A Profile on Grass Snakes

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A Profile on Grass Snakes

Grass snakes, also known as the Barred grass snake or Natrix helvetica, are native to the UK. Usually found in England and Wales as well as southern parts of Scotland, the grass snake is Britain’s largest snake, as well as our largest terrestrial reptile. 

As summer approaches, grass snakes can often be seen swimming in ponds and basking in sunny grassland areas. In this article, we will delve a little deeper into some of the characteristics of the British grass snake.

All About Grass Snakes

Physical Characteristics

The grass snake is usually a grey-green or brown colour, with a yellow and black collar. It has black markings down its sides and a pale yellow, cream or light green belly.

Weighing on average 240g, the typical grass snake length varies between 90 to 150cm, however, some grass snakes can grow as long as 180cm. Females are usually larger than males.

These non-venomous snakes have an average lifespan of 15 to 25 years. They tend to be quite shy, timid creatures and will move away quickly or even play dead if threatened or cornered.

Habitat & Diet

Grass snakes prefer wetland habitats such as rivers and lakes, but they can also be spotted in dry grasslands, woodlands and gardens with ponds. They mostly feed on fish, birds, small mammals and amphibians such as toads, frogs and newts

As they do not have any venom, grass snakes have to hunt by striking out and grabbing their prey before swallowing it alive. They primarily hunt for their prey along the edges of streams, lakes, ponds and marshes as well as gardens, parks and meadows.

Hibernation & Breeding

Grass snakes will begin hibernation from October until March or April, depending on the weather. When they emerge from hibernation, they will usually sunbathe in the area in which they hibernated until they are ready to feed and find a mate.

The species will breed in April or May and females will lay between 10 to 40 eggs in June or July, usually in compost heaps or other rotting vegetation which provides natural incubation for the eggs. The eggs will hatch in early Autumn and the young snakes are born without the need for any maternal care.

Conservation Status & Threats

Biodiversity is under threat throughout the world and grass snakes and other native species of snakes and reptiles are also in decline.

Grass snakes are protected in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. They are also a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework making it illegal to injure, kill or sell grass snakes.

Their main predators include cats, foxes, badgers, hedgehogs and a variety of birds. To defend themselves, they will hiss and secrete a foul-smelling substance from their anal glands. They can also feign death by tying themselves up in knots, rolling their eyes upwards and sticking their tongue out of their open mouth.

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