Added 22 May 2005. Last updated 26 October 2008: updated E. quatuorlineata and added note about taxonomic changes and details for E. lineata.

Colubrid Snakes of Europe

The snakes of Europe belong overwhelmingly to the Family Colubridae, a situation actually found elsewhere as this is by far the largest snake family, easily outnumbering all other snakes put together. Colubrid snakes are really what the man in the street would probably think of if he had a picture in his mind of an ordinary snake (apart from the venomous ones so often shown on television).

Colubrid snakes are found the length and breadth of Europe, being absent only from Ireland. However, it is true that their diversity (as with all reptiles) increases the further south one goes. Not all favour hot and dry conditions, although most do.

The Natrix species are worthy of mention, since they cover nearly every country in Europe. At the same time many populations are under threat due to habitat degradation and just as importantly water pollution, which threatens them both directly and, through loss of the frogs that they prey on, indirectly. Among reptile keepers, Elaphe or ratsnakes are quite well known and some are kept as pets, as are their North American relatives. Generally speaking Elaphe are somewhat easier than some other European snakes as they can be fed for the most part with dead rodents as opposed to frogs or lizards. The genus Coluber, known colloquially as Whipsnakes, has been broken up in recent years with some species being siphoned off into Hierophis and Hemorrhois. These are mostly long and slender snakes that are also very fast and with a reputation for something of an aggressive temperament.

The species Malpolon, Macroprotodon and Telescopus should also be mentioned. These are so-called rear-fanged snakes, meaning that they have fangs at the rear of the mouth which inject venom. In all three cases however the venom is not strong enough to hurt a grown human, and although a venom injection from Malpolon can be unpleasant for the sufferer for a couple of hours, these species cannot be considered dangerous. No animal bite is pleasant nevertheless, and in most cases snakes would just as soon be left in peace. Therefore care and respect are advised in dealing with any wild animal.

This is rather a lengthy page, but I have included as much information as possible to show just how many different species of snake there are in Europe. I hope that this page will raise the level of interest in our European serpents, and encourage conservation as well as the responsible captive keeping and breeding of at least some of the species.

Note as of October 2008: in the past few years further changes have been made in the classification of these snakes, including the reduction in size of the number of snakes considered to be Elaphe species. Thus some authorities now consider Elaphe scalaris to be Rhinechis scalaris, while Elaphe lineata, Elaphe longissima and Elaphe situla are allocated to Zamenis. For the time being we are following the more conservative path, but readers should be aware of these changes.

Either click on a snake in the Quick Links section or scroll down for the whole table.

Coluber algirus, Algerian Whip Snake Coluber najadum, Dahl's Whip Snake Coluber nummifer, Asian Racer  
Coluber rubriceps Coronella austriaca, Smooth Snake Coronella girondica, Southern Smooth Snake  
Eirenus collaris Eirenus modestus Elaphe dione, Steppes Rat Snake  
Elaphe hohenackeri, Hohenacker's Snake Elaphe lineata, Rat Snake Elaphe longissima, Aesculapian Snake  
Elaphe quatuorlineata, Four-Lined Snake Elaphe scalaris, Ladder Snake Elaphe situla, Leopard Snake  
Hemorrhois ravergieri, Ravergier's Whip Snake Hemorrhois hippocrepis, Horseshoe Whip Snake Hierophis caspius  
Hierophis cypriensis Hierophis gemonensis, Balkan Whip Snake Hierophis gyarensis  
Hierophis jugularis, Large Whip Snake Hierophis schmidti Hierophis viridiflavus, Western Whip Snake  
Macroprotodon cucullatus, Hooded Snake Malpolon monspessulanus, Montpellier Snake Natrix natrix, Grass Snake  
Natrix maura, Viperine Snake Natrix tessellata, Dice Snake Telescopus fallax, European Cat Snake  

