Native Snake Species in the United Kingdom

Native snake species in the United Kingdom

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When you think about snake habitat, you imagine the arid deserts of the Southern United States, the rainforest of South America, the African plains, Australian outback, and many others. You don’t always think about the woods, grasslands, and gardens of the United Kingdom.

It may therefore surprise you that there are a couple of snake species that are native to the UK. If you live in or visit this country, it’s worth knowing what to look out for and whether these snakes pose a risk to you.

Snake Species in the UK

Snakes are not one of the main examples of wildlife in the UK, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find them here. In fact, there are three species that are much more common than you might first believe. Shall we get to know them a little better?

1. Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica)

Out of all of the snakes in the United Kingdom, the grass snake is the largest in terms of length. They’re also the most common type of snake in the country although they are pretty timid, so it’s not very often that you’ll see one. They’re more likely to slither away at the sound of your footsteps than they are to hang around and say hello.

If they do encounter a human or another potential threat, many grass snakes will play dead in order to look less appealing to eat. They’re also capable of emitting a foul-smelling fluid from the anus to deter predators.


Grass snakes look quite similar to adders and are therefore often confused. However, you can tell them apart by looking at the pattern along the snake’s back. Adders have a zig-zag pattern, whereas grass snakes do not.

They are typically green to gray in color and can grow up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) in length. You’ll notice black markings along the entire length of the snake as well as distinct yellow and black markings in a collar around the neck.


You will find grass snakes all over the United Kingdom apart from Ireland and Scotland. In England and Wales, they’re very common near bodies of water but can also be found in wooded areas. If you’re a nature lover and have a pond or lots of plants and grass in your garden, you might even be lucky enough to spot one passing through.


Grass snakes are found throughout England and Wales, but they’re not endemic to the UK. They are also found across other parts of Europe and as far down as North Africa and the Middle East.


In the United Kingdom, grass snakes are one of the main predators of things like frogs, toads, and newts. However, like many snakes, they have a varied diet and may also feed on birds, small mammals, and even fish.

2. Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)

Smooth snakes are completely harmless so if you ever come across one, there’s really no need to panic. But then, there’s a good chance you won’t ever encounter one of these snakes as they are the rarest type in the United Kingdom and can only be found in very specific areas.

As well as being rare, the smooth snake is also the smallest species of snake in the UK, typically growing to only half the size of the grass snake.

What’s interesting about these snakes is that when they mate, the females do not lay eggs. The smooth snake is a species that incubates the eggs inside her body and then gives birth to live young.


The smooth snake is not a big animal, and it doesn’t usually grow much bigger than around 22 inches (55 cm). They can weigh up to 3.5 oz (100 g) and may live for up to 20 years in the wild.

The markings are one of the easiest ways to identify a smooth snake. They have a heart-shaped pattern on top of their heads as well as a distinct line down the side of the head. The body is brown to gray in color and has patterns all the way down which may include spots and lines.


The habitat of the smooth snake is extremely specific and likely one of the reasons that they are so rare. They are only found on sandy heaths in the southern parts of the United Kingdom.


Smooth snakes are the rarest in the United Kingdom and are only found in the southern parts of the country. You’ll find them in places like Surrey, Devon, Hampshire, West Sussex, and Dorset.


The smooth snake is a non-venomous species, so it does not bite and inject its prey. Instead, it will catch them and wrap around them to constrict and suffocate them. These snakes have an extremely varied diet and have been noted to eat slow worms, a variety of small mammals, and reptiles like lizards.

While they will eat different animals, one of their favorites is shrews, particularly when these small mammals are nesting and are more vulnerable.

3. Adder (Vipera berus)

The UK is not a dangerous country when it comes to venomous snakes and the adder, a type of viper, is the only venomous species here. This has resulted in the snake picking up a pretty bad reputation, and many people are frightened of it. However, these aren’t particularly aggressive creatures and will generally only bite if they feel threatened.

The bite of an adder isn’t usually serious, although in some cases, the symptoms can be worse than others. Normally, you would experience things like localized swelling or discoloration of the skin, faintness, nausea, and in the worst case, difficulty breathing. While most of the time the bite can be treated at home, it is advised to seek medical attention.


The adder is a relatively small snake that doesn’t usually get much bigger than around 22 inches (60 cm). You can identify an adder by the markings on its back which are set out in a zigzag pattern. However, you should keep in mind that females and males do have different appearances.

This is largely in terms of color with the females being a more coppery brown shade. There are even some females that are totally black while all of the males are grayer in color.


Just like the smooth snake, the adder gives birth to live young, up to 20 at a time. These snakes spend their time in woodlands and dry heaths and can sometimes be found in coastal areas.


Adders are pretty common throughout all of the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, and Scotland. However, in some northern home counties and in London, they are less common, and it’s thought that numbers are in decline in other parts of the country.

The only places that you won’t find these snakes in the UK are the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and Northern Ireland.


Being a venomous snake, the adder bites its prey and the poison does the rest. In order to catch its prey, the adder will sometimes wiggle its tail around so that it looks like a caterpillar. This is particularly enticing to various species of birds.

