Sum rep­tile!

We may not find it easy to love snakes and toads but they are both an in­te­gral part of al­most every Nor­folk habi­tat and in need of our con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. Nor­folk Wildlife Trust Am­bas­sador DR BEN GARROD re­veals just how fas­ci­nat­ing our rep­tiles and amph

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - nor­folk­wildlifetr­

It’s the ad­der, of course, with Nor­folk Wildlife Trust

I UN­DER­STAND that not ev­ery­body loves snakes or that toads don’t gen­er­ally make us smile and coo in the same way a baby robin might. But Nor­folk is home to most of the rep­tiles and am­phib­ians found in the UK and I think, with a lit­tle bit of an in­tro­duc­tion, you still may not all find a grass snake beau­ti­ful but you will hope­fully see why it and its rel­a­tives are an im­por­tant part of our wild Nor­folk land­scape.

The ad­der is the smaller of our two wild snakes oc­cur­ring in Nor­folk, with adults reach­ing up to around 55cm in length. They have a fairly heavy body with a prom­i­nent zig-zag stripe along the mid­dle of the back and have a dark red eye with a ver­ti­cal slit in the pupil (sim­i­lar to a cat’s).

They hi­ber­nate from Oc­to­ber to late Fe­bru­ary or early March, so should be emerg­ing soon from their win­ter rest. Adders can be found in a wide va­ri­ety of habi­tats in Nor­folk but are es­pe­cially com­mon at the edges of woods and copses, in sunny for­est patches and on sandy heaths and coastal dunes.

While they are our only ven­omous rep­tile and should never be han­dled, they are nev­er­the­less fas­ci­nat­ing an­i­mals and if you are very lucky, you may see males per­form­ing the ‘dance of the ad­der’ at the start of the breed­ing sea­son in April, where they com­pete to breed with fe­males by rais­ing their heads ver­ti­cally, high up from the ground. There they in­ter­twine and sway to­gether un­til (at least be­tween them) there is an ob­vi­ous vic­tor.

Our ‘other’ snake is the longer grass snake. These beau­ti­ful olive green rep­tiles can reach lengths of al­most one me­tre long. Their bright yel­low col­lar helps dis­tin­guish these non­ven­omous snakes from their viper cousins and un­like adders, these snakes lay eggs, of­ten nest­ing in ma­nure piles or com­post heaps, where the heat helps to in­cu­bate the clutch. Grass snakes are as­so­ci­ated with wet habi­tats and can of­ten be found in wa­ter mead­ows and around ditches, lakes and ponds.

They are ex­cel­lent swim­mers and while they prey on a range of small an­i­mals, they favour their am­phib­ian cousins, frogs, toads and newts. Be­cause they can­not de­fend them­selves with venom, grass snakes in­stead play dead, rolling onto their back and open­ing their mouth as if in some grotesque death ric­tus. If that wasn’t enough, they emit a foul-smelling se­cre­tion from their anal glands to con­vince any would be preda­tor that they are in fact al­ready dead and not worth eat­ing.

We are lucky enough to have two other rep­tiles in Nor­folk. The com­mon lizard, which is wide­spread here and can be found on dunes, com­mons, heaths, bogs and mead­ows, and the slow worm, which may look like a snake but is a lizard with­out legs (and yes, there is a dif­fer­ence).

Al­though they are only small, reach­ing around 18cm long, they are vo­ra­cious preda­tors and can de­vour 20 slugs in as many min­utes. They are found along the Holt-Cromer ridge, through­out cen­tral and south-east Nor­folk and in the north-western part of the re­gion.Š

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