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female smooth snakes overwintering when gravid

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: Herpetofauna Native to the UK
Forum Name: Smooth Snake
Forum Description: Forum for all issues concerning Coronella austriaca
URL: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=3665
Printed Date: 12 Nov 2018 at 10:23pm
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Topic: female smooth snakes overwintering when gravid
Posted By: will
Subject: female smooth snakes overwintering when gravid
Date Posted: 18 May 2011 at 7:50pm
Thanks to ARC Trust I've been doing some research into whether smooth snakes can overwinter when gravid (like adders) and give birth the following season.  Also, if they can, is this a regular aspect of their biology.

This was prompted when I spotted a female (below) in late April which looked heavily pregnant - ie clear differentiation between end of body and start of tail, bulky posterior two thirds of body, raised spine as fat bodies are used up during pregnancy.  Three weeks later and she was just as fat, suggesting that it wasn't a big meal like a sand lizard or some nestling mammals, which would by now have been digested.

As I am licensed only for Dorset, I wondered if any raukers who have licences for Hants and Surrey had noticed (and better still photographed) females which look unusually large for the time of year?  It strikes me as odd that what literature there is suggests that smooth snakes can gestate their young within a few months in southern England (on the edge of their range) whereas adders take longer...





Replies:
Posted By: will
Date Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 2:32pm
A few from yesterday, my last survey visit of the season to look for evidence as to whether smooth snakes regularly overwinter when gravid.  Several litters of recent newborns found, still basking together, suggesting later than usual births perhaps due to the awful weather this year.  Also a female which appeared to be still gravid, as well as a still-gravid slowworm and a late male sand lizard.  There was a group of around a dozen red admirals all flying about together and then basking on a warm tree; any ideas why they were aggregated like that at this time of year?


smooth snake litter


smooth snake litter


smooth snake with loose folds along body after giving birth


by way of contrast with one which looks still to be gravid:


male with nice yellow throat


female slowworm still gravid


late male sand lizard:


a few of a 'flock' of a dozen or so red admirals...




Posted By: herpetologic2
Date Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 3:46pm
Hi Will

I have been surveying for smooth snakes down in Wool, Dorset this year - only male animals. I wanted to find out whether you had seen any smooth snakes which have exhibited a defensive behaviour of tail twitching. I have seen this in one animal so far and it it looks like it is trying to make a noise to scare its would be attacker - I was handling it to photograph its dorsal pattern for identification.

I have seen this in my rescued corn snakes where they twitch their tails against the newspaper in their enclosures. Is this something other people have seen. I have not read up on the defensive strategies employed by smooth snakes yet. The animals we found also put on a good impression of an adder by flattening their heads and hissing etc

 


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 4:21pm
I've observed 'tail twitching' in captive corn snakes Jon, it can make quite a convincing rattle snake sound! I've yet to observe it in any of the native species. Though I expect in dry vegetation it could be very effective.

I think all three native snakes will flatten the head and hiss if cornered. I've seen large female grass snakes do a pretty good impression of a cobra in the past, rearing up, flattening the head and hissing loudly. It's a behaviour that tends to be witnessed when they are given no escape route, of if prevented from moving off by standing in front of them in open areas such as during photography. Not something I would provoke intentionally, but I did once corner a large female grassy in a concrete culvert during mitigation works. With nowhere to go she put up a very impressive defensive display. Then promptly skunked me and feigned death as soon as I had hold of her lol. 




Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 5:22pm
A lot of my slow worms in the garden are still preggers, but also newborns appearing every day.

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Suz


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 7:09pm
Like your pics Will. I see a load of red admirals on a tree near the smooth snake bank the other week Keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 7:16am
Hi Jon - no tail twitching, but flattening heads and striking in the case of neos quite often.  Adults just tend to chew! Can you tell us why you are studying just males (or is it hush-hush?)    Suzy - sounds like theyre late for Devon this year?  will be interesting to see if they pop before disappearing underground, can you keep us posted please?  Keith - thanks - and yes, that exact spot!


Posted By: herpetologic2
Date Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 11:53am
Hi Will

Males were the only sex to have appeared in the survey so far. There have been no female snakes as yet which is strange or worrying perhaps. 

The snake definitely twitched its tail just like how it has been described for captive corn snakes - I do think that this should be written up as a natural history note don't you think?

