The hazardous wildlife in France you need to watch out for

The hazardous wildlife in France you need to watch out for
Photos: Flickr/AFP
France's population of bears and wolves might get a lot of press but it's unlikely you'll actually run into these wild animals. On the other hand, there are some potentially dangerous creatures you're far more likely to encounter that you need to know about.
While it's natural to feel a little concerned about encountering a bear or wolf in the French woods there have been no reported cases of either animal attacking humans in France. 
Instead, you might want to watch out for these creatures:
Asp viper
Vipera aspis are found in almost all of France, and have a venomous and extremely painful bite, despite rarely being fatal. 
Watch out for them near the city of Montpellier, in the Lorraine region, and in parts of the Pyrénées.
Photo: Bernard DUPONT/Flickr
Swarms of jellyfish have been known to invade the beaches of the French Mediterranean, with the main jellyfish to watch out for in this area called the Pelagia noctiluca, also known as the 'Mauve Stinger'.
Its stinging cells have a very active toxin that produces a burning sensation, intense pain, inflammation and red skin rashes. The sting typically results in hives, blisters and scabs, with other more rare symptoms include nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and breathing disorders.
But it's not only in the French Mediterranean where you need to swim with caution. 
Portuguese man o' war Photo: Thomas Quine/Flickr
On Breton beaches, you'll find a jellyfish-like creature called the Physalia physalis aka the infamous Portuguese man o' war. These highly venomous creatures, which are actually siphonophores rather than jellyfish, can sting you just as badly if they're dead on the beach as they can when they're alive in the water. 
And if you're one of the unlucky ones that gets stung, you're likely to feel severe pain and get whip-like, red welts on the skin that normally last two or three days.
In the worst cases, the venom can cause swelling of the larynx, airway blockage, cardiac distress, an inability to breathe, fever and shock and in some extreme cases, people can die from a sting although this is very rare. 
There have been numerous incidents of the Physalia physalis washing up onbeaches in Brittany that have prompted warnings to the public to stay away.
Beaches have had to be closed at times and the public have been banned from swimming.
Deadly sea creatures wash up on Brittany's beaches
Tiger mosquito
These disease-carrying pests have doubled their numbers in France since 2012 alone, according to the Ministry of Health. Especially virulent along the humid Mediterranean coast, the tiger mosquito first appeared in the Alpes-Maritimes department in 2004 and since then, the insects have spread from there and caused serious infections over the years.
Photo: AFP
Wild boars
Wild boars have caused all sorts of havoc in France over the years. And while they might look adorable taking over a French beach (as they have been known to in the past) thy have also run amok in French villages an can cause panic when cornered and frightened like one did in the city of Toulouse before it jumped in the Canal du Midi.
Wild boar and piglets share French beach with bathers
Boars or sangliers as they are known n French will generally leave you alone and will run if they hear you coming, but if they feel in danger or cornered, especially if they have their young with them, then they could charge. 
But one of the biggest dangers caused by boars is the hazard they pose to drivers at night. They often forage by the side of roads and stray on to the tarmac and cause an accident. Drivers heading through forested areas at night are advised to be on the look out.
Photo: AFP
Far from the most dreaded creature on this list, but unlike many of the others, French cows have been responsible for the deaths of several humans. Hikers have been killed in the Pyrénées after being charged in recent years, and hill-walkers were killed in similar incidents in the Alps and the Pyrénées within a matter of days in 2010.

France is a popular destination for trekking during the summer months, with the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Auvergne region among others, all drawing thousands of walkers, who come to enjoy the stunning scenery.

The network of footpaths often passes through farmland and authorities are warning walkers not to get too close to cattle.

“There must be a certain distance and do not approach them. They are not pets,” said Major Pascal Sancho from a Pyrenees animal rescue centre.

“When you see that they are heading in a particular direction it is best to give them priority.”

“It must be remembered that mothers are protective of their young,” said adding that hikers should not allow their dogs to go anywhere near the cattle.

