I was unaware until recently that grass snakes could swim. In fact, they are very strong swimmers.
Last summer, I was sat on the bank of my local Angling Club’s premier Stillwater, hoping that the next bite would be the big one. My float had not moved for a while and I was beginning to doze off in the sultry, warm sunshine when suddenly, I looked up to see something long, slim and greenish swimming past. I never knew until that day that grass snakes could swim. Since then, I have found out that they are in fact, very strong swimmers.
Grass Snake Facts
Grass snakes are Great Britain’s largest reptile and can grow up to 1.9m (6 ft 3 in) in length although this is very rare. More often found in low areas of England and Wales, it is very unusual to find one in Scotland. They are often found near water but not always; in fact, one of their other, rarely used names is that of the Water Snake. It is not unusual to encounter them in farmlands and open woodlands, well away from water. The grass snake also goes by the name of the Ringed Snake, which is most likely, a reference to the black bordered, yellow collar behind its head (sometimes is white or orange). More typically, the female will reach a length of 3½ feet with the male approx. 8 inches shorter and with a smaller girth. It has a long head, which is clearly distinct from its body, and the body colour can vary from green, to brown, to grey and black or a mixture.
What Do They Like To Eat?
They generally feed on small amphibians such as frogs and toads but also will eat fish often searching at the water’s edge for their prey. Generally active by day, they are not aggressive and seldom bite. It is a little known fact that the grass snake is actually venomous, but the venom is only toxic to small mammals and totally harmless to humans.
How Do They Spend Their Day?
The grass snake generally spends the winter underground in an attempt to avoid the cold weather. When spring approaches, the male will emerge, spending his day basking in the early year sunshine in an attempt to raise his body temperature and metabolism. The female comes out in early April ready for immediate mating. The females will lay their 30-40 eggs in hollow logs or under manure piles, compost heaps or haystacks. The young are about 7 inches long when hatched and are immediately independent.
Grass Snake (ParanoidCamera)
Are They Dangerous?
When threatened a grass snake will hiss and strike but rarely bite. They are generally very alert and will make off at the first sign of any danger. If cornered they are able to feign death and if handled they may excrete a lingering, foul smelling urine. They are protected in Great Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is illegal to kill, injure or sell grass snakes.
So next time I am sitting at the water’s edge, waiting for Moby Dick to bite, I will keep a look out for the humble grass snake having a dip!