2 November 2012

Dragon of the Month: Grass Snake

2012 is the Chinese year of the Dragon, and each month Froglife has been meeting a different native amphibian or reptile in a monthly Croak.  November's pin up is the Grass Snake, and Conservation Youth Worker Rebecca Neal has been finding out more about this dramatic reptile...

"If you’ve ever had an exciting snake encounter in England or Wales, it was probably a Grass Snake. They are relatively common although thought to be in decline and can even be seen in your garden.

They can get quite big too; I remember once lifting a mat with some students and finding a massive female. Honest; she was THIS big (my hands are currently really far apart) I had to swallow back my own primal panic as visions of the cheesy horror film Anaconda ran through my mind.

They are, of course, in no way aggressive and definitely not venomous. In fact they are a bit wimpy and will usually either melodramatically play dead if threatened (in a proper comedy style by rolling on their backs, sticking their tongue out with their head lolling) or release a foul smelling white liquid from the base of their tail. Rarely if cornered they might hiss and “strike a pose” (did you see what I did there?)  but its all a bit of a bluff..."

Dragon Fact File:Grass Snake
Natrix natrix
A Grass Snake swimming, showing the stunning collar markings
A young Grass Snake playing dead
  • Males are up to 1m and females 1.5m
  • They love swimming and are often found in water looking for fish and amphibians
  • They lay their leathery eggs in rotting vegetation in June/July. They particularly like compost heaps
  • They hibernate between November and March
  • Grass snake are just starting to move north and some have been recorded in Scotland. Historically, there have been lots of records across mainland Scotland but these have been attributed to introductions or escapees. Recent records in Dumfriess and Galloway are presumed natural colonisation because of their close proximity to established English populations.
A Grass Snake showing its round pupils and bar like stripes on the sides of its body

  • It is easy to tell the difference between a Grass Snake and Adder but just to be sure, never pick up a snake in the wild
  • Grass Snakes have an obvious yellow collar on the back of their neck which adders do not have. Occasionally, just to keep you on your toes, individual grass snakes wont have this collar
  • Grass Snakes are usually olive green, adders are brown (female) or grey (male),
  • They have short black bars or spots along the side of their body, adders have a distinctive zig-zag pattern down the middle of their back
  • I wouldn’t recommend you get close enough if you’re not sure, but adders have cat-like slit pupils and red eyes and grass snake have round pupils

Photos: Tony Wharton, Tracey Farrer, Jules Howard

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