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Sunny days for snakes

Lovely hot summer days are really good for finding basking snakes enjoying the summer warmth. We only have three snakes in this country and the smooth snake is not usually found in the Southwest as it tends to live more in the south. The ones that we are likely to see are the adder and grass snake. The adder is the only venomous snake that we have, and even then, a bite is not likely to be fatal although certainly causing discomfort with swelling. The venom is used just to paralyse its prey which can be small mammals and ground nesting birds. The adder has a zig zag pattern down it’s body.

The most common one is the grass snake which can be up to a metre long and we do get a lot of calls about them in the summer. The rhines around us are very suitable habitat. If you have a compost heap, they will often lay eggs there as it is nice and warm.  A pond in your garden means you probably have your own resident snake which will mean that you have a healthy garden. So, if you see a snake with a collar behind its head that can be coloured cream to orange and even red, with an olive-green body, you have a grass snake – especially if it is swimming!

A typical situation for us would be where a grass snake has managed to slip through netting over a pond into the water, but having eaten a frog or fish is now too fat the get through the mesh and gets tangled up. We can soon release them from the netting and let them go. They are a very docile snakes and don’t bite. As a defence it will often pretend to be dead with its mouth open or it can also produce a very strong distasteful smell. This can sometimes be useful, especially when a cat has brought a snake into someone’s house and the quick-thinking person in the house has put a washing up bowl over it. This means when you attend, you really don’t know what kind of snake is under there, but if there is this distinctive smell, I’m quite happy to grab it when the bowl is lifted.

I almost got myself into trouble when I went with a volunteer to remove a snake at a local address. When we got there, the lady was waiting for us at her front door. She showed us into the house and there was this terrible smell. I nearly said ‘It’s got to be a grass snake’ because of the smell. Luckily, I didn’t because the lady took us through the house into her back garden where the grass snake was. So, I don’t know what the smell was in the house, but it was nothing to do with the snake!

Please don’t kill a snake if you see one. They are far more frightened of you than you are of them. With habitat loss so many of our reptiles, snakes and lizards are reducing in numbers. They all play an important part in our patchwork quilt of wildlife and deserve to be left alone. If you have any concerns, take a picture and contact us and we can advise you as to which snake it is and what to do. 01278 783250

Pauline Kidner April 9th 2024

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