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Baby grass snake or adder

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: General
Forum Name: What is it?
Forum Description: Seen something in the wild and wondering what it is? This is the place to ask
Printed Date: 30 Sep 2020 at 7:16pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 -

Topic: Baby grass snake or adder
Posted By: JOC
Subject: Baby grass snake or adder
Date Posted: 23 Aug 2017 at 1:50pm
So we've just found this little fellow basking on our patio.  About 6" long and about pencil thick.

I thought all grass snakes had a yellow collar and that adders didn't.  Ergo it's most visible feature says its a grass snake.  However, it's very dark.  Now at the weekend my son and I visited the reptile centre at the New Forest and they had a natural black variant of an adder in one of their pits and the colouration on its back showed the zig-zagging very diminished and almost indistinguishable against its general dark colour and very similar to this fellow.  So part of the question is do adders (esp. young ones) ever demonstrate the yellow collar seen on this specimen?  Then again are young grass snakes ever this dark? 

In terms of behaviour - it was striking out constantly as I might imagine a viper to do (are grass snakes constrictors?) and I fancy it had a diamond shaped head.  We KNOW we have grass snakes here in good numbers, but despite our location (not usually associated with adders) we also think we do have adders - the horse next door got bitten once (we aren't far from a coastal estuary sea wall - good adder habitat) and the vet treated her with anti-venom.  At first glance I thought grass snake due to the collar alone, but there are enough contrary indications that I am not 100% certain it isn't an adder.  Does anyone know please?

In case its an adder (we have dogs that we didn't want harmed as it grew up) we carefully moved him away from the house (using a black bucket) and put him in what I felt was a good habitat further away from the house.

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 24 Aug 2017 at 9:46am
I can confirm it is a grass snake.

Though there are specimens that are dark and records of entirely black individuals, they also appear much darker in the days before sloughing their skins and I think this is the case here.

Posted By: JOC
Date Posted: 24 Aug 2017 at 12:04pm
Hello GemmaJF, many thanks for that. 
I should have gone with what my gut told me.  The trouble is with one being able to provide a nasty bite that minor niggling doubt regarding the colour caused me to doubt the evidence of the collar - I don't think I've have had an issue with the ID had I not have seen the black colour variant adder at the reptile centre.  That one, of course, didn't have a collar, but was such a similar colour that it caused me to wonder sufficiently to ask the experts!

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 24 Aug 2017 at 6:35pm
No worries, that is what we are here for. 

I did notice on your grass snake there is a marking on the back that is a bit like an adder stripe too. We have had a couple of individuals with this sort of marking on the forum before. 

But yes the yellow collar is always the give away, though some older females may have no yellow at all, the black neck marking I have never seen absent.

Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 24 Aug 2017 at 10:28pm
If Gemma's right and it's coming up to sloughing, then chances are it's hatched extremely nearby. I agree that the colours do look very dull, not vibrant like a newly shed individual. They shed their skin pretty soon after hatching, so if you have a compost heap in the garden there's a good chance that's where it's come from. Look out for the empty egg shells when you turn/use any compost - typically 20-30 whitish eggs about 1" long, stuck together in a mass.

Posted By: JOC
Date Posted: 24 Aug 2017 at 11:06pm
Hi Pond Dragon, I will keep an eye out as they would be interesting to find and something I have not yet seen. We have about 5 compost heaps and an old manure heap or two, so it tends to be habitat central here. We have frogs, newts (nore than one type), grass snakes, lizards (variety/ies unknown), slow worns etc. We have ponds plural, ditches, wildflower meadow, established trees an old orchard, bog garden, a healthy small mammal population, foxes, raptors, owls and bats. I've got enough here to keep county recorders busy for a month LOL

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 27 Aug 2017 at 4:45pm
Blimey!  lucky you - have Springwatch sorted their location for next year yet?

I came across this grassy with a reduced collar this spring, but never seen one completely absent myself:

Posted By: JOC
Date Posted: 29 Aug 2017 at 9:00am
Hi will
Ha, ha.......I have often tried to get people to visit our place - either film crews or recorders to take note of what we have, I've also offered it as a release site to things like wildlife rescue groups, but without exception no-one has shown any interest in seeing what we have here.  It throws up a number of thoughts related to the question why?  A number of scenarios are possible ranging from.
- Lack of resources to follow up
- Too many similar habitats to investigate (though the media suggests that 'wild' habitats are declining?)
- Genuine lack of interest
- It also makes me wonder how many statistics produced on the scarcity of animal and plant populations are inaccurate due to places like ours remaining un-investigated. 
It's a real shame - we don't have the resources or knowledge to properly investigate what we have here - we could even have rare populations of this or that, but no-one seems interested.  I cannot believe that our situation is unique and  I do wonder how many hundreds of acres of stunning habitats and wildlife go unrecorded due to a lack of resources (which is what I imagine is the real problem).
That's a lovely snake photo though - interesting to see one largely without its yellow band.

