Tag Archives: Snakes in Spain

Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicuda

  • English: Lataste’s Viper
  • Scientific: Vipera latastei
  • Spanish: Vibora hocicuda
  • French: Vipère de Lataste
  • German: Stülpnasenotter
  • Italian: Vipera di Lataste
  • Portuguese: cobra-cornuda
  • Distribution: Iberian Peninsula (except extreme north), North Africa

VENOMOUS (If bitten seek immediate medical attention)

Characterized by its dorsal markings the Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicudaa has a clear edged dark band in a zigzag pattern on a grey or brown background. Body short and thick of variable length but normally less than 60 cm. The head is well defined, triangular in shape and grey with a very distinct and unmistakeable upturned snout.

It is a diurnal species, but in the warmer months, is of crepuscular or nocturnal habits.

vipera latastei – vibora hocicuda 1
Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicuda sometimes a pale brown colour.

Prefers stony or rocky areas with plenty of scrub, woodland, steep slopes and stone walls with some vegetation. Slow moving, though tends to flee if approached.

The adult diet consists of rodents, lacertids, chicks of small birds and invertebrates.

Lataste's Viper - Vipera latastei - Vibora hocicuda
Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicuda unmistakeable upturned nose.

Mating takes place in April or May and the Lataste viper is an ovoviviparous species meaninh that the female keeps the eggs in her body (for approximately three months) until the young are born (sometimes more than 10)

If it feels threatened this snake will bite and although seldom fatal, adequate health care is normally required as soon as possible.

Conservation Status

The species V. latastei is classified as Near Threatened (VU) according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed as such because it is probably in significant decline due to widespread habitat loss and persecution throughout much of its range. Further population reduction is expected and localized extinctions in parts of its range are possible.

It is also listed as a strictly protected species (Appendix II) under the Berne Convention

Similar species

The subspecies Vipera latastei gaditana inhabits the extreme southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa. In the Iberian Peninsula its distribution ranges from the south of Portugal (the northern limits are not clearly defined) to the western banks of the Guadalquivir River in the province of Huelva, where it is found throughout the entire province up to the Sierra Morena in the north. It extends through the province of Seville along the wedge formed between Sierra Morena and the Guadalquivir River.

In this area, Vipera latastei are also present so telling the difference can be quite tricky.

Further reading on the fantastic and informative website of Iberian Vipers. It contains ample information about the three viper species(Lataste´s viper, Asp viper and Seoane´s viper),
and the three subspecies: Vipera latastei gaditana, Vipera aspis zinnikeri and Vipera seoanei cantabrica which inhabit the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).

Web: http://www.viborasdelapeninsulaiberica.com/description-vipera-latastei-gaditana-1.html

Vipera latastei abulensis – a subspecies of viper from the Central mountain range (Sierra de Gredos) in depth article with comparative data for the nominate race Vipera latastei latastei and the southern race Vipera latastei gaditana.

Web: http://www.viborasdelapeninsulaiberica.com/viper-articles2.html


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

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Western false smooth snake – Macroprotodon brevis ibericus – Culebra de Cogulla

  • Scientific name: Macroprotodon brevis ibericus (Wade 1988). Recent genetic and morphological studies have concluded that it needed reclassification. Previously = Macroprotodon cucullatus, now = Macroprotodon brevis ibericus See similar species at bottom of page.
  • Spanish: Culebra de Cogulla Occidental.
  • English: False Smooth Snake.
  • French: Couleuvre à capuchon de l’Ouest.
  • German: Kapuzennatter.
  • Italian: Colubro dal cappuccio.
  • Portuguese: Cobra-de-capuz.
  • Distribution: South Iberia and Western Morocco (Melilla and Ceuta). In general, it lives in the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula absent is absent from the north.

Venomous – harmless to humans

Description

The Western False smooth snake is the smallest snake of all those found on the Iberian Peninsula, normally 30-35cm and not reaching more than 65cm. The head is distinct from the body and appears flattened. The most recognizable feature is a black line from the eye to the mouth and a big black band on the neck. The body is cylindrical and robust, of a grey colour with small dark markings along the back sometimes forming lines and its sides are speckled with small black ocelli. The scales along the back are completely smooth and shiny.

Western false smooth snake - Macroprotodon brevis ibericus - Culebra de Cogulla
Western false smooth snake – Macroprotodon brevis ibericus – Culebra de Cogulla

This species of snake is active throughout the year. Its activity is primarily crepuscular and nocturnal, during the daytime finding refuge under stones and in natural underground galleries or those it creates itself in many different types of habitats including woodland, scrubland and cultivated areas.

