10 December 2012

Dragon of the Month: Smooth Snake

Every month in the Chinese Year of the Dragon, Froglife has been looking at different reptile species found around the UK.  This month, Sivi Sivanesan considers whether the Smooth Snake is the fairest of them all...
“Not recorded in Britain until the 1850’s, this species has always been rare in the British Isles – being much more commonly spread throughout Europe both in more northern (Sweden and Norway) and western (Spain and Portugal) countries as well as though central Europe.
The Smooth Snake is habitat specific – recorded in lowland heaths and the immediately adjacent habitats.  Historically these habitats were more common in southern Britain; but activities such as development and intensification of agricultural practices resulted in losses to both the habitat and the species that relied on them.
Currently populations are highly restricted to Dorset and Hampshire, with a few sites in Surrey, and Berkshire. Reintroduction programmes run by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC-Trust), reintroduced smooth snakes to west Sussex and sites in Devon, Surrey and Hampshire where they had become extinct.

The rarest of our British Dragons is the Smooth Snake. Due to its rarity it is fully protected under UK and European law, protected against killing, injury, capture, disturb or selling this species or damaging or destroying its habitats.  To stand the best chance of seeing them, go out with a licensed expert and avoid unknowingly disturbing this brilliant species.   If you are lucky enough to live in counties that support them, look out for them in your travels – the fact file below will help you identify them.

Dragon Fact fileSmooth Snake

Coronella austriaca
A Smooth Snake basking in heathland
Its common name comes from the smooth feel of its scales which are un-keeled. Its scientific name Coronella comes from crown – due to the darker patterning on the crown of its head.

Adult length = 60cm.

Found only in lowland heath and immediate adjacent habitats in parts of southern Britain.

Classed as decreasing Globally, however listed as least concern globally due to its wide distribution at the European level.

Smooth snakes might get confused with Adders due to their patterning and location, here are a few handy comparisons to remember

Smooth snake

Pairs of irregular spots that often join together and become less distinct towards the end
Zig Zag pattern
Dark crown or heart shaped marking on crown of head
V shaped pattern on crown of head
Round pupils and distinctive eye strip on side of head
Vertical pupil (slit like)
Up to 55cm – adult length
Up to 55cm (male) up to 70cm – (female)
Restricted distribution to southern Britain
Wide spread distribution on mainland Britain
Extremely rare and localised and declining.
Rare and declining
Base colours under patters – steel-grey, ginger light brown or yellowish
Base colours vary from various shades of brown, grey, brick-red, purplish and black.
Smooth scales
Keeled scales 
Heart shaped mark on crown of head,round
 pupiles and paired markings
V shae on head, vertical slit-like pupil
zig zag markings
Smooth un-keeled scales
Keeled scales as seen on an adder
visable on this shed skin as a line across the
centre of each scale

Photos by Dr Silviu Petrovan, Matt Wilson and Laura Brady

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