Smooth snake

brown snake

Profile

The smooth snake is a small, non-venomous snake living in Europe. These animals are called smooth snakes because they lack the ridges on their scales that most other snakes have. These snakes are typically gray or brown in color. The picture below shown a brown individual, different from the gray one shown above. One of the features this snake has is the darker stripes extending from each eye, going back toward the tail a little ways. This is more easily seen in the picture below than in the one above. Another feature, this one more visible in the picture above, is the marking right above the snake’s head. It looks like the top half of a heart. There are stripes of darker colored scales along the back. There can be one, two, or three of these stripes.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Size

Smooth snakes are not very long, but they aren’t extremely short either. Adults are typically between 16 and 24 inches (40-60 cm) long, but they can reach up to 32 inches (80 cm). Males are usually smaller than females, but their tails are usually longer. Females usually weigh about 3.5 ounces (100 g) while males are more like 3.2 ounces (90 g). As you can see this is not a big difference.

Diet and hunting

As with many snakes, smooth snakes will eat almost any living creature they can catch. These include lizards, smaller snakes, rodents, and young birds. Sometimes they even eat members of their own species! Theses snakes are a mix of sit-and-wait predators and predators that chase after their prey, because they do both. They sit and wait for their prey to come close, then they stalk the animal carefully after they sense it. They strike and use their multiple rows of backward-facing teeth to hold on to their prey. The predator will then coil around its prey. This is not to constrict and kill it, but to subdue it. They then maneuver their next meal so it can go down their throat head first. Most of their prey is eaten while it is still alive.

Habitat and range

Smooth snakes live mainly in dry plain areas, referred to as heathland. The picture below shows what heathland looks like. It is famous for the purple flowers (heather) that grow there.

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As you can see in the range map below, smooth snakes occupy almost every country in Europe. Some exceptions are Finland and most of the countries in the British Isles. They do live in England though. They also live in a few small countries in Asia, such as Georgia (the country not the state), Azerbaijan, and Armenia. These countries are the ones covered by the red part farthest to the right. Those three countries are actually sometimes considered part of Asia and sometimes part of Europe, depending on who you ask.

smooth snake map

Status and threats

The IUCN has evaluated the smooth snake to be of least concern. They were evaluated back in 2008, however, and their population is known to be decreasing. Habitat loss, sometimes by fires, is the main threat of smooth snakes. The heathlands can take up to 15 years to fully recover from a fire, and become habitable for smooth snakes. Sometimes their habitat is disturbed by wild boars, and being trampled by wild boars is not an experience most smooth snakes would probably survive. As with many snakes, they are sometimes accidentally run over when crossing roads. There are many predators of these animals including foxes, badgers, buzzards, pheasants, and crows. Their main defenses are their camouflage against the dusty ground, and their readiness to bite. Whenever they feel threatened, smooth snakes will bite, but they are not venomous, minimizing the effect of their bites.

Reproduction

Not much is known specifically about the mating habits of smooth snakes. Individuals breed every other year in April, May, and early June. These snakes are ovoviviparous, meaning the young develop in eggs, hatch in side their mother, and are born live.

Ovoviviparous is tied with a few other words for the most v’s in a word. Just a cool random fact.

The young are born in September or October and usually hibernate right after birth. Each time the female gives birth, she has between 4 and 14 young. This is not many compared to some other snakes, and the number for the smooth snake is usually towards the lower end of that range.

Hibernation and lifespan

Smooth snakes hibernate starting in September of October, and usually wake up from their season-long nap in March. They often sleep in mammal burrows that are no longer in use. Almost any place that will shelter the snake from cold and predators will work. Smooth snakes are very long lived for snakes of their size. They usually live for about 25 years but have been known to live up to 30.

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Sources:

Photo Credits:

  • Smooth Snake – Thomas Brown
  • Brown smooth snake – Piet Spaans
  • Heathland – Gordon Hatton
  • Smooth snake range – Public Domain
  • Mystery animal – Public Domain

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