4 snakes and lizards you can find in the Yorkshire countryside
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 July 2018
In the UK, we have six native reptile species. Some of these can be found on our doorstep in Yorkshire, but to see others you may have to travel farther afield. Let’s meet the ‘Yorkshire four’.
Adder Vipera berus
The adder is the UK’s only venomous snake and can be found in a wide range of habitats. It prefers sunny open moorland, woodland and grassland areas where its prey is often abundant. Adders have a varied diet of small mammals, frogs, birds’ eggs and occasionally small birds, which they swallow whole after one venomous bite.
At 60-80cm long, an adder’s zig-zag skin pattern camouflages it well against predators such as crows, badgers, smooth snakes and raptors. These snakes pick up vibrations in the ground and will often flee as danger approaches.
Spring is probably the best time to see adders: they are often sluggish as they emerge from hibernation and can be seen basking in the early morning sunshine. At this time of year, males are particularly territorial and looking for a mate. If you are lucky, you may see them ‘dance’ as they compete for females. In the summer, females give birth to live young in litters ranging from five to 20 juveniles, all around 15cm long.
Where to find them: YWT nature reserves Allerthorpe Common, Ellerburn Bank, Fen Bog and Strensall Common.
Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara
The common lizard is the most widespread of the UK’s reptiles and can be found in a range of sunny habitats. Feeding on worms, insects and slugs, these lizard stun their prey with a violent shake before swallowing it.
The common lizard is 15cm long and, although there is some colour variation, it is usually brownish-grey. Often mistaken for newts, the males can have orange-yellow spotty undersides whereas the females are pale. They like sunny and dry open spaces, but dense undergrowth nearby is essential as a refuge from predators like foxes, crows, jays, cats and raptors. If grabbed, the lizard can shed its tail as a means of escape.
Like the adder, the common lizard also gives birth to live young, which are about 5cm long and darker than the adults.
Where to find them: YWT nature reserves Agden Bog, Strensall Common and Allerthorpe Common.
Grass snake Natrix natrix and barred grass snake Natrix helvetica
Grass snakes can be found in gardens – especially those with compost heaps and ponds – and wetland habitats. Growing up to 150cm in length, the grass snake swims to hunt and will prey on amphibians and fish. The barred grass snake was recently recognised as a separate species; the two are distinguishable by the yellow collar, which the barred grass snake lacks. Both species are grey/green in colour with dark markings along their sides.
Their predators include badgers, foxes, hedgehogs, cats and some bird species. If caught, these snakes can excrete a foul smelling substance to deter their attacker. Females lay their eggs in rotting vegetation; making warm, damp compost heaps ideal nesting places for egg incubation.
The juveniles, which hatch in late summer, are identical to the adults but just 15cm long.
Where to find them: YWT nature reserves Denaby Ings, North Cliffe Wood, Sprotbrough Flash and Barlow Common.
Slow worm Anguis fragilis
Not actually worms at all, slow worms are often confused for snakes. These surprising lizards blink their eyelids and have flat forked tongues. Like other lizards, they can also shed their tails if grabbed by a predator – snakes, hedgehogs, foxes, birds and domestic cats being the most likely assailants.
Slow worms live in a variety of habitats – anywhere they have access to plenty of invertebrates to eat, and sunny areas with nearby nooks and crannies to hide. Adults are around 50cm long with shiny, smooth skin. Males are paler in colour and occasionally have blue spots, whereas females are larger with darker sides and a dark stripe down the back.
Like the other reptiles, slow worms tends to hibernate from October to March and the females give birth to live young in late summer. The babies are around 4cm long and gold or silvery in colour.
Where to find them: The Yorkshire Dales or the Yorkshire Moors.
The other two reptiles native to the UK are the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). To find a rare sand lizard, you’ll need to visit Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey or certain Lancashire sand dunes, and there are also some reintroduced populations now in Wales. Leatherback turtles are highly migratory and breed in tropical waters, but they hunt large jellyfish swarms that are present in UK waters. The best time to see them is in August and September off the south and west coasts, although leatherbacks are occasionally spotted off Humberside.