ENCOUNTERED one of these fine fellows this morning while out canoeing – a perfect example of a British grass snake.
One of only three* native snake species to be found in the UK, it is a skilled swimmer and most likely to be spotted on the water as it pursues its prey.
They feed almost exclusively on amphibians (small mammals on occasion), although captive-bred specimens have been observed taking live earthworms. They will never eat dead prey.
Although they will display aggressive behaviour when feeling threatened, they are non-venomous and very rarely bite. Instead, their defence involves producing a curious-smelling secretion – a little like wild garlic.
If the garlic odour doesn’t work they then take things up a notch with a highly dramatic performance (quite apt, given the fact this one was spotted on the water in the shadow of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre) which involves going limp and playing dead. They will then often produce blood (autohaemorrhaging) from their nose before regurgitating the contents of their stomach.
They have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years, and the females can grow to an impressive 150cms long. Like all reptiles in the UK, they will hibernate – often underground – from October to April.
In England and Wales – where they are almost exclusively found in the UK – grass snakes are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
*The three distinct UK snakes are the adder, the grass snake and the very rare smooth snake. Although appearing like a snake, the ‘slow-worm’ is in fact a legless species of lizard.