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Natrix natrix (aka Ringed Snake, Water Snake)
This snake is typically olive-green, brown or grayish along on the back with two rows of small black spots arranged alternately. Along the flanks are black vertical bars. The characteristic feature is a yellowish, orange, pink or white patch either side of the neck forming an incomplete collar or ring.
Males and females are generally similar in appearance, although females are usually larger. They are usually 2½-3 feet long, but longer ones have been recorded.
Distribution and Habitat
The grass snake ranges from Britain through Europe and into central Asia, as well as northwestern Africa. It is most commonly found near ponds and streams, on marshy ground or in damp woodlands.
Frogs make up a major portion of the grass snake's diet, followed by newts, fish and tadpoles. Lizards and slowworms, shrews, mice, voles, and young birds are also taken on occasion. Most of the food is caught in the water. Smaller prey is usually swallowed while the snake is still submerged, while larger prey is brought to land before being swallowed. Most feeding is done in the early morning.
Mating takes place in April and May. Eggs -- 30 or 40 per clutch -- are laid in June or July, under heaps of decaying leaves or rotting vegetation, under hayricks or heaps of sawdust in sawmills, in compost or manure heaps. The eggs hatch in 6 to 10 weeks.
Other Habits and Behaviors
The grass snake's first line of defense is to strike as any poisonous snake would, but with its mouth shut. At the same it blows up its body and hisses. If this tactic doesn't work it will then emit an evil-smelling secretion that smells somewhat like that of a skunk. If still threatened, the snake will simply turn on its back, open its mouth, let its tongue loll, and hold itself rigid -- that is, play dead. If you were to turn the snake over on its belly at this point it would simply roll back over and continue to play dead, and it will continue to do so no matter how many times you turn it over.
Grass snakes are active by day. They are good climbers, but seldom go more than a few feet off the ground. They are good swimmers and take to water readily.
Grass snakes hibernate from October to April, but the period varies according to latitude, being shorter in the south. Usually many come together in holes in the ground, but smaller numbers may pass the winter under logs, boulders or piles of brushwood.
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This page was last updated on October 30, 2017.