Factsheet

Smooth snake

The smooth snake is the rarest of the three snake species found in the UK.  It can only be found in isolated areas in a few counties of southern England.

Overview

IUCN Red List Status:  Least concern.

Distribution:   Very rare in the UK.  Only found on sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, along with reintroduced populations in Devon and West Sussex. 

Found in southern Scandinavia and the Baltic, scattered populations in western, central and eastern Europe, northern Turkey, the Caucasus, northern Iran and Kazakhstan.  Also found on the Italian islands of Elba and Sicily.

Habitat:  Sandy heathland. Often occurs in places where the sand lizard is found.

Life-span:  Up to 20 years.

Size:  60 - 70cm, females often bigger than males.  Weight: up to 100g.

Description:  Similar in appearance to the adder, but more slender.  Grey or dull brown with black bar markings or two rows of dots down the back.  Heart-shaped marking on top of the head. Circular pupils. Scales are smooth and flat, unlike those of the adder or grass snake.  

Food:  Small rodents, lizards, other smooth snakes(!) and occasionally invertebrates.  

Smooth snake habits

Adults emerge from hibernation in March/ April.  Mating takes place in April/ May, with females giving birth to up to 15 live young that look like miniature adults in September or October.  Females do not breed every year. They hibernate in groups from November through to March.

Smooth snakes are non-venomous constrictors and are harmless to humans.  They strike their prey swiftly and subdue it by crushing it in their coils. Once suitably weakened, the prey is swallowed alive.  Young smooth snakes feed exclusively on small reptiles.

In common with all of the UK’s reptiles, smooth snakes are ectothermic, meaning they cannot generate their own body heat.  They like to bask entwined in heather, so that they remain well camouflaged. They spend much of their time hidden in holes in the ground, loose soil and sand and in leaf litter or undergrowth.

Threats to the smooth snake

The main reason for the scarceness of smooth snakes is the destruction of their habitat - a problem they share with the sand lizard, with which they share much of their remaining territory.  However, they also have plenty of predators, including birds of prey, foxes, badgers, weasels, pheasants and crows. As a defensive mechanism, they can secrete a foul-smelling substance from their anal glands.  This is designed to put off predators!

Protecting the smooth snake

Smooth snakes are fully protected by law in the UK.  They cannot be killed, injured, traded, disturbed or have their habitats damaged or destroyed by humans.

Credits

Factsheet created 31/07/2018.  PL.

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