Photo: AFP
Violin Spider
In 2009, the city of Marseille was overcome with arachnophobia, as one British newspaper described it, when a resident came within hours of dying after being bitten by a “violin spider”(or brown recuse as they are otherwise known) in his bed. 
And in 2015 two women in the Harault and Gard departments had to have emergency surgery to avoid the spread of flesh-eating venom after being bitten by tiny spiders hidden in their trousers.
Reactions to bites can vary but a gangrenous ulcer can develop in some victims, destroying soft tissue and sometimes taking several months to heal. If untreated, it can lead to death. The spiders are native to the southern part of the United States but but have been recorded in France over the last 20 years.

A quick look at Google Images under the search term “brown recluse bite” leaves you in no doubt how bad things can get if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten.

The brown recluse is only dangerous when disturbed and likes to settle where it won't be found, in dark, quiet places such as cellars, attics and cupboards – hence its moniker.

Photo: oakley originals/Flickr
Asian hornet
The five-centimetre insect, which was accidentally introduced in France in 2004, has been decimating local bee populations for years as well as killing a number of people.
It has been responsible for at least four deaths in France, most recently last summer when a 60-year-old man with heart problems was stung on his face and neck in Brittany.
But even the more common variety of hornet (frelon) has killed people in France including two recently, one of whom was a tourist from Holland, who died after being stung on a campsite in the Drôme.
Indeed bee, wasp and hornet stings are responsible for around 15 deaths in France each year, most due to the victims suffering allergic reactions.
Asian hornet pictured in the French western city of Hede-Bazougesin 2018. Photo: AFP
Sometimes it's smallest creatures that pose the biggest threat. 
Ticks are found in forests and other humid green spaces and in 2016 they infected over 30,000 people with Lyme disease.
Although rare, it's wise to avoid Lyme disease if you can — typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash. If it's left untreated, infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system.
On top of that, it can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to those caused by other health problems.  
Photo: AFP

Member comments

  1. Thank you for these warnings. I am just about to move to the Herault district, so quite concerned.

  2. I have to advise folks about another potentially problematic pest that is a problem in the Mediterranean regions and that is the sandfly. If you have dogs that you take to the vetinaire, you will see big posters warning about leishmaniasis which is a life threatening infection to dogs spread by sandflies (particularly in these regions).
    I am a doctor and I have personally been ‘bitten’ by sand flies in this area. The bites are not too painful (not even noticed) at the time, but the red reactions can be really annoying over the next few days. These sandflies are only about 3mm long (stripped abdomen on close inspection) and they go for the lower leg and ankles in particular. The real worry is being ‘bitten’ by the female whereby eggs / parasites are deposited in the skin. If you get one of these it can turn very nasty indeed where the tissue around the eggs effectively dies. The cardinal sign is a black spot in the middle of the reddened area. This needs to be dug out as soon as you see / become aware of it. Use antiseptic etc. and go to a doctor if worried. The only places I have come across these is wooded areas and areas close to woodland and in the spring / summer. However, I guess (as the name suggests) they would be on or near beaches. The way we deal with them when they are around is to use DEET repellent and or to swat them as soon as they land on you, and of course, to leave the area. It is important to say that I am not an expert in this area and I have struggled to find robust information on the Web and some of it is contradictory. However, I have previously had bites on my ankles that has the ‘black spot’ that nearly drove me mad with itching. As soon as I dug out the black spot the lesion quickly healed – albeit with a permanent scar!

  3. You did not mention processionary caterpillars in your article on hazardous wildlife. Although their ‘processions’ are fascinating to see, their irritating hairs cause painful reactions in human beings and can kill dogs. Many pine trees have been taken down in urban areas, including our garden, because they contained caterpillar nests (resemble a large clump of spider web) from which descend these horrible beasts.
    It is also worth knowing that a tick bite produces a particular rash: a circle that gets larger, so immediate antibiotics are called for if this is the case.

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