July 16th was World Snake Day! While snakes are threatened by many of the same issues that affect a range of wildlife – habitat loss and fragmentation,
road mortality, climate change and disease – persecution and negative attitudes toward snakes may be the biggest barrier to their conservation. To
celebrate World Snake Day, read on for a few facts about Great Britain’s native scaly friends…..
Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
- The grass snake is Britain’s largest terrestrial reptile and the only egg-laying snake.
- Grass snakes can live for up to 15 years.
- Hatchling snakes escape from the eggs by chipping at the shell with an egg tooth, which is lost shortly after hatching.
- Well adapted swimmers, grass snakes are able to stay submerged for over half an hour.
- Relying on wariness for protection, the grass snake often ‘plays dead’ when threatened, which may dissuade certain predators from killing it.
- When caught, the grass snake hisses loudly, releases pungent and foul-smelling substances from the anal gland, and will frequently strike with the
head, although it does not bite.
Adder (Vipera berus)
- The adder is the only venomous snake native to Britain.
- Unlike most reptiles, adders do not lay eggs. Young snakes are born about the size and shape of an earthworm.
- Litters range in size from three to 20, and the young stay with their mothers for a few days.
- Unusually for snakes, the sexes are possible to tell apart by the colour. Females are usually brownish in hue with dark-brown markings, and the males
are grey with black markings.
- During the mating season, males engage in combat known as the ‘adder dance’. Rivals will raise the front of their bodies vertically and make swaying
movements and attempt to push one another to the ground.
- Relatively speaking, adder bites are not highly dangerous. In Britain there have been only 14 known fatalities since 1876.
Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca)
- Great Britain’s rarest native reptile, the smooth snake, is restricted to dry heathland habitats in the south of England.
- Smooth snakes are ovoviviparous. Meaning that juveniles hatch out of eggs internally and are born live.
- Juveniles feed almost exclusively on other reptiles, often taking prey almost twice their own size.
- The scales of the smooth snake are not keeled (ridged along the centre of the scale) like those of adders and grass snakes, and may be used to identify
a shed skin.