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UK Snakes - How to identify

One Voice for Animals UK Guest Blog by The Wildlife Trusts


Adder
Adder by Jon Hawkins

There are three species of snake native to the UK: grass snake, adder and smooth snake. Depending on where you are will affect what type of snake you're more likely to see.


ADDER

Our only venomous snake, the shy adder, (Vipera berus) can be spotted basking in the sunshine in woodland glades and on heathlands.

Species information

Category: Reptiles

Statistics: Length: 60-80cm and Weight: 50-100g

Average lifespan: up to 15 years

Conservation status: Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see: March to October


About

The adder is a relatively small, stocky snake that prefers woodland, heathland and moorland habitats. It hunts lizards and small mammals, as well as ground-nesting birds, such as skylark and meadow pipit. In spring, male adders perform a 'dance' during which they duel to fend off competition to mate. Females incubate the eggs internally, 'giving birth' to three to twenty live young. Adders hibernate from October, emerging in the first warm days of March, which is the easiest time of year to find them basking on a log or under a warm rock.


How to identify

The adder is a greyish snake, with a dark and very distinct zig-zag pattern down its back, and a red eye. Males tend to be more silvery-grey in colour, while females are more light or reddish-brown. Black (melanistic) forms are sometimes spotted.


Distribution

Found across the country, except for the Isles of Scilly, the Channel Islands, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.


Habitats


Did you know?

The adder is the UK's only venomous snake, but its venom is generally of little danger to humans: an adder bite can be painful and cause a inflammation, but is really only dangerous to the very young, ill or old. If bitten, medical attention should be sought immediately, however. Adders are secretive animals and prefer to slither off into the undergrowth rather than confront and bite humans and domestic animals; most attacks happen when they are trodden on or picked up. Instead, they use their venom to immobilise and kill their prey of small mammals, nestlings and lizards.


Grass snake ctpt David Chamberlain
Grass snake ctpt David Chamberlain

The grass snake (Natrix Helvetica) is our longest snake, but don't worry if you find one in the compost heap - it's harmless! Look out for this green and yellow beauty in grasslands and wetlands, too.

Species information

Category: Reptiles

Statistics: Length: 90-150cm and Weight: 240g

Average lifespan: 15-25 years

Conservation status: Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see: April to October


About

Our largest snake, the grass snake, is particularly fond of wetland habitats, but can also be found in dry grasslands and in gardens, especially those with a pond nearby. During the summer, grass snake can be spotted basking in the sun near their favourite ponds or swimming in the water.


They hunt amphibians, fish, small mammals and birds. Females lay 10 to 40 eggs in rotting vegetation, such as compost heaps, incubating them until they hatch in early Autumn. Like all reptiles, grass snake hibernate, usually from October to April.


Note

The British population of grass snake belongs to the distinct subspecies Natrix natrix helvetica, but new research published in August 2017 proposed that it should be elevated to full species status, with the name barred grass snake, Natrix helvetica.


How to identify

The grass snake is usually greenish in colour, with a yellow and black collar, pale belly, and dark markings down the sides. Females are bigger than males.


Distribution

Widespread in England and Wales, but absent from Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isles of Scilly and most of the Channel Islands (they are found on Jersey).


Habitats


Did you know?

When threatened by one of its many predators, the grass snake often 'plays dead', perhaps making itself less appealing to eat. Predators include badgers, red foxes, domestic cats, hedgehogs and a number of birds; when caught, grass snakes hiss and release a foul-smelling substance from their anal gland. Although they may also strike with the head, they do not bite and are harmless to humans.


Smooth snake by Steve Davis
Smooth snake by Steve Davis

The rare smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) can only be found at a few heathland sites in the UK. It looks a bit like an adder, but lacks the distinctive zig-zag pattern along its back.

Species information

Category: Reptiles

Statistics: Length: 50-70cm and Weight: 100g

Average lifespan: up to 20 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Listed as a European Protected Species under Annex IV of the European Habitats Directive.

When to see: April to October


About

The rare smooth snake can only be found in a few places, often alongside the rare sand lizard because they both favour the same kind of sandy heathland habitat. As with other reptiles, smooth snakes are ectotherms (their body temperature depends on the temperature of their environment), so bask in the sun during the day and hibernate from October to April when they would struggle to warm up enough to be active and hunt. In spring, males compete to win females who incubate their eggs internally and 'give birth' to 4 to 15 young in September.


How to identify

Similar in appearance to the adder, the smooth snake can be distinguished by its more slender body, round pupil and less well-formed dark pattern on its back. It is usually grey or dark brown in colour.


Distribution

Very rare, confined to sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey; reintroduced populations exist in West Sussex and Devon.


Habitats


Did you know?

The smooth snake is a constrictor, coiling up around its prey to subdue it and often crush it to death. Harmless to humans, this snake preys on sand lizards, slow-worms, insects and nestlings. Despite its superb camouflage, the smooth snake does have predators: birds, such as pheasants, carrion crows and birds of prey, and mammals, such as red foxes, badgers and weasels. When caught, the smooth snake will strike, but its bite is not venomous, so this is just a deterrent.


 

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So hard because I took in a female cat that owners dumped but I need her spayed because the male cats are waiting outside for her but I can't afford it and cat's protection are not doing it anymore so I'm not sure what to do because she wants to go outside. This poor cat had been pregnant 6 times that I know of before owners dumped her so it's so sad and I don't know any where else to help get her spayed.

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