The non-poisonous British grass snake, sometimes known as the barred grass snake or ringed snake, belongs to the subspecies Natrix natrix helvetica which is found throughout Western Europe.
The female grows to a length of one metre (3 feet) while the male is considerably smaller, reaching 60cm (2 feet).
Colouring is similar in both of the sexes with the upper side being an olive-brown with vertical black bars along the flanks and lips. There are two yellow/orange crescent-shaped patches on the nape of the neck behind which are two black triangular areas. These markings lead to the snakes sometimes being called 'ringed snakes' although the ring is sometimes missing in older females. The upper lip is white with a black edge and the belly is chequered with black and white.
The pupil of the grass snake is round unlike that of the adder (Vipera berus) which is slit-shaped.
Grass snakes have been known to live for up to nine years in captivity.
In the British Isles, the grass snake is distributed as far north as the Scottish border counties. Its absence from Ireland suggests that its ancestors arrived in the British Isles during the period about 10,000 years ago after the last Ice Age when Britain was still joined to continental Europe by a land bridge but the Irish Sea had already formed.
The snakes' range is governed by climate as the eggs must be incubated at a minimum temperature of 21°C.
The snakes are usually seen near ponds, ditches, streams field borders and hedgerows. Sometimes they are seen swimming as they are strong swimmers.
Grass snakes often bask near the undergrowth into which they disappear when approched as they are sesitive to vibrations in the ground.
Cornered, they may put on an aggressive display, hissing as they dart their heads around, but they are defenceless. They sometimes protect themselves from enemies by feigning death.
Like all our native British reptiles, Grass snakes hibernate through the winter (from October until March).
Grass snakes hunt fish, frogs, toads, newts and slugs. They also take young birds and birds' eggs.
The female lays between thrity and fourty eggs in June and July. The eggs have an incubationperiod of between six and ten weeks. As they require a minimum incubation temperature of 21°C, this limits the distribution of the species.
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