Typically grey to green in colour (can be as dark as black in colder areas), with distinctive banding along the entire length of its body. Yellow collar tends not to be as obvious as the similar Natrix natrix in Europe. Can reach over a metre in length.
Western Europe including UK, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy and France. N. Helvetica was separated as a species from N.natrix, the species of grass snake found east of the River Rhine in the rest of Europe in 2017.
Preferred habitats are normally woodland and “edge” habitats (e.g. field margins, woodland borders, pond edges). Often found in and near wetland habitats, dry grasslands and even gardens. Need ample refuge areas, but also open areas to allow for basking for thermoregulation.
Main prey items are amphibians, fish, small mammals and birds, although they have been known to occasionally eat ants, larvae and even earthworms.
Non-venomous and very shy. A species that rarely bites, their main defence strategy is to faking death when cornered, adopting a limp body position and producing a foul smelling excretion. Excellent swimmers, regularly sighted swimming in ponds and lake edges. Like all reptiles, these snakes are reliant on the environmental temperature, so they spend the winter months underground due to the more stable temperatures. Breeding occurs in April as soon as females emerge, with eggs being laid in June-July in areas of rotting vegetation such as compost heaps.
The barred grass snake is widespread throughout England and Wales. They are completely absent from Ireland Isle of Scilly and the Channel Islands, and only found in southern Scotland occasionally. Grass snakes are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the UK. It is therefore illegal to injure, kill or sell them.
A lack of up to date information regarding the grass snake population in the UK means that there is still uncertainty on the population trends and their status. Potential threats are predation, not only by birds of prey, foxes and other wildlife, but also by domestic cats and dogs. Habitat management changes could see the disappearance of crucial habitat features ideal for breeding, overwintering and basking as well as the threat of climate change in the future affecting their distribution within the UK.
Our grass snakes are near the front of the park, in our open top reptile pits. Be sure to head over in the spring to spot the emerging males first, basking in the sun to warm up ready for the females’ appearance in April.
Did you know?
- Grass snakes are the UK’s longest snake (our largest terrestrial reptile)
- Grass snakes are the UK’s only egg laying snake.
- The black markings on their underside are unique to each individual.