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
Coluber algirus Algerian Whip Snake Malta: NW Africa 40" A colubrid with an extensive range in N Africa that crosses into Europe, but even on Malta the Algerian Whip Snake is very rare. However, this snake has good vision and can move quickly over uneven ground: like many European snakes it likes stony areas or bush-covered slopes that catch the sun. When hunting, it will rear up to survey the area for prey, mainly lizards and small rodents. Although quick, it does not usually chase for very long. Its form of passive defence is very interesting: the oscillation of the snake's body cause the dark bars on its back to produce a sort of stroboscopic effect upon a would-be predator, which often deters the latter. Scales across body: 25. Ventral scales: 210-225. Subcaudal scales: ?. Clutch size: ?
Coluber najadum Dahl's Whip Snake Caucasus 32" Very fast snake with excellent vision and whose body and movements are reminiscent of the tropical whip snake genus Ahaetulla. Favoured habitats are stony sunny slopes on lower hills and mountains with evergreen vegetation or tall grass: it has been found at up to 1,700 m high. It is diurnal and at night retires under stones or into rocky clefts. Hibernation commences in about October, when it hides in deep crevices: it awakens in March. Diet is the usual one of lizards, small rodents and insects chiefly of the Orthoptera family. In June-July the female lays 3-6 eggs (but sometimes up to 12) in holes in the ground. The young are almost 12" long on hatching and feed initially on insects and lizards. It should be noted that occasionally this snake grows to greater lengths of up to 52". The two subspecies do not normally occur together, but can be differentiated by the greater number of spots down the body in the case of C. n. dahli. C. n. najadum occasionally produces the variant of plain glossy black specimens with grey-white bellies in Caucasian mountain forests. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 205-235. Subcaudal scales: 98-132. Brood size: 3-6 (occ. 12) Jun-Jul.
C. n. najadum Caucasus
C. n. dahli Adriatic (Yug.), Balkans
Coluber nummifer Coin Snake, Asian Racer [D Münzennatter] Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos, Cyprus Very rare. Now treated as separate species, C. nummifer, by some authorities, but regarded as subspecies or synonym of Hemorrhois ravergieri by others: see EMBL database entry for further details.
Coluber rubriceps Reddish Whip Snake [D Rötliche Zornnatter] Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Israel 100cm  A small but very fast diurnal snake that preys mainly on lacertid lizards. In the European part of its range it is found mainly near the coast. In the northern part of the range a hibernation of some months takes place. C. rubriceps is very rare in Bulgaria (see Beschkov). Coloration: overall red-grey with several dark, white-edged ocelli from the neck a short way back on the body and a dark transverse band on the neck itself. Clutch size: 3-5 eggs. 
Coronella austriaca Smooth Snake [D Glattnatter, Schlingnatter, Haselnatter, Kupfernatter: E culebra lisa europea]




Scandinavia (not Denmark), Benelux, S England, France, N Spain, N Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Czech, Hungary, all former Yugoslavia, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Baltic states, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, W Kazakhstan, N Iran




