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The Grass Snake



Grass Snake
This Grass Snake was discovered on Malva Roman Castrum land, near water. "Sisiila" was freed after being photographed. They are harmless, and common throughout most of Europe.

In Romania the snake is called "sarpe de casa" (translated literally, "home snake"). In the Filiaşi area, the snake can be about 1m long, and it is not regarded as a bad snake, but lives near houses and eats mice, birds, milk, fish etc. This is the only kind of snake that occurs in Oltenia.

In the east side of country, (Dobrogea) the so called "sarpele casei" is very important. No one kills this snake because it is considered as a protector of the house, a help against mice and insects. In the Danube delta, they are very big and strong and they eat a lot of fish.

Many times, on the Jiu river Dr Gheorghe has seen snakes like this hunting small fish and eating them. Their great enemy is the stork and some times men.

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe




Grass Snake
The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) is the best known european snake. It is widespread throughout Europe and occurs from England to Russia, from Spain to Finland. Only decades ago, this reptile was very common, especially in habitats associated with water. But in our days such natural habitats are rare, at least in congested urban areas. Grass snakes feed on amphibians, fish, small mammals and, to a lesser degree, on young birds. Mature females can be up to 200 cm long, but usually reach a length of 100 - 150 cm. The males are smaller. The typical characteristic of central european subspecies is the yellowish or white 'half-moon' on both sides of the neck. The body colouration is variable, most specimens are grey or olive green with dark spots or bars along their sides. Needless to say, N. natrix is harmless.

Text: http://www.oeko-msc.de/rept3-en.htm

Photo: Adrian Gheorghe


The following description comes from G.A. Boulenger's The Snakes of Europe, originally published in 1913 by Methuen & Co. Ltd. of London. Some systematic changes have occurred since ths was first published, and a few other species are now known to inhabit Europe, but the work is still a fascinating biogeographical study. The text is now in the public domain.

TROPIDONOTUS NATRIX, Linnaeus

(Ed.: Since this was published in 1913, the name has been changed to Natrix natrix)


(Natrix vulgaris, Laurenti; Coluber torquatus, Lacepède)

The Grass-Snake, or Ring-Snake

Grass Snake Form. - Moderately slender; snout short, obtuse, not prominent; eyes and nostrils lateral, the former moderately large. Tail four to six and a half times in the total length.


Grass Snake Head-Shields.- Rostral broader than deep, visible from above. Nasal divided, very rarely semidivided. Internasals at least as broad as long, trapezoid, shorter than the prefrontals. Frontal broader than the supraocular, once and one-third to once and a half as long as broad, as long as or a little shorter than its distance from the end of the snout, shorter than the parietals, not in contact with the preocular. Loreal deeper than long. One (rarely two) pre- and three (rarely two or four) postoculars. Temporals 1+ 2. Upper labials seven (rarely six or eight), third and fourth (or fourth and fifth) entering the eye. Four or five lower labials in contact with the anterior chinshields, which are shorter than the posterior.


Scales - with two apical pits, in nineteen rows, strongly keeled on the body, of outer row smooth or faintly keeled. Ventral shields 157 to 181; anal divided; subcaudals 50 to 88.

Coloration. - Very variable. We shall first describe the typical form, and then allude to the principal varieties and individual variations with which we are acquainted.

Grass Snake Grey, bluish-grey, olive, or brown, above, usually with black spots or narrow bars on the back, and vertical bars on the sides; upper lip whitish or yellowish, with the sutures between the shields black; the preocular, and sometimes the postoculars, yellow in the young; a white, yellow, or orange collar on the nape, sometimes uninterrupted, more often divided in the middle, bordered behind by two black subtriangular or crescentic blotches, which usually meet on the median line; the bright collar often becomes faint, or even entirely disappears, in large females (Plate II., first figure); belly usually checkered black and grey or white, more rarely grey with small black spots, or entirely black. Iris dark brown or reddish-brown, with a golden circle round the pupil. This is the form found in England and Central Europe and in some parts of Southern Europe.




In Jersey, in the Spanish Peninsula, and in Cyprus, the white or yellow collar, which is always present in the very young, soon disappears, and so does usually the black collar, which is either much reduced or entirely absent (var. astreptophorus, Seoane). Some large specimens from the Spanish Peninsula are uniform olive, without any markings.

Grass Snake Another variation (Plate 11, third figure), rare in France, but common in Italy, SouthEastern Europe, and Asia Minor (var. persa, Pallas; bilineatus, Bibr.; muronim, Bonap.) has the collar well marked, though widely interrupted in the middle, and a white, yellow, or orange streak extends along each side of the back, which may bear the usual black markings in addition.


In some specimens from Austria and Corfu (var. sublasciatus, Werner) the belly is white, with black bars occupying the free edge of each ventral shield.

Grass Snake A very remarkable variety (var. cettii, Gené from Corsica and Sardinia (Plate II., second figure) is grey or olive above, with the black markings confluent into more or less regular annuli, which are nearly as wide as the spaces between them; these annuli are often broken up on the middle line of the back, and alternating; the collar is absent, or is transformed into the first annulus, and the upper surface of the head is more or less spotted or blotched with black. This pattern is most distinct in young and half-grown specimens; in large examples the annuli may break up into spots, disposed with great symmetry in transverse series. The belly is black, spotted with white.


