When we talk about snakes, we think directly of tropical countries. However, there are species that live in colder climates, and the Grass Snake is one of them. No reason to panic if you come across one: this reptile is non-venomous and we scare it as much as it scares us.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about this snake with an atypical appearance and behavior. Let’s go and discover it immediately !
Grass Snake Facts
The Grass Snake, also known as the “Water Snake”, is a semi-aquatic snake from the Colubridae family that is very adept underwater and can hold its breath for up to 30 minutes.
It is also a member of the Natrix family, which means “swimmer” in Latin. This is where its scientific name “Natrix Natrix” comes from.
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The Grass Snake comes out of hibernation during the month of March, the males being the first to emerge.
This reptile likes to “sunbathe” on deserted beaches near a shelter. It takes refuge a lot near flat stones, metal sheets or other debris that accumulate heat. However, it avoids exposure to the sun on the hottest days of summer.
Like all snakes, it is practically deaf. On the other hand, its well-developed sight allows it to hunt and detect its preys or a possible danger.
Its tongue, as for it, allows him to detect the odors. When it sticks out its tongue, it picks up the odorous particles in the air and these come to stick on it. When it retracts its tongue, these particles are sent to the Jacobson’s organ located at the top of the palate and equipped with sensory cells.
This snake is rather lively and fast. It is very shy and flees at the slightest signal to reach a deep cavity or an aquatic environment. Once the danger has passed, it can return to its initial position within minutes or never return and find a new place.
When it feels threatened and cannot flee, it secretes a foul odor and hisses while adopting an intimidating position. If he really can’t flee, he sometimes plays dead by standing motionless on the ground, with its mouth half-open and his tongue hanging out, without offering any resistance.
It is a diurnal species, but it can go out in the evening if the heat is too important during the day.
What Does a Grass Snake Look Like ?
The Grass Snake is a large and robust reptile. Its head is oval and slightly enlarged at the back, which makes it easy to differentiate from its body.
Its eyes, located on the side of its head (as well as its nostrils) stand out very strongly thanks to their bright orange or red color. These round and black pupils are a typical characteristic of the Iberian specimens.
Another striking feature of this species is the contrasting black lines on the scales of the lips. Like the viperine snake and other Iberian vipers, its body is covered with shiny scales with a keel in the middle.
Its color varies depending on the specimen. Its hue can go from brown or red to a greenish or even bluish coloration. Some even turn turquoise once they reach adulthood.
Its belly is generally of a much lighter color and has an inherent pattern in the form of black rectangular spots similar to a checkerboard. This pattern extends to its tail, so that the tip is completely black.
In juveniles, we find a yellow patch bordered of all around its neck, as if it was a collar. It is from there that comes its other nickname of “Ringed Snake“. Sometimes, the black spot around its penny can extend on the top of its head. This feature fades with age and also shortly before molting.
The baby Grass Snake also has a series of black spots all over its body, which strongly differentiates them from adults.
Grass Snake Size
Although this snake is completely harmless to humans, it can cause terror because of its imposing size of nearly 6.5ft (2m) in the female. The male, on the other hand, does not exceed 3ft (1m).
Confusion with other species
Small Grass Snakes are easily recognized by their inherent characteristic around their necks. However, adults can be confused mainly with the Montpellier Snake (Malpolon Monspessulanus), because of its uniform green color and robust body.
Picture: Montpellier Snake
But some details do not deceive: First of all, the bright orange or red color of its eyes allows to differentiate it. The head of the Grass Snake is also much thicker than that of the Montpellier Snake.
It is also confused with the Viperine Water Snake because, as its name indicates, this species is also aquatic and therefore shares the same habitat. However, it is very easy to differentiate them because their appearance is totally different.
Where Do Grass Snakes Live ?
The Grass Snake can be found throughout Europe (except in the north), Northwest Africa and Western Asia.
This aquatic snake remains much less water-bound than some other species. It likes to be near wetlands and waterways, such as meadows, rivers and forest clearings.
The territory covered by an adult is from 8 to 30 hectares, regardless of sex. Its daily range is usually no more than 32ft (10m) per day, although some individuals may range up to 1640ft (500m).
What Do Grass Snakes Eat ?
This ophidian feeds mainly on amphibians, especially toads, frogs, salamanders or newts, but also on fish. It can occasionally attack very small mammals and lizards.
Juveniles occupy more aquatic habitats than adults and feed mainly on larvae and small fish.
They always swallow their prey alive. When it feels in danger or is disturbed within an hour of ingestion, it may spit out its prey, sometimes still alive.
Grass Snake Predators
This reptile has several predators, both young and adult. They can be hunted by other aquatic animals, herons, birds and large mammals like otters.
To escape these predators, it relies on its camouflage and speed and hides in the water or in nearby plants.
It can also do the dead man’s technique, as we have seen previously. It positions itself on its back, mouth open and remains motionless so that the predator does not worry about it.
If it is captured, it will try to intimidate its opponent by raising a third of its body and flattening it like a Cobra, while emitting a hissing sound and giving headbutts, without ever biting.
Do Grass Snakes Bite ?
As we have seen before, the Grass Snake is non-poisonous and completely harmless to humans. This ophidian does not have teeth dedicated to the injection of venom.
Breeding begins during the spring season, usually in April. The males look for a large, stout female. These snakes are very peaceful species and it is rare to see them fighting over a single female.
Once mating is complete, the female seeks shelter to lay her eggs. She can travel more than a mile to find the most suitable egg-laying site. She always places herself near organic matter such as decaying tree stumps, near compost or manure because they give off heat.
The female can lay between 10 and 40 eggs depending on the speciem, a record among native snakes.
The juveniles hatch after 7 to 9 weeks, in late summer.
So, now you know everything about this aquatic snake with a very particular appearance. This snake has a passive and non-venomous behavior and does not present any danger and prefers to flee in case of danger.
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