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What is a Grass Snake?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

A grass snake is a non-venomous snake native to continental Europe and parts of the United Kingdom. Its most significant distinguishing feature is the “collar” of striped skin found directly behind its head. During the warm months, the grass snake is frequently found near bodies of water, while it often winters by hibernating underground. It mates during the spring months, and its eggs hatch during the summer. As it is non-venomous, it sometimes defends itself by feigning aggression, playing dead, or emitting a foul odor.

One of the most noticeable characteristics of the grass snake is the “collar” of striped skin which encircles the area directly behind its head. This collar usually ranges from yellow to ivory in color. The rest of the snake’s skin is usually dark olive or brown with black spots, except for its cream-colored underside.

It is possible for mature grass snakes to reach a length of up to 6 feet (about 1.83 meters). Grass snakes of this length are unusual, however. More commonly, adult specimens grow to between approximately 2 and 4 feet (0.61 and 1.22 meters).

A grass snake may eat frogs.
A grass snake may eat frogs.

The grass snake’s diet consists primarily of small amphibians, such as frogs and toads. Consequently, it is often found near the bodies of fresh water that make up its prey’s habitat. It is capable of swimming and sometimes hunts in the water. Generally, it eats only live prey, which it swallows whole.

As a reptile, the grass snake is cold blooded, and thus its body cannot adapt to cold European winters. Therefore, it burrows beneath the ground to hibernate when the weather cools. It typically remains underground, protected from the elements, until late March or April.

Grass snakes mate in the spring, shortly after emerging from hibernation. An impregnated female generally lays from eight to 40 eggs, which hatch after approximately ten weeks of incubation. The eggs must be well protected during the incubation period, and grass snakes sometimes seek out the warmth of backyard compost heaps to deposit their eggs.

While the grass snake is non-venomous, it has several tactics it can employ to defend itself from predators. It can assume a coiled, aggressive-looking pose which frightens larger animals away by suggesting it is preparing to attack. In addition, it is capable of playing dead by going limp while letting its mouth hang open. Finally, it can drive away predators by emitting a foul-smelling fluid from its anal glands.

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    • A grass snake may eat frogs.
      A grass snake may eat frogs.