Grass snake

Britain's largest reptile is shy by nature and wary of humans.

grass snake
A grass snake resting

Regrettably, many casual observers who are lucky enough to glimpse a grass snake are afraid of it, perhaps confusing this harmless reptile with the venomous adder. The grey/green grass snake is a placid, sun-loving creature that enjoys basking on grassy banks on warm summer days.

If frightened, the grass snake will either turn and run or 'play dead', an impressive performance that can involve the snake writhing onto its back and lolling its tongue out of its mouth.

Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) inhabit most of Europe, parts of North Africa and central Asia. They are not seen in Scotland, but dedicated snake-spotters can still find them in damp habitats around most of England and Wales. River banks, ponds and ditches are their preferred habitats, although they will also make a home of hedgerows, meadows and woodland margins.

Grass snakes are equally happy on land and in water, and walkers may spot them basking in the sun on the towpaths, or swimming across the canal.

From October to March, British grass snakes retreat to old rabbit warrens, wall crevices or similar sheltered spots to hibernate through the winter months. They emerge in the spring when they may be seen lurking around any garden ponds which can boast a plentiful supply of frogs and frogspawn. Grass snakes adopt a 'sit and wait' hunting policy. Any prey that comes within striking distance is caught in their large jaws and then swallowed whole. Studies suggest that an adult grass snake can survive for 12 months on less than 10 frogs.

Last Updated: 06 May 2012