Adders can be up to 80cm in length and have a rather ‘stocky’ body. They are very distinct and can be identified by their zigzag pattern down the centre of their back and either a ’V’ or ’X’ marking on their head. They also have a vertical pupil and red iris. Grass snakes on the other hand, can be up to 150cm long! They are a grey-green colour with a yellow and black collar and dark bars along the side of their body. Grass snake’s eyes also have a circular pupil.
Grass snakes are the UK’s only egg-laying snake (grass snakes are not often found in Scotland and are mainly further south in Dumfries and Galloway), and they will have already laid their eggs in June/July with the eggs hatching in late August/early September. From September onwards as we head into Autumn, grass snakes will be preparing for winter, hunting for amphibians or fish in ponds, canals, and reservoirs. However, the adder will be giving birth to live young in August/September. Litters can range from three to twenty and the young will stay with their mother for a few days before fending for themselves. Adders like to spend their time in undisturbed habitats such as moorland, heathland, and woodland.
The smooth snake is the UK’s rarest reptile and is only found on the heathlands of Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and West Sussex. Their name comes from the fact the scales are smooth and flat, unlike the Grass Snake’s and Adder’s scales which have a ridge down the middle. They are a shy, secretive snake.
Female smooth snakes incubate their eggs internally and ‘give birth’ to 4-15 live young around September. The rest of the year is spent hunting for lizards, rodents and sometimes invertebrates; prey is subdued by constriction. Smooth snakes tend to bask entwined in heather, where they are well camouflaged, or under other objects.
Have you seen a snake near you? Are you able to identify it using the identification features above (we would be particularly interested in any sightings of grass snakes in Scotland)?
Make sure to record it on our Dragon Finder App, available for free on Android and Apple devices. You can download it here. All of the data collected is shared with the National Biodiversity Network and is available to view on their atlas here.