Kittric: Smooth Snake: Coronella austriaca  
Coronella austriaca
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The non-venomous smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is one of the six native land reptiles of the British Isles. Together with the sand lizard which is often found in the same locality, the smooth snake is the rarest of our reptiles.

The creature's common name of 'smooth snake ' derives from its scales which are flat and smooth and do not possess the ridge or 'keel ' which is found running down the middle of the scales of the grass snake and the adder.


The smooth snake is a smallish and slender snake which can grow up to a length of 80-cm (32-inches) although in Britain it grows to a length of up to 60-cm (24-inches). It is usually a dull brownish-red or gray in color with dark-brown or black markings on its back. Its markings are arranged in bars or two rowas of dots along its back and are quite distinct from the zig-zag pattern which is worn by the adder. The head, which broadens behind the eyes, is surmounted by a heart-shaped marking and an eyestripe extends from the head, along the side of the snake's neck and the fore part of the body. If the smooth snake's markings seem to make it conspicious in the open, they make it extremely difficult to see in the dappled shadows of the heather which abounds in its habitat.

The smooth snake, like the grass snake, has round pupils (cf: the adder or viper).

SCALES: Across body: 19. Ventral: 153-199. Subcaudal: 41-70.


The smooth snake is widely distributed; native to central and southern Europe as far north as northern Iberia and to the east of the Urals. It also occurs in the British Isles and Scandinavia.

In the British Isles it is confined to the heaths of Dorset, Hampshire and some in West Sussex and, together with the sand lizard, it is has the dubious distinction of being one of the rarest of our six native reptiles with only a few thausand left in the wild. Historical records show that the smooth snake previously inhabited counties adjacent to those in which it is found at present.


Smooth snakes are found in grasslands, wooded steppes, on the edges of forests and in hedges, in the rubble found at the foot of steep rocks, and on rocky outcrops. Sometimes they may inhabit gardens.

In many of the localities where the smooth snake is found, the rare sand lizard on which it preys also occurs.


Smooth snakes are solitary diurnal creatures which come out during the early evening in high summer. Not naturally aggressive a smooth snake will flee if it feels threatened. If it feels cornered a Smooth Snake will hiss threateningly and and ony then attack with an attempt to bite. Although small, the smooth snakes recurved teeth latch into flesh with great efficiently.

The snake's markings make it conspicious in the open but are ideally concealing in the dappled shadows of the heather amongst which it hunts - it basks in the sunshine to raise its body temperature entwined around the stems of heather where its patterning makes it extremely difficult to see. It is most often encountered under logs, rocks and other debris which is warmed by the sun.

They hibernate through the winter beggining in September or October, depending upon the weather. They emerge in April when they mate.

Smooth snakes, although non-venomous, are carnivorous and prey mainly on lizards including the rare sand lizard and common lizards and slow worms) and other snakes, including young vipers (or adders). They also take small mammals, particularly shrews and nestling rodents. Grasped by the smooth snake's recurved teeth, its prey is killed by suffocation as it is constricted by the coils of the snake's body before being swalled whole.

Ironically for a rare species which numbers only a few thausand in the wild, the smooth snake preys upon the equally rare and threatened sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) with whome it shares dry heathland habitats.


Smooth snakes mate on emerging from their winter hibernation.

These snakes are ovoviviparous: the females retaining the eggs within their bodies to give birth to live young (from 3-15 at a time) in September. The young, which range from 12.5 to 17.5-cm (5 to 7-inches) in length, are almost complete miniature adults. Occasionally whole eggs will emerge at the same time as the young in which case the young emerge from the eggs almost immedaitely.


   class: Reptilia
         order: Squamata
         suborder: Serpentes
             family: Colubridae
                Coronella austriaca, the smooth snake


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Snakes and Lizards
  by T.Langton, Whittet Books (1989)  

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