Avg. 60-70 cm, max 80cm




Smallish but very widely distributed snake. It is diurnal and is only out in early evening during high summer. Smooth Snakes are found in grasslands, wooded steppes, on the edges of forests, in hedges, rubble at the foot of steep rocks, on rocky outcrops and sometimes in gardens. In the UK they are confined to sandy heathland. They are solitary creatures and their dull-brown colouring and subtle markings make them hard to see. They feed mainly on lizards (Arnold cites these as about 70% of their diet) but also snakes, including young vipers, young rodents and even insects. Hibernation begins in September-October (depending on the weather) and ends in April, when the snakes emerge and mate. Incubation is ovoviviparous: the females give birth to up to 15 live young, which are 5-7" long. Occasionally eggs will emerge at the same time, from which the hatchlings emerge almost immediately. Although not naturally aggressive, if it feels cornered a Smooth Snake will hiss threateningly first and then attack, attempting to bite: musking (the voiding of the anal glands) is also quite usual. The small recurved teeth latch into flesh very efficiently! A distinguishing feature of this species is its head, which widens behind the eyes. The subspecies C. a. fitzinger is not recognised by some authorities: see EMBL database entry. Scalation details: 1 preocular, 2 postoculars; 2 x 2 or 2 x 3 temporals; 7 supralabials, of which 3rd and 4th usually touch the eye: rostral extends into supranasals; 4 sublabials in contact with anterior submaxillaries. Dorsal scalation: 19 rows at midbody. Ventral scales: 153-199. Subcaudal scales: 41-70. Coloration: dorsal coloration and pattern are very variable, ranging from grey-yellow to rust-red with all stages between [Englemann et al]. Melanistic or albino individuals may also be encountered. Reproduction: courtship takes place in March-April and also again in August-September: birth is ovoviparous, with 2-15 live young being born. The young from France tend to be somewhat larger at birth than those from the UK [Salvador]. Sexual maturity is reached in the fourth or fifth year. 
C. a. austriaca
C. a. acutirostris
C. a. fitzingeri
Coronella girondica Southern Smooth Snake [D Girondische Schlingnatter: E culebra lisa meridional] Spain, Portugal, S France, Italy (inc. Sicily), Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia: poss. W Austria? Avg. 50-60 cm, max 80cm  Although closely related to the Smooth Snake, the Southern Smooth Snake is different in several ways: it is less aggressive, lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young, and is slower (although a good swimmer) and more secretive. KKS claim that it seems to avoid bright light, and may often sit in half-shadow. It is generally more of a lowland species than C. austriaca. The main visible differences are in the markings on the underside of the belly and the configuration of the head plates. C. girondica has two black bars on most of its ventral scales, whereas those of C. austriaca are darker and a uniform colour. The rostral plates and some small plates in the upper jaw are the other difference. The Southern Smooth Snake is considered the older of the two species. The areas of the two species do overlap. Although normally found in lowlands, C. girondica has also been found at up to 3,200 m. It prefers the usual stony sunny areas with some bushes. Prey is mainly lizards and some snakes, although insects may also be taken. Captives adapt quickly to a diet of mice and have been known to live for 15 years in captivity. Mating takes place in April-May, and up to five young hatch in August-September: these prey on small lizards and insects. The subspecies C. g. amaliae is not recognised by most authorities. Scalation details: 1 (sometimes 2) preocular, 2-3 (sometimes 1) postoculars; 2 x 3 or 3 x 3 temporals; 8 supralabials, of which 4th and 5th usually touch the eye: rostral does not extend into supranasals; 49-72 sublabials. Dorsal scales: 21 (rarely 19 or 23) at midbody. Ventral scales: 170-200. Subcaudal scales: 43-72, paired. Other: anal plate divided. Coloration: overall greyish-brown, at times somewhat reddish, with a dark band behind each eye. Ventrally whitish, orangeish or yellowish with irregular black bars: iris yellow with black and reddish patches. Clutch size: 5-7 (usually 7) which are laid at the end of July. 
C. g. girondica      
C. g. amaliae      
Eirenis collaris ? E Turkey, Iraq, W Iran, S Russia (between Black and Caspian Seas), Dagestan, SE Georgia, S Armenia, Azerbaijan 20" Both these snakes are similar in their size and diet, which is invertebrates, especially insects. E. modestus has been considered a synonym of E. collaris: see EMBL database entry. Both species may be listed as Contia in older literature.
E. c. collaris
E. c. macrospilotus
Eirenus modestus Asia Minor Dwarf Snake Israel, Syria, E Turkey, Greece (incl. Lesbos, Chios, Samos) Russia (Caucasus), Dagestan , Armenia, E Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran 15" A slender snake, feeding mainly on insects and the occasional small lizard. Dorsum is a shade of grey or light brown, sometimes with anterior spotting and "m"-shaped dark head markings (Buttle). Hellmich describes a subspecies from the island of Alazomisi as E. m. werneri (WERNER), but this does not seem to be recognised today.
E. m. modestus
E. m. cilicius
E. m. semimaculatus
Elaphe dione Steppes Rat Snake [D Dionenatter, Steppennatter] S. Ukraine eastwards to the Pacific 36" Very widely distributed snake across Russia and Asia. Although preferring steppeland, it is also found up to 3,500 m high in the mountains. Diet is very catholic, with small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, toads and snakes being taken: it will even enter the sea to catch fish. It resembles the African Egg-eating Snake Dasypeltis scabra in its method of crushing eggs, and like that snake has vertebral projections in its gullet. Colouring is usually a golden yellow with three darker yellow-brown spotted stripes running down the back, but occasionally darker specimens are found. When annoyed or afraid the Rat Snake vibrates its tail very rapidly. Females lay 5-16 eggs in July-August. Scales across body: 25-27. Ventral scales: 188-202. Subcaudal scales: 63-75. Clutch size: 5-16 eggs, July-August.
Elaphe hohenackeri Hohenacker's Snake S Russia inc. Caucasus, Transcaucasia, NW Iran, Asia Minor, Lebanon 30" One of Europe's smaller snakes, Hohenacker's Snake is found in a variety of habitats within its range. As much of this area is mountainous it is unsurprisingly found at altitudes up to 2,500 m. It does not seem too fussy about humidity levels as it will favour either dry slopes or moist stream valleys, and can also be found within dense forests. Unusually it will also take up residence near human habitations, where it will shelter among stones or in stone walls. Colouring is a silver-grey with brown-red bars running across the back. Up to 7 eggs are laid in June-July: incubation takes about a month.
E. h. hohenackeri
E. h. taurica
E. lineata

Elaphe longissima romana.