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 29 Aug 2017 at 5:56pm
Will, second picture down on the ID page. Female with no yellow patch. I actually faked the yellow in Photoshop on the top picture, as it was in reality entirely absent. 

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 29 Aug 2017 at 8:27pm
@JOC - what a shame to have this lack of interest!  maybe you should submit a fake planning application and watch as the council sends in ecologists galore to survey what's there before it goes under a bulldozer...Wink   Surely the local wildlife trust would send someone?  sounds a paradise anyway and well done you, even if it is unrecognised by the 'officials'.

@Gemma - got it, thanks - I've seen older females without yellow/cream collar but the one in my pic above was the first I've seen with little of the black behind the collar.  It also had few bars on its body, but still Natrix natrix helvetica or Natrix helvetica or Natrix what-the-hel LOL rather than 'persa' or a hybrid.

Posted By: JOC
Date Posted: 30 Aug 2017 at 8:41am

Hi Will, we think its a paradise anyway.  It's a little unkempt around the edges, but the wildlife don't seem to mind.  At the moment one of the more interesting things are my 3 'bug boxes' which I put up this summer and have had a constantly shifting set of visiting inverts. all summer - they are on my shed and when we drink our morning coffee outdoors they are only a few meters away and have been very interesting to watch.  The reptiles and amphibians like all the ponds, ditches, purposefully left wood piles, manure/compost heaps and have taken a real shine to our poly-tunnels I think for the warmth.

When you look at the two photos on this thread, yours and mine it seems amazing that they are the same species - it just goes to show that you can't always make clear cut statements about the colour of some animals. 

Posted By: JOC
Date Posted: 30 Aug 2017 at 10:36am
I was reminded of this picture of a grass snake that I took many years ago on the same piece of land - it was under a bit of corrugated iron and was an absolute corker of a snake
Gemma, I've spotted your comments about Danbury common that's only about 7 miles from me!

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 30 Aug 2017 at 12:11pm

Your picture above is another fine example of a grass snake appearing very dark before skin sloughing. The clue is the blue eye, caused by fluid building up under the scale that covers the eye.

I'm very local in Maldon and the herp county recorder for Essex, if a rather inactive one. Your lizards will be common lizards (viviparous lizards). 

Typically with these things I just disposed of hundreds of survey felts due to having no interest in anyone having anything surveyed locally other than for planning permission (which I charge for but they want it done for free lol).

But if you want me to do a walk over in the spring and record the species be more than happy to do so.

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 30 Aug 2017 at 12:11pm
Will, with you now, lovely snake and beautiful shot as always. Wink

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 30 Aug 2017 at 6:28pm
@JOC - top stuff, I'd love a wildlife garden / nature reserve like yours!Big smile

@Gemma - thanks, much appreciated!Big smile

Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 01 Sep 2017 at 6:26am
Natrix austriaca


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 08 Sep 2017 at 11:59am
Hi JOC, not sure if you got my email that I am just at the other end of the village.

I remembered that you had some concern about adders in the first post. We are on London Clay, the adders in Essex are only associated with the sea wall and outcrops of more sandy soils such as at Danbury. So nearest records are Maylandsea.

I have never once seen an adder locally and really would not expect to. 

This does not explain the horse being bitten, was it actually in the village? I know many cases where dog and horse bites are attributed to adders in areas where they do not occur, so there is likely some other culprit.

In any case if you have further concerns I would be happy to help out. I would be fascinated if adders do occur in the village, it would be quite an amazing find. Though I think the odds are heavily against it.

Posted By: JOC
Date Posted: 11 Sep 2017 at 8:48am
Hi GemmaJF
Yes, I did send a reply to the message and sent a tel. number.  I also think, given our stodgy London clay that adders are unlikely (though we are not so far from the sea wall areas in a straight line) that adders are unlikely.  I know they prefer sandy environments.  The incident with the horse that I was aware of happened a few years ago - it was the premises next to ours whose land abuts ours, but I think they would technically be in the next village since we are the last house in our parish boundary.  The report only comes 2nd hand, but it is my understanding that a vet treated the horse next door for an adder bite.

Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 12 Sep 2017 at 6:35am
Usual response any unknown flea bite is put down to adders as it the only snake name they use to cunjour up the   national kill a snake a day hysteria in places like Essex or Waltham forests s diminishing green belt areas


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