Their main food is lizards and geckos, though also includes Iberian Worm Lizards, young snakes, small rodents and insects. Leaving it’s lair rarely to hunt. it instead waits for prey to pass by close enough for capture.

The courtship extends from March to June, 31 to 52 days after copulation 2-6 eggs are laid in moist sunny areas under stones, logs or among leaf litter and hatching after 50-60 days. Females only breed every 2 years meaning it has a biennial reproduction frequency and a reduced clutch size relative to other snake species in Iberia.

Western false smooth snake - Macroprotodon brevis ibericus - Culebra de Cogulla
Western false smooth snake – Macroprotodon brevis ibericus – Culebra de Cogulla

This snake has venom glands connected to 2 back teeth (opistoglifa). It is harmless to larger animals since the teeth with which it injects venom are at the back of its very small mouth, it would be difficult for it to get a sufficient grip and the venom is of very low toxicity.

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) by the IUCN. Its probable decline is caused by extensive loss of habitat in much of its range due to intensive agriculture and human persecution. The recent proliferation of the wild boar (Sus scrofa) affects it negatively due to its foraging habits lifting and turning stones where the western false smooth snake makes its home.

Similar species

Macroprotodon cucullatus or mauritanicus, commonly known as the false smooth snake is found in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, and Tunisia. (Spain, Balearic islands).

Habits are identical to the Western false smooth snake but a key to differing between the two would be geographic location. Remember that Macroprotodon cucullatusis or mauritanicus is found only on the Balearic islands in Spain (Introduced species).

The western false smooth snake is restricted to the south (much temperate areas of Iberia).

The IUCN has listed the false smooth snake as being of “Least Concern”. This is because it has a wide distribution, a large population, seems to be tolerant of some habitat modification and its population is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify it for listing in a more threatened category

The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) which has no markings on either sides of the eyes and the dorsal scales are keeled, not smooth and shiny.


The Grazalema Guide

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Grass snake – Natrix natrix – Culebra de Collar

  • English: Grass snake.
  • Spanish: Culebra de Collar.
  • Nombre científico: (three species) Natrix natrix. (Linnaeus, 1758) – Natrix helvetica helvetica and Natrix astreptophora
  • Français: Couleuvre à collier.
  • Deutsch: Ringelnatter.
  • Italiano: Biscia dal collare.
  • Português: Cobra-de-água-de-colar.
  • Distribution: The grass snake is widely distributed in mainland Europe, ranging from mid Scandinavia to southern Italy. It is also found in the Middle East and northwestern Africa.

Non Venomous

The grass snake has a well defined broad head, round eye and pupil and the iris orange or red. Adults can reach about 130cm in length, though are usually 70-95cm. The most common color is brown or dark green, with small dark spots. The young have a yellowish white collar edged with black, which may disappear entirely in adults. An aquatic species, though less so than the Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) and seen less frequently.

The other forms of Grass snake in Spain

Natrix helvetica helvetica (In Spanish Culebra de Collar Europea) is found in the Pyrenees. The Barred Grass snake has a body colour of grey-green and distinct banding along its flanks for the entire length of its body. It can grow to a length of over a metre. It was included within the grass snake species, Natrix natrix, until August 2017, when genetic analysis led to its reclassification as a separate species.

The Mediterranean Grass Necklace Snake (or the Red-eyed grass snake) (Natrix astreptophora). Again recently seperated form the commong grass snake.

Identifying the differences in the three species in the field is near impossible unless you have excellent photographs are a long time to study the specimen…. I am happy to call it a grass snake… 🙂

Habits and habitat

Generally prefering shrubby locations near water. Can be found in meadows, hedgerows and woodland along the sides of rivers and other water bodies. they are mainly diurnal with crepuscular activity during the hot summer months.

Grass snake - Natrix natrix - Culebra de Collar1
Grass snake – Natrix natrix – Culebra de Collar

Feeding on amphibians, especially frogs, toads, their larvae and fish, grass snakes are strong swimmers and may be found close to rivers and streams. At distance and because they are in the water they are sometimes at first glanced confused with the viperine snake.

The mating period is April through June and a clutch of 12 to 28 eggs are laid 27 to 36 days after copulation. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 42 to 71 days. Several females may lay eggs in the same place so sometimes a large number of juveniles can be seen in the same area. The young are about 18 centimetres long when they hatch and are immediately independent and self sufficient.

