Smooth snake

©Steve Davis

Smooth snake

Scientific name: Coronella austriaca
The rare smooth snake can only be found at a few heathland sites in the UK. It looks a bit like an adder, but lacks the distinctive zig-zag pattern along its back.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 50-70cm
Weight: 100g
Average lifespan: up to 20 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. Listed as a European Protected Species under Annex IV of the European Habitats Directive.

When to see

April to October

About

The rare smooth snake can only be found in a few places, often alongside the rare sand lizard because they both favour the same kind of sandy heathland habitat. As with other reptiles, smooth snake are cold-blooded, so bask in the sun during the day and hibernate from October to April when they would struggle to warm up enough to be active and hunt. In spring, males compete to win females who incubate their eggs internally and 'give birth' to 4 to 15 young in September.

How to identify

Similar in appearance to the adder, the smooth snake can be distinguished by its more slender body, round pupil and less well-formed dark pattern on its back. It is usually grey or dark brown in colour.

Distribution

Very rare, confined to sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey; reintroduced populations exist in West Sussex and Devon.

Did you know?

The smooth snake is a constrictor, coiling up around its prey to subdue it and often crush it to death. Harmless to humans, this snake preys on sand lizards, slow-worms, insects and nestlings. Despite its superb camouflage, the smooth snake does have predators: birds, such as pheasants, carrion crows and birds of prey, and mammals, such as red foxes, badgers and weasels. When caught, the smooth snake will strike, but its bite is not venomous, so this is just a deterrent.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working to restore and protect our heathlands by promoting good management, clearing encroaching scrub and implementing beneficial grazing regimes. This work is vital if these habitats are to survive; you can help by supporting your local Wildlife Trust and becoming a member or volunteer.