J


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 4:08pm
sure - interesting behaviour - have you tried going on fieldherping.eu forum to see if it has been recorded in continental smooth snakes?  certainly worrying not to have found any females - isolated population?


Posted By: Iulia
Date Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 8:57pm
No help I know but I hope the little guys are going to be OK over the winter born so late ..... Unhappy




Posted By: will
Date Posted: 25 Sep 2012 at 7:30am
I think they will stand a chance if the winter is uniformly cold, rather than lots of mild days in which their remaining fat reserves are depleted (but not warm enough to feed, of course) - thats the worst sort of weather for torpid reptiles.  Fingers crossed!


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 25 Sep 2012 at 4:55pm
Will do neo smooth snakes usually feed before hibernation or do they survive on the remain of the yolk sac? 

Like Lulia I'm quite concerned for the little guys, they look so cute in the pictures. Unhappy


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2012 at 6:04am
Thought I reconised that tree Will keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2012 at 7:32am
I assume they normally feed Gemma, but to be honest Ive never found one with a big bulge in it unlike neo adders which can look ridiculous when they have swallowed a full size common lizard, as you know.  Keith - yes, one day we will end up in the same place at the same timeLOL


Posted By: Iulia
Date Posted: 26 Sep 2012 at 11:11pm
I am ridiculously sentimental about baby snakes I admit ......  Embarrassed


Posted By: Robert V
Date Posted: 12 Feb 2013 at 5:51pm

Hi Jon,

both of my Peublan's used to have a pretty hefty tail twitching session at cage cleaning time but the worst of all was a Durango Mountain Kingsnake, simply went bananas with his tail and also demonstrated an imitation of a Grass Snake / Hog Nose, by voiding itself everywhere... nice

R



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RobV


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 18 May 2013 at 8:41pm
Two clearly in advanced state of gestation from today...






Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: 18 May 2013 at 10:11pm
Wrong thread I know, but I found four very new looking slow worm young last week under a Coroline sheet. This is all very hard to prove but they looked like this season's and would tie up with some of my slowies in the garden looked pregnant when they emerged from hibernation.

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Suz


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 19 May 2013 at 3:17pm
It's all part of the same thing, Suzy, I'm sure - I also saw one very small slowworm neo yesterday in Dorset, as well as some very thin looking females.


Posted By: Noodles
Date Posted: 23 May 2013 at 3:03pm
From two weeks ago. I'd say gravid.




Posted By: will
Date Posted: 23 May 2013 at 4:20pm
I'd agree, and given the late start to the season, I'd also suggest more evidence that young are being carried over this year in slowworms as well as adder and smooth snake.  Unfortunately this obscures my original question as to whether this phenomenon is a natural part of the breeding cycle rather than simply a rare response to an unusually poor summer.  As always, more data required!


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 15 May 2017 at 7:05pm
quick update - I finally managed to get a sample of three smooth snakes examined by an expert vet yesterday which all appeared gravid to me, and he was able to confirm that they had reasonably advanced young inside already.  So this would seem to show that smooth snakes are not only capable of carrying their young over winter but also that this is a reasonably common thing, rather than a one-off due to an individual snake being in poor condition or an unusually cool summer in the previous year.  More data needed, but it's a start.  Next question, are these embryos the result of mating last spring, or, as has been recorded recently, autumnal matings...?


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 15 May 2017 at 7:08pm
...I should have added that he used ultrasound to visualise the embryos.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 16 May 2017 at 6:21am
Hi Will glad to see your getting about what area was you near haven't managed getting to any of my favourite spots lately getting twitchy since getting rid of my caravan keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 16 May 2017 at 6:27am
Morning Keith!  usual spots within sight of Corfe Castle, my favourite place on earthBig smile


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 17 May 2017 at 5:37am
Wil oh for a breath of sweet gorse scented air before the holiday season starts in the area Keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 17 May 2017 at 6:38am
Very poetic Keith, well put.  Shame there's already some kind of pop festival in the field opposite Hartland Moor on Soldiers Road at the moment - one discarded cigarette and the whole NNR goes up in smoke...


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 17 May 2017 at 6:49pm
Why the effing hell do they have to do this stuff next to a sensitive place beggars belief

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID



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