someone might meet in Crete is the Balkan whip snake, the dice snake, the cat snake and the leopard snake. Among them, only the cat snake has venom, but it is very weak and actually harmless.
The Balkan whip snake (scient. Hierophis gemonensis or Coluber gemonensis) is a medium sized snake, which is commonly met in the island of Crete. It can reach a length of 1m, but is usually much shorter.
The leopard snake (scient. Elaphe situla or Zamenis situla) is the most beautiful species of snake in Greece, with characteristic orange-red markings on its back. In Crete it is called ochentri, which means viper, which is incorrect as the snake is completely harmless. This false impression has been caused by a V sign on its head, which is similar to that of vipers.
The dice snake (scient. Natrix tessellata) is a kind of water snake, which occurs frequently in the permanent wetlands, the sea shores and rock pools of Crete. Many Cretans call it as water snake, but this name actually belongs to the relative species of Natrix natrix, which is absent from the island. Finally there is the suspicion that the dice snake of Crete belongs to a separate species, but it hasn’t been confirmed yet.
The cat snake (scient. Telescopus fallax) is the only snake in Crete with venom. However, the poison is too weak to hurt humans and is excreted in the back of its mouth, making it actually harmless. The snake feeds on small lizards and uses the poison for relaxing their bodies.