Similar species: The adults are similar to the Montpelier Snake (Malpolon monspeliensis) Note: The grass snake normally has an orange iris and the Montpelier snake has a yellow iris.


The Grazalema Guide

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Aesculapian Snake (Elaphe longissima or Zamenis longissimus) Culebra de esculapio

  • Non-Venomous
  • Scientific: Elaphe longissima (Laurenti, 1768) or Zamenis longissimus.
  • English: Aesculapian Snake.
  • Spanish: Culebra de Esculapio.
  • Basque: Eskulapioren sugea.
  • Catalan: Serp d’Esculapi.
  • Family: Colubridae.
  • Distribution: northeastern Spain (mainly areas in or bordering Pyrenees), northern and central France, southern Switzerland, northern and central Italy, western Sardinia, and practically entire Balkans and central eastern Europe from eastern Austria and Slovakia southwards and eastwards, as far as Moldova

The Aesculapian Snake is a species of Elaphe, a genus of snakes traditionally found in Eurasia, northern Africa and North America, although some authorities have now split the genus into smaller groups. Some also consider Elaphe longissima to be a species of Zamenis instead, but the traditional species name looks set to be around for a while yet.

A number of former subspecies of this snake are now considered full species in their own right but none of these occur in Spain.

The Aesculapian Snake was first described by Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti in 1768 as Natrix longissima, later it was also known as Coluber longissimus and for the most part of its history as Elaphe longissima. The current scientific name of the species based on revisions of the large genus Elaphe is Zamenis longissimus. Zamenis is from Greek word for angry, irritable or fierce. Longissimus comes from Latin and means “longest”; the snake is one of the longest over its range.

The common name of this snake arises from its association with the Greco-Roman god of healing, Aesculapius (Greek Asclepius), around whose temples in the ancient world the species was encouraged. The traditional sign of medicine even today is two snakes entwined around a staff.

(Aesculapian snakes are among those carried in procession in Italy in honour of Saint Dominic of Sora during the Festival of Saint Dominic Abbot (also known as the “Festival of the Serpari”) in the village of Cocullo, which takes place on the first Thursday of May. Nowadays after the festival the snakes are returned to their place of capture and released).

Description

This is a medium-sized colubrid snake with a total maximum length of about 200cm but averaging 140-160cm. Males are the larger of the sexes. The snout is somewhat flattened and the rostral scale does not protrude backwards between the two internasal scales. In coloration the adult Aesculapian Snake is less variable than many other species, being a light brown with small white dots. Although coloration is said to be more variable in general for this snake, one Spanish source describes only the light brown and fairly pattern-free coloration: however, darker or black (melanistic) individuals may occur, as do albino specimens. Some authorities also cite very subtle, slightly darker longitudinal lines that are harder to distinguish than those on the Ladder Snake. The belly is yellowish or whitish. The young are greyish brown with a row of dark spots on the back and a yellow area on either side of the head, giving them the appearance of small Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix), but unlike the latter, their scales are smooth rather than keeled.

E. longissima can be distinguished from Zamensis scalaris by its flatter snout, the rostral scale on the end of the snout which does not jut backwards between the internasals, and its rather calmer behaviour. The number of ventral and subcaudal scales on the Aesculapian Snake is also on average higher than on the Ladder Snake. The young of the two species are very easy to tell apart given the Ladder Snake’s juvenile patterning.

Scalation details

The rostral does not project between the internasals. There is one preocular (sometimes divided) and 2-3 postoculars and 8-9 supralabials, of which the 4th and 5th touch the eye. The temporals are arranged in a 2 x 3 or pattern. The dorsal scales are smooth and arranged in 23 (occasionally 21) rows at midbody. The ventral scales number 211-250 and there are 60-91 pairs of subcaudal scales.

Range and habitat

The range of this species is very large compared with many other European snakes, being found from Spain to the Caucasus. In Spain it is found in Santander, the Basque Country, Navarre, Huesca, Lérida, Barcelona and Gerona. In the Basque Country it lives in deciduous woods and meadows between pine woods and oak groves, while in Catalonia it can be found in beech and oak areas. Generally it likes the sun (in the northernmost parts of its range it is normally found on southerly-facing, exposed slopes) but avoids excessive heat, and in the south may be found in more humid places than elsewhere. Most of its habitats are dry and in addition to the usual places (dry stone walls, sunny woods, ruins, etc) may include paths and tracks (when sunning itself) and sometimes haystacks (perhaps due to the known propensity of haystacks to produce internal heat due to bacterial fermentation).

