Tag Archives: Snakes in Spain

Grass snake – Natrix natrix – Culebra de Collar

  • English: (Three species) Grass snake, Barred Grass snake, Mediterranean Grass Necklace Snake
  • Spanish: (Three species) Culebra de Collar, Culebra de Collar Europea, Culebra de collar mediterránea
  • Scientific name: (three species in Iberia) 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. As recently as 2017, genetic work has found that natrix has more than one species present in the Iberian peninsular.

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 from the common grass snake, you find this snake close to water sources helping to identify it by its habitat in the south of Spain. (It is not very abundant in any part of its distribution area). There is a good article about this species on the website of the Great Malaga Path: https://www.malaga.es/en/turismo/naturaleza/lis_cd-13130/culebra-de-collar-mediterranea-natrix-astreptophora-natrix-natrix-gran-senda-de-malaga

Natrix astreptophora
Natrix astreptophora (photo Gran Senda de Malaga)

Identifying the differences in the three species in the field is near impossible unless you have excellent photographs or have a long time to study the specimen. But, for the two newer species, geographic position helps to rule in or out.

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.

Reptiles and amphibians in Spain

Read more about reptiles and amphibians in Spain at the main idex page for species here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/reptiles-and-amphibians/


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.

https://grazalemaguide.com/

Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) Culebra herradura

Non-Venomous

  • English: Horseshoe Whip Snake.
  • Scientific: Hemorrhois hippocrepis (Coluber hippocrepis (Linnaeus 1758).
  • Castilian: Culebra herradura.
  • Catalan: Serp de ferradura.
  • Portuguese: cobra-do-ferradura.
  • Family: Colubridae.
  • Distribution: Found in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa, and in southern and central Portugal, southern, eastern and central Spain, Gibraltar, southern Sardinia and Pantelleria Island in Europe. In the island locations, it may have been introduced. Since the early 2000s it has been reported from Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentor. (It could have been introduced there by way of old olive trees imported from mainland Spain).

The Horse-shoe whip snake can reach a length of 180cm although they are often less. They are fairly slender, shy and fast moving. Although mostly diurnal they can also be seen out on warm evenings (crepiscular).

Horseshoe whip snake - Coluber hippocrepis – Culebra de Herradura
Horseshoe whip snake – Hemorrhois hippocrepis Coluber hippocrepis – Culebra de Herradura

The body pattern is brighter and more obvious on juveniles with the main colour varying between yellow, off white, olive, grey or sometimes brown, this is marked by large black or brown spots uniformly placed along the dorsal line with smaller alternating spots along the flanks. In adults the paler areas within the pattern are much finer giving an overall darker appearance. (Sometimes very dark almost black). The belly is pale in shades of peach, yellow, orange or red with dark marks openly dispersed near the head and more dense near the tail. The name stems from a shape on the head which looks like a horse shoe with the points facing back.

Horseshoe whip snake - Coluber hippocrepis – Culebra de Herradura
Horseshoe whip snake – Hemorrhois hippocrepis Coluber hippocrepis – Culebra de Herradura

Their habitat ranges from coastal plains with low vegetation to dry scrub covered mountains up to 1,800m within the southern part of their range. Most of the population is found below 700m. They also live close to humans in cultivated areas and orchards, hunting around buildings or ruins and making use of dry stone walls. Generally ground dwelling and moving very quickly these snakes are also agile climbers going into bushes or along rough vertical banks and can move along dry stone walls searching the crevices for prey.

Video of a shed or sloughed skin from a horseshoe whip snake

Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, the largest being rats, occasionally taking lizards such as moorish geckos and small birds. The young eat mainly lizards and also invertebrates. They actively seek out their meal, grasping it in their strong jaws and swallowing it head first. Horseshoe whip snakes may occasionally constrict their prey and do not have fangs or venom. This species of snake will always try and avoid detection, fleeing rapidly from human disturbance, but if cornered and handled will defend itself by hissing and biting.

Horseshoe whip snake - Coluber hippocrepis – Culebra de Herradura
Horseshoe whip snake – Hemorrhois hippocrepis Coluber hippocrepis – Culebra de Herradura

In warmer zones of their range they may be active throughout the year, otherwise taking a short hibernation period during the colder times between November and March. Mating takes place in the spring with the female then laying a clutch of around 5 or 10 eggs (occasionally more than 20) under a rock, in an existing mammal tunnel or in old wood. Around two months later hatchlings will appear at a length between 15 and 35cm. The females are not sexually mature until they are about 8 years old and the males 5 years.

Similar species: none with these markings.

Video of black horseshoe whipsnake

Taken in January of 2021 by Michael Peterson this video shows how it can sometimes be difficult to identify a snake in Spain. Colors and patterns vary greatly even within a species. This Horseshoe whip snakes is possibly the darkest we have ever seen and bears none of the familiar pattern across its back.

Note the change in scientific name in recent years Hemorrhois hippocrepis Coluber hippocrepis


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.

https://grazalemaguide.com/

Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica) Culebra Lisa Meridional

  • Non-venomous
  • English: Southern smooth snake.
  • Scientific: Coronella girondica (Daudin 1803).
  • Castilian: Culebra Lisa Meridional.
  • Catalan: Serp llisa meridional.
  • Portuguese: Cobra bordalesa.
  • Family: Colubridae.
  • Distribution: Iberia and much of Mediterranean basin area.

The Southern Smooth Snake is a slim, elegant snake with a rounded body and an average length of around 60cm, some reaching just under a metre. If warm enough then they are active between March and November. They are fairly slow moving and not good at climbing.

Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional –2
Southern smooth snake – Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional Image shows the two dark stipes below the head.

There is a dark strike from their neck to the rear corner of the eye. The eye itself has an orange / red ring around a circular black pupil. The body colour can vary between grey / brown to ochre with darker bands or blotches crossing the back in a non-uniform way. The underside is a creamy or orangey yellow with a haphazard checkered pattern of dark scales. This colouration is brightest in young ones.

They may be found in dry open scrub lands or rocky hillsides, hedgerows and open woods or around older cultivated trees. They will hide in old vegetation, under rocks and in stone walls. In warm southern areas they can be found in mountain regions but in cooler areas are more lightly to be below 1000m. This species of snake is mainly active in the evenings and at night, although they may be active during the day in wet weather, they are very secretive.

Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional –1
Southern smooth snake – Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional – Note the similarity to a ladder snake?

They generally eat small lizards, with skinks, geckos, smaller snakes and occasionally mammals also taken, young ones eat insects. Most of their prey is crushed by constriction and is swallowed head first.

Coupling takes place in spring with between 4 to 16 eggs being produced during the summer, these take 6 to 9 weeks to hatch, appearing in late August or September. The young tend to be active during the day and only measure 10 to 20cm.

The average life span for Coronella girondica is around 15 years. They reach sexual maturity when they are 4 years old.

Similar species

  • Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) Lacks the strongly patterned and colourful underside.
  • False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus) Often has a bold dark collar.
  • Young Ladder Snake (Elaphe scalaris) Has a more bold and regular ladder pattern on back.

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.

https://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.

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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.

https://grazalemaguide.com/