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Grass snake

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

Coiled up grass snake, close up of head

Sadly many people 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', which is an impressive performance that can involve the snake writhing onto its back and lolling its tongue out of its mouth.

Grass snakes 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.

Equally happy on land and in water, grass snakes can be spotted 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 that 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 fewer than 10 frogs.

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Last Edited: 16 November 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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