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The grass snakes are back!

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 21 Jun 2010 at 11:52 AM

We came across grass snakes (Natrix natrix) regularly up at the vegetable garden this time last year and have been looking out for them again. We first knew that there were grass snakes about when I found one curled up in a compost bin a couple of years ago and then, last year, we found a discarded skin in one of the big compost heaps. We also saw them lounging in the sunshine on top of the compost, or at the doorways to their nests. Like lords of the manor, they were, spending their time sunbathing whilst we sweated in the garden.


 

Once again, this year they are in the compost heap and we found two of them under an old piece of carpet covering some grass cuttings. I didn’t want to disturb them, but did want to get some photographs, so my partner held up the carpet and I quickly took a few pictures. As luck would have it, one of the snakes had just shed its skin – a discarded skin was seen under the carpet - and the other was nearing shedding time. You can tell this because the skin around its eyes is loosening, which makes them look blue, whereas the snake which has already shed its skin has golden eyes.

 

 

This grass snake will soon shed its skin

 

 

This one has recently shed its skin

 

The interesting thing yesterday was to find two of them in the same spot; I haven’t seen that before and wondered if they had mated or were just taking advantage of a warm bed. If they have mated, the female will lay up to 40 eggs in June or July, probably in the compost heap, and the young should hatch some ten weeks later. If they survive to maturity, the male can reach up to 1m (30 inches) in length and the female up to 130cm (51 inches).

Grass snakes are not dangerous; they have no venom and are unlikely to try and bite you unless you handle one. What they will do if they are surprised is to behave as if they are about to strike, raising their heads and flicking their tongues in and out, which is what I saw yesterday. If they consider themselves cornered, they play dead, rolling onto their backs and letting their tongues hang out of their open mouths.

So, we now have a conundrum. We had been planning to turn the heaps soon, pulling out the old stuff and adding new stuff to the bottom, but now it looks like it will be better to wait until mid-August, when the eggs will have hatched and the young ones have moved away.

 

More about grass snakes

 

Comments

David Benson said:

Eek!

on 21 Jun 2010 at 01:22 PM

pushkin said:

Excellent photographs, although I'm far from a fan of finding snakes in the garden!  What a lot of eggs!

on 21 Jun 2010 at 01:30 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I'll take you to see them when you visit, David!

Pushkin, I can imagine you not being keen on the snakes where you are. Sure I'd feel the same!

on 21 Jun 2010 at 02:12 PM

johnhodgson said:

How are you going to keep the grass snakes away from that nice toad you showed us recently?   I suppose by encouraging wildlife you're unavoidably going to have carnage of some kind.   Do we need a league table of vulnerability so we know who to protect?

on 21 Jun 2010 at 02:25 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Hopefully that toad will too fat for the snake to eat! I think the idea is about balance - create the right environment and it will thrive, which means some inhabitants will end up being dinner for others. As long as there is room for them all, both the grass snakes and the toads will continue to live there.

Saying that, what we do have is little havens for them all - log/rock piles, compost heaps, long grass, the pond etc. - so each species has various hiding places.  

on 21 Jun 2010 at 05:03 PM

sue1002 said:

Up to 40 eggs eh, will you be providing up to 40 new compost bins/bays so the young can have a home each? ;-)

on 21 Jun 2010 at 05:25 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I missed a 'be' out.

on 21 Jun 2010 at 05:26 PM

Tutti Fruit said:

Cor, they look a bit larger than life! - nice close ups though. Cool name...Natrix natrix emphasizing their water loving nature i think..do they use their eyes much to see? I know their tongues are pretty useful, but just prior to shedding, those 'spectacles' look a bit foggy.  Perhaps they hide somewhere until it's all over?

on 21 Jun 2010 at 06:38 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Sue - no way! They'll just have to bunk up together :-)

Wisley Trainee/Sigrid - it is a cool name - rolls off the tongue nicely. I think you're right about them hiding until it's all over - maybe that's why they were under that bit of old carpet.

I have read that they use their tongues to 'scent' prey, so presumably they use it to detect potential predators as well. Handy if you can't see very well!

on 22 Jun 2010 at 04:17 PM