Habits and prey

The prey of the Aesculapian Snake is typical of that of most rat snakes, consisting of small mammals from mice and voles up to the size of squirrels, birds and lizards. The young normally start off with small lizards. It seems to have an unusually high metabolism for a snake, since in summer it may eat as frequently as every 3 days.

The Aesculapian Snake is normally a diurnal (active by day) and crepuscular (active at dawn/dusk) creature. It is less aggressive and more calm than the Ladder Snake, Elaphe [Rhinechis] scalaris, but this is relative: the Aesculapian Snake will still hold its ground, making chewing movements with its jaws, and will bite and/or empty its foul-smelling cloacal glands if further harassed. Its movements have been described as “deliberate”. Although not an arboreal snake it is a good climber of trees.

Breeding

courtship takes place in Iberia in May-June. In June-July a clutch of 5-15 (usually no more than 15) eggs is laid. These hatch in September. The young are about 23-25cm long on hatching. Unusually, the mother may remain with them for a few days. Males mature sexually at a length of about 50cm, females at a length of 65cm (the latter taking about five years). One authority quotes records of 25-30 years longevity.

In Spain the Aesculapian Snake takes its winter rest from October to March: elsewhere this period may last up to 6 months, depending on climate. The period of greatest activity is May to July.

The wide range of the Aesculapian Snake would appear to make it reasonably secure, and it is not listed in the IUCN “Red List” of Endangered Species. Threats to this snake would no doubt include those which apply generally to snakes, namely loss of habitat, pollution and natural predators such as birds of prey or mustelid mammals.

Thanks to wikipedia for the image at the top of this page…. (Above image by FelixReimann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, )

If anyone has any images of this species and would like to publish them on this page I would be most grateful. 🙂


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, Wildside Holidays, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/

Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) Culebra viperina

Non-Venomous and although the name suggest a viper, the viperine snake is not poisionous and like most snakes, avoids human contact when it can.

  • Scientific: Natrix maura.
  • Castilian: Culebra viperina.
  • Catalan: Serp d’aigua.
  • Portuguese: Cobra-de-água-viperina.
  • Family: Colubridae.
  • Distribution: Found in southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa. Portugal, Spain, France and northernwest Italy. Also found in African countries of Morocco, northern Algeria, northwestern Libya, and northern to central Tunisia.

This is a finely built snake that is most often seen in or near water. Usually they do not exceed 65-70cm in overall length, but occasionally can reach 90-100 cm with the female reaching the greater lengths.

Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) Culebra viperina 1
Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) Culebra viperina Often seen in streams and rivers.

The colours are generally yellow with a dark brown, sometimes checker board pattern, along the back and marks almost forming eye spots along the sides, regional variations occur. One variation is an overall dark colour with two pale stripes running parallel its full length.

The large, round pupils are set high on its head as it hunts mostly in the water, swimming slowly along the banks edge or through weeds with an ability to stay under water for up to 15 minutes. Their diet consists mostly of small fish, tadpoles and frogs. They can be found throughout Iberia and can survive to an altitude of 1,800m although are normally found below 1000m. The type of water body can vary from a well, a natural pool, a river to water deposits for irrigation. They can also tolerate salty water at river outlets.

Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) Culebra viperina 1
Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) Culebra viperina An adder like appearance but not a viper and not venomous.

Primarily diurnal during the spring and autumn months they can also be active on summer nights. From November to March (this can vary with temperatures) they will hibernate away from the waters edge hiding under a rock or log. On occasions they can be seen sunbathing on warmer days during this time of hibernation.

Breeding in the spring results in between 4 to 24 eggs (on average 6) being placed in June or July near the water in tree roots or under rocks. The eggs are white and measure around 30mm by 16mm. The incubation time is between 6 weeks and 3 months.


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

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http://grazalemaguide.com/

Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris) Culebra de escalera

  • Non-Venomous
  • Scientific: Zamenis scalaris (Elaphe [Rhinechis] scalaris)
  • English: Ladder Snake
  • Spanish: Culebra de escalera
  • Basque: Escailera-suge
  • Catalan: Serp blanca
  • Portuguese: Cobra-de-escada
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Distribution: The geographic range of the ladder snake includes Portugal, Spain, southern France and a small area of Italy. They have also been identified in Menorca and the Iles d’Hyères off Provence. It is mostly absent from northern Iberia including much of the Pyrenees, Galicia although the species has been found on Ons Island, in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, Cantabria and the Basque Country. (The population on Menorca may stem from an introduction by humans).

