common frog

Info & advice

Snakes: identification

Which species of snake did I see?

There are three native species of snake in the UK, plus the slow-worm – a legless lizard which looks like a snake. You are most likely to see grass snakes or slow-worms in your garden. The following tips should be useful for identification.




  • Very distinctive zigzag pattern
  • Males: grey with black markings
  • Females: brown with dark markings
  • Rarely seen in gardens as they prefer undisturbed habitats.


Grass Snake


  • Yellow and black ‘collar’
  • Commonly a shade of green or brown with ‘bar’ markings down each side
  • The snake most commonly observed in gardens
  • Hunt in ponds, canals and rivers.



Slow Worm 2008 FB (1)

  • Coppery, gold, brown or grey
  • Shiny appearance
  • Cylindrical body
  • Moveable eyelid allowing them to blink
  • Tail can detach if attacked
  • The most common reptile in gardens in England and Wales, often found underneath slabs and within compost heaps.


Smooth Snake

Coronella austriaca - Sarpele de alun - Silviu

  • Rare and secretive
  • Very unlikely to be seen in gardens as they depend almost wholly on heathland
  • Butterfly-shaped marking on the top of the head
  • Dark lines on the sides of the head behind the eyes.


How do I tell the difference between snakes and Slow-Worms?

Quick answer
Slow-Worms are shiny and can blink; they like to hide under things rather than bask.

Further information
Slow-Worms – as legless lizards – has the following lizard features which distinguish them from snakes:

  • Cylindrical body
  • Bullet-shaped head
  • Moveable eyelid allowing them to blink
  • Smooth, shiny appearance
  • Tail can detach if attacked.You may only catch a glimpse of the animal so ‘shiny appearance’ is the feature to keep in mind. Slow-worms also behave slightly differently to snakes – they prefer to warm themselves by sheltering under objects, like stones, patio slabs or in compost heaps, rather than basking out in the open.


I’ve seen a snake that does not match the description of native snakes, could it be an exotic species?

Quick answer
It could be a native snake with unusual colouring or it may be an escaped pet.

Further information
Occasionally exotic snakes appear in gardens; these are nearly always escaped/released pets. If the snake you have seen does not match any of the descriptions of native snakes contact the RSPCA. Do not attempt to catch the snake yourself as it may be venomous.


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