Smooth Snake

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Smooth Snake

The smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is Britain’s rarest reptile, found only on heathlands in Dorset and Hampshire and on one or two heaths in Surrey and West Sussex.

Many of the sites on which it occurs are also inhabited by the sand lizard.

The smooth snake is dependent on well managed heathland where it occupies mature vegetation that provides good cover. The smooth snake shares the slow-worm’s habit of hiding under stones, logs and other debris exposed to the sun.

Smooth snakes are smaller and more slender than other snakes, usually only growing to 60-70cm in length. They are generally grey or a dull brown colour with black markings arranged in bars or two rows of dots down the back. Smooth snakes nearly always possess a heart-shaped “crown” marking, which covers the top of the head An eye stripe is usually present that extends from the eyes along the side of the head. Its name comes from the fact that its scales are flat and smooth, unlike those of the grass snake and adder which have a ridge (or ‘keel’) down the middle of each scale.

Smooth snakes are non-venomous and feed mainly on common lizards, slow-worms and small mammals (especially shrews and nestling rodents), which are captured and constricted in the coils of its body. Live young, which look very similar to the adults, are ‘born’ in September. The smooth snake is a secretive animal and when it basks in the sun it does so entwined amongst the stems of heather plants where it is superbly camouflaged.

Due to its rarity, the smooth snake is strictly protected by British and European law which makes it an offence to kill, injure, sell/trade, capture or disturb them or damage or destroy their habitat.; or to possess or trade in them. A licence is required for some activities involving this species.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust