Grass Snakes and Ponds
Grass Snakes, Latin name (Natrix Natrix), are the U Ks largest snake and are a protected species under the UK conservation ac. Also known as Ringed Snakes and Water Snakes, these snakes are non-venomous and therefore, no threat to us humans. Grass Snakes are very different in appearance to our British venomous Adders which are shorter in length and have a cream colored zigzag that runs down their backs with a cream/pale yellow colored V on their necks. Grass Snakes are dark green or brown with black spotted scales with a yellow collar. They are much larger and slimmer than Adders and adult females, can grow to a length of 100 cm and have occasionally been found to have grown to 150 cm in length.
Water Snakes hence one of the common names, are mainly found in fresh water habitats, and can often be found near lakes, ponds, ditches, streams and marshes. These locations are favored as their main diet consists of Amphibians and Fish. They are excellent graceful swimmers and it is quite a treasured sight to see one of these special snakes swimming across the top of your pond in the summer months in search of a meal. However, if needed, they will also eat small mammals and insects. Water Snakes don’t spend their entire time throughout the spring and summer around water and can often be found in open clearings, the edge of woodlands and, in grasslands basking in the sun on a hot summer’s day.
Between October and April Grass Snakes go into hibernation where they will sleep away the winter months and can be found underneath logs, stones, rotting vegetation or even tucked down the end of disused rodent burrow. Like Frogs, Toads and Newts, adults emerge in April and go on the hunt for a partner. Females lay eggs 6-8 weeks later during the months of June-July, and can lay anywhere between 8 to 40 eggs. Grass snakes prefer to lay their eggs in decomposing foliage or in urban garden compost heaps as the eggs will maintain a constant temperature of between 21 – 28 Celsius. The eggs will hatch in late summer/early autumn about 10 weeks later. Newly emerged miniature Grass Snakes are totally independent and will go on the hunt over the next few weeks for their first meals, but they too will go into hibernation when winter approaches.
Grass Snakes have quite a lot of predators and quite a few survival techniques when threatened. Foxes, Herons, Badgers and Herons will all favour Grass Snakes as a quick snack. I sometimes think nature is horrible but it always helps to see the bigger picture! However, these snakes have a few tricks up their sleeves. If caught, they secrete the foulest smelling liquid and I know this first hand and it’s certainly enough to put any predator off! If that does not work these amazing snakes will roll upside down and play dead with their mouths slightly ajar secreting blood! Now that is truly amazing!
I hope this article gives you an insight into one of the U Ks very special wild snakes, and that you might just be lucky enough to have some visit your water garden to set up home and colonise in your back garden.