Striped/Italian Aesculapian Snake S Italy to Sicily Max TL 140cm Formerly known as Elaphe longissima romana. Similar to the Aesculapian Snake, which occurs immediately north of its range, but generally lighter and ventrally grey. Scalation details: 23 middorsal rows; 225-238 ventrals; 72-82 paired subcaudals. Coloration: lighter than E. longissima, lacks light blotch on side of neck. Narrow dark stripes may be present on back, in which case any white speckling on scales is confined to these stripes. Eye reddish. [SOURCE: Arnold]
Elaphe longissima Aesculapian Snake [D Äskulapnatter]

Elaphe longissima. Click on the image to see the full-sized picture.

NE Spain, C. & S. Europe, up to Iran 80" Not the longest snake in Europe, despite its species name ("longissima" means 'longest'). The common name is derived from the old Greco-Roman god of healing whose symbol was the snake. It is somewhat arboreal, being a good climber, and will often rest inside a tree or on a shady branch. It is also quite active and hunts mainly during the afternoon. Prey is voles, mice, moles, lizards and nestling birds. Favoured habitats are warm wooded grasslands, small deciduous woods, rocky areas and often abandoned or broken buildings. In June-July females lay 5-8 eggs in a hole in a tree or a stump. The young hatch in September and are about 4-5" long. Aesculapian Snakes are normally a shade of brown, with lighter bellies: the young have light collar-like marks behind their heads. Interestingly there are isolated pockets of this species in Northern Europe, believed to have been separated by the Ice Ages in Europe. Specimens in these northern pockets normally only reach 64". The former subspecies E. l. romana was elevated to full species status in 1999 and is now known as E. lineata: see EMBL database entry.
Elaphe quatuorlineata (Eastern) Four-Lined Snake [D Östliche Vierstreifennatter] Poland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia (inc. some islands), Herzogovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia, Turkey, S Russia (Black Sea to Caucasus), Transcausus, Middle East, C Asia 6-7" Another of the larger European snakes, and very predatory: one captured specimen in Macedonia disgorged a turtledove, a magpie and a small tortoise, and others do not shy from hunting rats. In fact, unusually for European colubrids, rodents form the main portion of this snake's diet, plus birds and their young and eggs. Despite its predatory nature, however, the Four-Lined Snake is reported to be fairly gentle by disposition (Buttle). Four-Lined Snakes are found in steppeland, semi-arid and shrubbed areas, or on the edges of open deciduous woods. They are terrestrial but are good climbers. Shelter is usually taken in rodent burrows, deep crevices or piles of stones. Ironically, given their predatory nature, Four-Lined Snakes are not much bothered by disturbance and do not try to bite. They are not abundant over their range. In July-August females lay 3-18 eggs: the young hatch in September-October. The snake derives its name from the four narrow stripes running down its back, although this is replaced in E. q. sauromates by rows of spots (this subspecies now in fact usually considered a full species). Ground colour varies from yellow to orange to brown: as usual the belly is always lighter. Like many reptiles, older species seem to lose colour contrast. There are three other subspecies but their ranges are extremely small and isolated. The Four-Lined Snake is very similar in appearance to the N. American Yellow Rat Snake, E. o. quadrivittata. Scales across body: 25 (occ. 23 or 27). Ventral scales: 195-234. Subcaudal scales: 56-90. Clutch size: 3-18, July-Aug, hatch Sept-Oct.
E. q. quatuorlineata Italy, Sicily, Yugoslavia, Albania, S. Bulgaria, Greece, Cycades
E. q. muenteri Aegean Islands
E. q. parensis  
E. q. praemetura Aegean island of Jos (Cyclades)
E. q. sauromates Bulgaria to Caucasus, Asia Minor, Iran
E. q. scyrensis Greece (Skyros)?
Elaphe scalaris
Elaphe scalaris
Ladder Snake [D Treppennatter] Iberia, France, Iles d'Hyères, Minorca 48-64" The Ladder Snake derives its scientific and common name from the markings of its young, which in addition to the pair of dorsal stripes running down the back (found in adults) have dark bars running across their backs. Apart from these markings the snake is usually a simple overall shade of brown. It inhabits coastal regions in its range, where it is usually found in sunny areas: stony slopes with some shrubs, deserted orchards, vineyards, open deciduous woods or dry rocks. It is diurnal, and shelters in rodent burrows, hollow trees or a pile of stones. Prey is mainly rodents and nestling birds. Mating takes place in May-June: 6-12 eggs are laid between late June and early August, and the young hatch in September-October. The young prey on lizards and insects. Scales across body: 27 (occ. 25 or 29). Ventral scales: 201-220. Subcaudal scales: 48-68. Clutch size: 6-12 Jun-Aug, hatching Sept-Oct.
Elaphe situla Leopard Snake [D Leopardnatter] S. Italy, Sicily, Yug. Adriatic coast, Aegean islands, Asia Minor, Crimea (rare), poss. Caucasus 40" The beautiful Leopard Snake is strikingly similar to the well-known N. American Corn Snake, Elaphe guttata, but has not fared so well. Despite its wide range it is not abundant, and it may be that its conspicuous markings have made it an easy target for ophidophobes. Its egg-laying rate is also quite low compared to other colubrids (see below). Ironically it is more placid than many of the colubrids listed here. Prey is small rodents, nestling birds and lizards. The Leopard Snake favours dry stony areas, deep shady valleys with flowing streams through the bottom and roadside ditches. It is very much a lowland snake, not being found above 600 m. Hibernation is November until mid-April. In June females lay 2-7 eggs in holes in the ground: the hatchlings measure about 12-13". Leopard Snakes have a distinguishing V-shaped mark on their heads and black-ringed "saddles" along the back: those young which are born with stripes rather than spots usually see the stripes break up into spots by adulthood: adult striped specimens are rare. Scales across body: 27 (occ. 25). Ventral scales: 220-60. Subcaudal scales: 68-89. Clutch size: 2-7
Hemorrhois [Coluber] hippocrepis Horseshoe Whip Snake SE Iberia, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, NW Africa 80" Formerly considered a species of Coluber. This snake's common name derives from the markings on the sides of its neck: the species itself is variably coloured. The two subspecies can only be told apart visually by the different number of dorsal scales per transverse row: the nominate subspecies has the larger range. Within its range it is usually found in dry stony areas sparsely dotted with scrub. Basking takes place in the morning and late afternoon, otherwise the snake usually shelters within rodent burrows, under stones or in loose stone embankments. Although terrestrial, it can climb well. If threatened it will usually flee, but will occasionally hiss loudly in an attempt at intimidation. Preferred diet is lizards, small mammals and birds. Females lay 5-10 eggs in early spring which they hide in warm sandy soil beneath stones. The young hatch in early summer: their initial diet is normally lizards.Scales across body: 25-29. Ventral scales: 214-258. Subcaudal scales: 77-107. Clutch size: 5-10 early spring, hatching early summer.
H. h. hippocrepis SE Iberia, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily
H. h. intermedius NW Africa
Hemorrhois [Coluber] ravergieri Ravergier's Whip Snake, Spotted Whip Snake





Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East, Caucasus, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Mongolia and China ?





This species also possesses weak venom. The nominate subspecies sometimes produces black-headed individuals.
H. r. ravergieri Caucasus: C. Asia  
H. r. nummifer Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos Very rare. Now treated as separate species, C. nummifer, by some authorities: see EMBL database entry for further details.
H. r. chernovi Transcaucasia  
H. r. plumbeus ? See remarks on nominate subspecies about venom.
Hierophis caspius [D Balkan-Springnatter]  Balkans, E Aegean islands, Hungary, Black Sea and as far as Caucasus   Formerly considered a subspecies of Hierophis jugularis.
Hierophis cypriensis   Cyprus    
Hierophis gemonensis Balkan Whip Snake, Balkan Racer [D Balkan-Zornnatter] Balkans, inc. Alb, Yug and S. Greece 40-48" A tan-coloured snake that likes dry stony areas but also like more cover than most colubrids, frequenting also vineyard terraces, olive groves and areas of evergreen scrub. The black spots at the head end gradually disappear towards the middle of the body. Favoured prey is largely lizards, but young birds and small mammals are taken. It can also be cannibalistic and in captivity should always be housed singly. Interestingly, this snake itself often falls prey to the legless lizard Ophisaurus apodus. It is however quick, with very inconspicuous undulations, and will fight back if cornered, coiling its body into loose loops and striking at the perceived enemy from a distance. The Balkan Whip Snake is found in those areas where the Large Whip Snake (C. jugularis) is absent and vice-versa, except for one small section of the Albanian coast. In appearance it is very similar to C. viridiflavus. Specimens from the island of Gioura in the Cyclades are usually black with a greater number of ventral scales (196-203). Scales across body: 17-19 (usually 19). Ventral scales: 162-186 [Gioura 196-203]. Subcaudal scales: 80-111. Brood size: up to 15, mid-Sept.
Hierophis gyarosensis   Greece   Formerly considered a species of Hierophis [Coluber] genomensis.
Hierophis jugularis Large Whip Snake [D Pfeilnatter, Jochnatter] Greece (Aegean Islands), Middle East: poss. Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary and former Yugoslavia  120"