A specimen 20 inches long, from Bona, Algeria (Lataste collection), has the posterior half of the head, from between the eyes and behind the postocular shields, of an intense black, followed by the usual yellow and black collar; two light dots close together on the parietal shields.

Some specimens are entirely or nearly entirely black. In the var. picturatus, Jan, from the Caucasus, the upper parts are sprinkled all over with light dots, and the yellow collar is present; the belly is grey, dotted with black, and with white spots on the sides. In others the body is black above, and checkered black and white beneath (var. scutatus, Pall.), or entirely black (var. ater, Eichw.). This melanism never appears until the second or third year of life, the young being marked like the typical form.

Albinos have occasionally been met with, yellowish flesh-colour with reddish markings, and a white or yellow collar, the eye and the tongue red. Such an albino, from Horsted Keynes, Sussex, is preserved in the British Museum. A remarkable aberration, to be regarded as an imperfect albino, has been found in Dorsetshire, and described as uniform whitish, with a well-defined broad longitudinal central dorsal pale yellow-brown band.

Size. - May reach a length of 6 feet 8 inches. Such giants, females, known from Sardinia, Sicily, and Istria, are, however, very exceptional, individuals of this species seldom exceeding a length of 4 feet. The largest British specimen on record, from Wales, is stated to measure 5 feet 10 inches. Males rarely exceed 3 feet.

Monstrosity. - A dicephalous young, with the two well-formed heads side by side, is preserved in the British Museum, and several others have been described, one being reported to have lived for about a month.

Distribution. - Tropidonotus natrix occurs all over Europe, with, of course, the exception of Ireland, as far north as the extreme south-east of Scotland, and the sixty-fifth degree in Scandinavia and Finland, and as high up as 7,450 feet in the Italian Alps. With the exception of a few districts in England and in Central Europe, as well as in the extreme north, it is common everywhere, in the north as well as in the south. On the Mediterranean islands it is absent from the Baleares and Malta. In North Africa it is known from Algeria and Tunisia, north of the Atlas, where it does not seem, however, to be at all common. It has a wide range in Asia, extending eastwards to Lake Baikal, and southwards to Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Northern Persia. In the south-east of its range, the bilineated variety predominates over the typical form. The melanistic so-called varieties are not geographically restricted, but occur all over the habitat of the species, though not recorded from England.

Habits. - Although fond of water, and often seen swimming in ponds or streams or creeping by the water's edge, this snake is far less aquatic than its two congeners described hereafter; it often occurs on dry chalk hills or in woods far from any water. It is moderately agile in its movements, and easily caught, on which occasions it hisses loudly and emits a nauseous smell from its anal glands, together with the renal dejections, but makes no attempt to bite; exceptionally an individual may go so far as to strike with open mouth, but cases of this snake really biting are extremely rare. However, Gené says of the male of his Natrix cettii, "iracundum et mordacissimum animal." Dr. Gadow relates his experience with aggressive specimens which inhabited a swamp with a little stream to the north of Oporto, close to the coast. To his utter surprise, some of them actually made for him, swimming along rapidly with the head erect, about 6 inches above the water, and darting forwards with widely opened jaws; but they did not bite. According to Professor Kathariner, this snake when caught has been observed to sham death, lying rigid and motionless, with open gape. Some specimens do well in captivity, and are known to have lived for many years; others refuse all food and die of starvation. After a time they become tolerably tame, and cease to produce the offensive odour when handled.

The food consists of frogs and toads - the latter being preferred notwithstanding their poisonous secretion, which protects them from the attacks of most animals - occasionally of newts, seldom of fish; these snakes are reported to have a predilection for tree-frogs, and to feed occasionally on mice and birds, but most observers agree that they will not take anything higher in the zoological scale than frogs. The prey is swallowed alive, and, if not very large, four or five frogs or toads are often taken in succession; a case is known of a snake having swallowed twenty very small frogs at one meal. The young feed on worms and batrachian larvae, in addition to very small frogs and toads.

The Grass-snake gets on very well with the Adder, to whose venom it is immune.

It has more than once been met with swimming in the sea, and a case is reported of one having been captured in the open sea twenty-five miles from the nearest land, no doubt carried away by the current, but still perfectly lively.

The hibernating season is spent in holes in walls or at the root of trees, often under manure-heaps, and the awakening occurs in March or April, soon to be followed by the first exuviation and the pairing.

Reproduction. - Pairing takes place in April or in May, according to the climate, and the eggs are laid between June and August, the young emerging six to ten weeks later. It isprobable that a second pairing occasionally takes place in the autumn, as eggs have sometimes been found in manure-heaps at the end of winter. Females do not breed until about 2 feet long, males a little sooner. The eggs number 11 to 48, according to the size of the female, and, after being produced in a string, stick together in a mass, without any regularity.



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