Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Grass Snakes...

We're very lucky to have several excellent, thriving local populations of Grass Snakes - by far the only species you can guarantee to see these days in south Somerset.

Adders have all but vanished, no doubt due to a number of reasons from habitat loss and fragmentation to an increase in disturbance and lack of good hibernation sites. Grass Snakes are altogether more hardy though and given the right sort of habitat and a good food supply, they can often be found in relatively high population densities. They can be found in a number of different habitats but are most frequent around water with lots of rough grassy margins that have places to bask along with cover to breed and hibernate (though I have found them under refuges on seemingly dry heathland before).

After setting out some artificial refuges at a local spot a couple of seasons ago, it's now paying dividends with frequent sightings of up to four or five individuals (see Dave Helliar's excellent photos in the previous post). I found a couple of large adult males at the weekend, including this beauty:

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica
When handled (as with most snakes) they always exude an unpleasant smelling musk from their anal gland to deter would-be predators, which makes some people back off immediately although I've got use to it over the years. This one was no exception. If that doesn't work they sometimes 'play dead' too, going limp, rolling onto their backs and letting the mouth fall open with tongue dropping out in the hope that the predator will give up and leave.

This one unusually decided to play dead while otherwise sitting up quite alert...which didn't have quite the same effect...

Grass Snake Natrix natrix helvetica
'Playing dead'
There's much more about Grass Snakes and other British reptiles on my reptile page.

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