The longest and one of the largest snakes in Europe, this species has a wide distribution from the Balkans via the Middle East and Caucasia to Central Asia. 70-100 years ago it was reported in Czechoslovakia, but none have been sighted there since. Although found at up to 1,500 m in Hungary, in Bulgaria it seems to prefer open pasture, where it is found near groups of trees and bushes. It is strong and a good climber, but prefers attack as the best form of defence: like many colubrids, it coils, hisses and then strikes with an open mouth, attempting to bite. The recurved teeth are apparently very difficult to remove if lodged in the skin. Hellmich notes that this species is very hard to tame in captivity. Unsurprisingly it has a varied diet, adding snakes, large insects and even the odd amphibian to the usual serpent fare of birds, small mammals and lizards. In June-July females lay 6-18 eggs which normally hatch in early September: the hatchlings are 11-12" long and feed on insects and lizards. Normal colouring is bluish-green with a yellow belly, but the subspecies C. j. schmidti is often red in colour, with conspicuous spotting on the head. [NB the subspecies C. j. caspius and C. j. schmidti are not recognised by the EMBL database]. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 189-215. Subcaudal scales: ?. Clutch size: 6-8 Jun-Jul, hatching early Sept.
H. j. jugularis Turkey, Syria and Israel
H. j. asianus NE Syria, Iraq
H. j. caspius Balkans, E Aegean islands, Hungary, Black Sea and as far as Caucasus Now elevated to full species status: see Hierophis caspius.
H. j. schmidti Turkey, Russia, Transcaucasia, C. Asia, N Iran Now elevated to full species status: see Hierophis schmidti.
Hierophis schmidti [D Schmidts Pfeilnatter, Rote Springnatter]  Turkey, Russia, Transcaucasia, C. Asia, N Iran   Formerly viewed as a subspecies of H. jugularis. Often completely red in coloration. 
Hierophis viridiflavus Western Whip Snake NW Spain, C & S France, S. Switzerland, NW & C Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, Elba 72" This snake is fairly catholic in its diet, taking not only the usual mammals, birds and lizards, but also snakes, frogs, tadpoles, beatles and slugs and snails. This may account for its reasonably wide range from Spain to Yugoslavia. It is found in low-lying country in dry areas with a thin scattering of shrubs. It is somewhat more aggressive than some of the other European colubrids, as it will hiss loudly at a perceived threat and sometimes attack it, and if picked up it will try to bite. It is diurnal and at night resorts to the cover of stones or the burrows of small mammals. Hibernation is usually within a deep hole in the ground or beneath the roots of a bush. Females lay 8-15 eggs elongated eggs which take 6-8 weeks to incubate: the hatchlings measure about 1". The two subspecies can be mainly differentiated by colour: C. v. viridiflavus is black with greenish-yellow markings, while most specimens of C. v. carbonarius are a shiny black from the third year of their life: the yellow markings remain however on the eye and lip scales [Hellmich]. The belly in both subspecies is always yellow-brown. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 180-219. Subcaudal scales: 85-113. Brood size: 8-15, mid-Sept.
H. v. viridiflavus S. Alps, NW Yug, NE & S Italy, Sicily, Malta, Pelagos
H. v. carbonarius Former Yugoslavia
Macroprotodon cucullatus Hooded Snake [D Kaputzennatter] C. & S. Iberia, Balearic islands, Italy (Lampedusa): Africa N. of Sahara, Morocco to Egypt 20-26" The only member of the genus Macroprotodon and not a very well-known snake, a fact partly attributable to its small size, nocturnal behaviour and daytime concealment. Its habitat is always dry and stony and has dry loose soil. Its prey is usually lizards, which it attacks while they are sleeping and paralyses with a mild venom (harmless to man). The Hooded Snake can move quickly and if surprised will throw its head back to show the underside before fleeing for shelter. Females lay 5-7 eggs. The species is a light brown overall colour with small black spots down the back and usually a black or dark brown collar behind the head which sometimes extends along the top to cover the crown. The population in SE Morocco may possibly constitute a subspecies as the number of scales across the body differs (23-25 as opposed to the usual 19-23). Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 153-192. Subcaudal scales: 40-54. Clutch size: 5-7
M. c. cucullatus Iberia
M. c. brevis Morocco
M. c. ibericus Iberia
M. c. mauritanicus E Morocco, Algeria, N Tunisia, Balearic Islands, Italy (Lampedusa)
Malpolon monspessulanus Montpellier Snake