Description

The Ladder Snake, A species of Zamensis (Elaphe Rhinchensis), a genus of snakes traditionally found in Eurasia, northern Africa and North America has a confusing taxonomy. Authorities have now split the genus into smaller groups.

The Ladder Snake is a medium-sized colubrid snake with a total maximum length of about 160cm, but averaging 120cm. The snout is pointed, and the rostral scale projects sharply backwards between the two internasal scales. In coloration the adult Ladder Snake is less variable than many other species, being a shade of brown from yellowish to dark brown (most pictures seem to show the latter) and with a pair of darker longitudinal stripes running down the length of the body from the neck to the tip of the tail.

Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris) Culebra de escalera
Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris) Culebra de escalera (Juvenile showing “ladder” pattern on back. This changes to two dark paralel lines as they get older.

There is usually also a dark stripe running backwards from the rear of the eye to the angle of the jaw and subtle, occasional darker markings on the sides. The underside is silver-grey to whitish, sometimes with a few dark spots. The eye is dark brown to black. The young are more striking in appearance, being lighter and somewhat brighter in colour, yellow to light brown, with black transverse bars down the back that often join up at outside edges and form the characteristic “ladder” pattern. They also have many more prominent dark scales along the sides and on the head and the yellowish or whitish belly is marked with black that sometimes covers it in its entirety. With age these prominent patterns fade and the overall colour becomes darker, until the simpler adult pattern is left.

Habitat and habits

It is found in areas with plenty of bush cover, including vineyards, hedges and overgrown dry-stone walls and is common in Mediterranean woodland. Sunny and stony habitats are especially preferred. Although known from heights of up to 2,200m, the Ladder Snake is more usually found at 700m or lower.

In many ways the prey of the Ladder Snake is typical of that of most rat snakes. A study of Alicante populations showed that nearly three quarters of its prey was mammalian (including mice, rabbits and shrews), about a quarter arthropods (spiders, insects, etc) and the remainder birds. For the latter item the Ladder Snake will seek out nests with chicks or eggs in trees or on walls, being a fair climber. Lizards are also eaten. The young tend to start out with small lizards, nestling rodents and arthropods such as grasshoppers.

The Ladder Snake is normally a diurnal creature (active by day), but during the hottest part of the year may be more active at night, even after midnight, while in the spring it may be active at dawn or dusk. In terms of behaviour it is more like a whipsnake than a ratsnake, being more aggressive and defensive than most Elaphe species. Warning signs are hissing and lunging forward with the mouth open and attempts to pick up a Ladder Snake may be met by sharp bites and also the emptying of the glands around the cloaca, which apparently is quite offensive! This behaviour may also explain the greater mobility of the snake compared to some of its relatives: movements of 100m per day are known, and the average home territory of an individual is 4,500m2. Adults may sometimes be found in buildings hunting for rodents, something to be borne in mind if you have an old outhouse, barn or similar building on your property. Paradoxically this is one way that the Ladder Snake may be seen as beneficial to people. It does not normally shelter in such places, however, but tends to use rodent burrows, piles of stones or hollow trees.

Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris) Culebra de escalera
Ladder Snake (Zamenis scalaris) Culebra de escalera

Breeding

courtship takes place in Iberia in May-June, elsewhere possibly also in April, though not all females breed every year. Mating lasts for about an hour and 3-6 weeks later a clutch of 4-24 (usually no more than 15) eggs is laid. Incubation lasts 5-12 weeks. The colourful young are about 20cm long on hatching. Unusually, the mother may remain with them for a few days. Males mature sexually at a length of about 50cm, females at a length of 65cm (the latter taking about five years). One authority quotes records of 19 years longevity for both captive and wild individuals.

Populations in the south of Iberia are active all year round, but in cooler areas a winter rest of 4-5 months is usual. Hibernation is sometimes communal.

Scalation details

the rostral projects between the internasals. There is one preocular (sometimes divided) and 2-3 postoculars and 7-8 supralabials, of which the 4th and 5th or 5th and 6th touch the eye. The temporals are arranged in a 2 x 3 or 2 x 4 pattern. The dorsal scales are smooth and arranged in 25-31 (almost always however 27) rows at midbody. The ventral scales number 198-228 and there are 48-68 pairs of subcaudal scales.

Although reasonably common across its range, chemical pesticides in vineyards and other fruit-growing areas in the last century did cause damage to Ladder Snake populations. Among its predators are mustelid mammals (martens, ferrets etc), corvid birds (crows and relatives) and birds of prey.


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, Wildside Holidays, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/