S France, Iberia, N Italy, Balkans and Turkey: NW Africa and Middle East 80" This snake is one of the back-fanged colubrids which have a certain venomous capability: not usually enough to kill a human, but certainly enough to dispatch its prey (lizards, snakes or small rodents) and bad enough to inflict a good deal of pain on a person. Owing to its prey preferences it inhabits dry stony areas heavily populated by lizards, such as piles of stones on the edges of fields or near ruined buildings. When hunting it will occasionally rear up and look around, making it somewhat resemble the cobra. If it feels threatened it hisses loudly and attacks with the mouth closed. Unusually for a snake, this colubrid possesses good vision. One of its distinguishing features is in fact the prominent ridge above its eyes, giving it a frowning appearance. Females lay up to 20 eggs in the latter part of April, usually in spaces within stone piles so as to maintain the moisture level for the embryos. The young feed mainly on insects. Scales across body: 17 or 19. Ventral scales: 160-189. Subcaudal scales: 68-100. Clutch size: 4-20, April.
M. m. monspessulanus S France, Spain, Portugal, N Italy (inc. Lampedusa)
M. m. insignitus Croatia, Herzogovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece (inc. Lesbos, Chios and Corfu), Bulgaria, Turkey and Cyprus: NW Africa and Middle East
Natrix natrix Grass Snake
Thumbnail courtesy of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
Rhine to Siberia, Scandinavia up to Balkans 40-60" Very widely distributed and most common European snake. The Grass Snake almost invariably lives near water and is found by rivers, marshes, pools, lakes and ponds and even on seashores. In mountainous areas it is also found up to 2,000 m high. In keeping with its favoured habitats its diet is mainly fish and amphibians, plus occasional small mammals. It is not fast but can swim. Like some N American colubrids associated with water, if it is picked up it may secrete an unpleasant odour from a gland next to its cloaca, but it rarely bites. Despite their closeness to water, Grass Snakes may travel some distance away from it in order to find a suitable hibernation site, usually a deep rodent burrow, hollow tree or similar. Interestingly they usually hibernate in small groups and often together with other species. They awaken in March-April. In summer a female lays up to 50 eggs, often in a communal site: incubation is two months, and the hatchlings measure about 5-6". In addition to their normal prey the young take invertebrates, mainly earthworms. Colouring and markings vary among the nine subspecies, but the overall colour is usually yellow, brown or grey-brown. Some subspecies, including the nominate subspecies, have a black neck with two orange markings across it. For some excellent pictures and range information (in German), visit this Austrian website.
N. n. natrix Rhine to Siberia, Scandinavia up to Balkans
N. n. astreptophora Iberia, Morocco, Algeria
N. n. cetti Sardinia
N. n. corsa Corsica
N. n. cypriaca Cyprus
N. n. fusca  
N. n. gotlandica Sweden (Gotland) 
N. n. helvetica England across to Alps, Rhineland, N & C Italy, Istria
N. n. lanzai Italy (south of R. Po as far as S Italy, but excluding Calabria) 
N. n. persa Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece (Lesbos), Asia Minor
N. n. sicula Sicily, Calabria
N. n. scutata E. of Dniepr, Crimea and W Caucasus
N. n. schweizeri Milos, Kimolos, Cyclades
Natrix maura Viperine Snake Iberia, Balearic islands, Sardinia, N. Italy, NW Africa ?" Like all members of its genus, the Viperine Snake is aquatic and is found near ponds, rivers, mountain streams and in brackish water. It is not found above 1,400 m. It is an extremely good swimmer and catches most of its prey (fish, amphibians and their larvae) in the water. Mating takes place in March-April, and in June females lay up to 20 eggs in loose soil or under stones. The young hatch in August and are about 8" long: in addition to the adult diet, they also feed on earthworms. Apart from the characteristic zig-zag rows of spots down its back, rather like the markings of a true viper, the Viperine Snake is extremely varied in colouring, but despite this no subspecies have been described. Scales across body: 21 (occasionally 19 or 21). Ventral scales: 147-164. Subcaudal scales: 46-72. Clutch/Brood size: Up to 20, Jun: hatching Aug.
Natrix tessellata Dice Snake (aka Tessellated Snake) [D Würfelnatter] Italy, SE Europe, Asia Minor to C. Asia, Black Sea and Middle East 44" A truly aquatic snake, seldom moving away from the water, the Dice Snake is also an excellent diver and able to spend up to 15 minutes below the surface. It preys entirely on small fish. Outside of its normal range there are a few isolated pockets in N. Europe: these are always in river valleys with rocky sides. These conditions apparently create a warm microclimate essential to the snake. In southern Europe it lives in large lakes and is also found along the coasts, while central Asian specimens live beside small mountain torrents in loess mountains. In some places this snake even inhabits thermal waters. Like other aquatic snakes, the Dice Snake will often congregate in large numbers. Although not a biting snake, the Dice Snake has the defence mechanism of emptying its cloacal contents if picked up together with the emission of an unpleasant odour from a secretory gland next to its cloaca. Hibernation takes place from October to April in dry holes near the water. Mating is in May-June, and about 4 weeks later the females lay 10-25 eggs, usually in piles of organic debris by the water or in loose soil under stones. Interestingly these leathery eggs are joined together by strings of a mucous-like substance, perhaps another aquatic adaptation. The young hatch in early September and are 8-9" long. Colouring is very varied: the most common form in C. Europe is grey green with black zig-zag-like markings down the back, but in S. Europe completely black forms or straw-coloured variants with a red belly are often found. Specimens from the extreme north also have fewer plates on their heads, but so far no subspecies of this snake has been described. Apparently the Dice Snake has a small area of overlap with the Viperine Snake in NW Italy, and in this area the two species more closely resemble one another. There does not seem to be much information on the two subspecies: see EMBL database entry. Scales across body: 19. Ventral scales: 160-187. Subcaudal scales: 48-79. Clutch size: 10-25, Jun-Jul.
N. t. tessellata [D Gewöhnliche Würfelnatter]  
N. t. heinrothi [D Heinroths Würfelnatter]  
Telescopus fallax European Cat Snake Balkans, Malta, Cyclades, Asia Minor 40" There are 11 species in the genus Telescopus, but this is the only one living in Europe, and four of its seven subspecies are found outside the continent, eg in Arabia. Although mainly a lowland dweller, it has been found at up to 1,800 m. high. It frequents the usual dry, warm and stony habitats, partly for shelter and partly because it preys almost entirely on small lizards. Its venom is not dangerous to humans but kills small lizards in 2-3 minutes. Mating takes place in early spring: females lay 6-9 eggs in June-July and the young, 6-8" long, hatch in September. They feed initially on insects. The European Cat Snake is variable in colour. If it feels threatened it coils itself into a flat disk, hisses and tries to bite. Unusually for a colubrid its pupil is vertical, a testimony to its nocturnal behaviour. Scales across body: 17-23. Ventral scales: 186-222. Subcaudal scales: 48-73. Clutch size: 7-8
T. f. fallax Balkans, Malta, Cyclades, Asia Minor
T. f. squamatus Kufonesi island (SE of Malta)
T. f. pallidus Crete and neighbouring islands


Reptiles and Amphibians, Vaclav Lanka and Zbysek Vit, Hamlyn Colour Guide, Prague, 1985

Lurche und Kriechtiere Europas, Engelmann, Fritzsche, Günther and Obst, Enke, Leipzig 1986.

Collins Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins, London 1978. An invaluable guide, although a few of the taxonomic details are in need of revision.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe, Walter Hellmich, Blandford Press, London 1962. Taxonomy is rather outdated but useful on details of appearance, habitat and subspecies.

Snakes of the World, Chris Mattison, Blandford Press.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996. Relevant to European species inasmuch as a fair number of those found in North Africa also occur in Iberia and the northern Mediterranean regions.

"An Introduction to Reptiles and Amphibians of the Greek Islands", David Buttle, Reptilian 3:7. Very useful article not just for the distribution of herps in the area but also for ecology and details of lesser-known species.


EMBL reptile database - the best Internet resource I have found for up-to-date taxonomy and bibliographies for reptile species.

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