It will feed on several different animals, including small birds, particularly ground-nesting species, as well as reptiles and rodents.

Slow Worms – Not a Snake but Often Confused as One

Slow worms

There is one species in the United Kingdom that most people confuse for a snake. But it’s not actually a snake, it’s a type of legless lizard and it’s called the slow worm. But it’s very easy to see why there’s confusion around this because, at a glance, it looks exactly like a snake.

However, when you get a little closer (and it’s OK to do so as they’re not dangerous), you’ll see some very clear differences between the slow worm and your typical Great British snake. For starters, unlike any snake I’ve ever seen, the slow worm has eyelids. What’s more, the body of the slow worm is far chunkier, and if you look at the tongue, you’ll see that it isn’t as forked as that of a snake.

Slow worms are also generally a lot smaller than any of the snakes you will find here in the UK. Even the smallest that grows to around 22 inches (60 cm) is larger than even the biggest slow worms that only get to between 12 inches (30 cm) and 20 inches (50 cm) as adults.

These reptiles are totally harmless to humans but you may see them in your garden or allotment from time to time, especially if you have a compost heap as they love to hunt around here. They’ll eat a totally different diet to any British snake, largely feeding on spiders, slugs, snails, and other creepy crawlies.

No matter where you are in the UK, there’s a chance that you might stumble across a slow worm as they are found in all areas apart from Northern Ireland. That said, small populations of slow worms have been introduced to Ireland so they may become a more common sight in future. As well as gardens, you will find them in other habitats like woodlands and heaths where they like to hide under wood and stones.

How to Tell the Difference between Adders & Grass Snakes?

Difference between an adder and a grass snake

Grass snakes are totally harmless and unless you have a crippling fear of snakes, you won’t need to worry if one comes near you. Not that it would ever be likely as they’re such shy animals. On the other hand, the adder is venomous and could give you a nasty bite that would lead to some unpleasant symptoms.

Fortunately, death from an adder bite is incredibly rare and only 14 deaths have been recorded since the 1800s. However, the elderly and vulnerable may be at higher risk of complications. Even if you aren’t at risk, you’d probably still want to avoid being bitten, and that means keeping away from these common snakes. But how can you tell which is an adder and which is a grass snake?

One of the easiest ways to tell the two apart is to look at the coloration and markings. Adders have a very distinct zigzag pattern running the length of their bodies as well as a triangular marking on the top of their heads; grass snakes do not have this. What’s more, where grass snakes tend to be either green or gray in color, adders can have a reddish hue. However, this applies only to females. The males can be gray so using markings is a more reliable method of identification.

Adders are typically much shorter than grass snakes and don’t tend to get much bigger than 27 inches (70 cm). On the other hand, a grass snake could get up to 3.3 feet (1 meter), so if it’s a larger snake you’re looking at, it may be harmless.

How to Deter Snakes from Visting Your Garden?

How to deter snakes from visting your garden?

Most snakes in the UK won’t bother with humans. In fact, they’ll go in the opposite direction when confronted with one and even adders will only bite if they feel threatened. Still, many people don’t fancy sharing their outdoor space with snakes and are looking for ways to keep them away.

Snakes love long grass so by keeping up with your lawn maintenance, this can act as a deterrent. What’s more, having as little vegetation as possible could keep them at bay. Snakes also like places to hide such as under rocks or wood so make sure you don’t have any wood piles or rockeries that could be attractive to them.

Another great way to make your garden unattractive to snakes is to ensure there aren’t any little nooks and crannies that they can hide out. Ensure that there are no holes or gaps under garden sheds and other structures, and keep your compost heap enclosed, as they’ll love to hide out here.

If you have a pond or other water feature in your garden, especially one that attracts amphibians, fence this off. Snakes prey on animals like frogs and newts and will come into your garden if there’s a potential meal.

With all that said, the nature lovers among you might want to observe snakes in the garden, and the good news is that there are ways you can attract them. Quite simply, you need to do the opposite of everything I have just discussed. Give snakes lots of places to hide, such as holes under structures, long grass, and plenty of opportunity to find food. They’ll be more active in the summer, so keep an eye out, as you may just have a slithering visitor.

Are Adder Bites Dangerous?

Are adder bites dangerous?

Being the only venomous snake in the UK, there are plenty of people who are terrified of being bitten by an adder. While a bite isn’t pleasant, there’s a very low chance of it being serious and fatalities are incredibly rare.

If you are bitten by an adder, the symptoms can usually be managed at home by taking pain killers, keeping the bite site clean, and resting. That said, it is recommended to see your doctor, but I’ll talk more about what to do if you are bitten in the next section.

When most people are bitten by an adder, they may experience pain, swelling, or discoloration at the bite site. Other symptoms can include but are not limited to dizziness, fainting, nausea, and vomiting. There are some individuals that will be at higher risk of complications, particularly the elderly and the very young. It’s also worth noting that some people may suffer an allergic reaction to the venom.

As I discussed earlier in this guide, there have been just 14 reported deaths since the 1800s from adder bites. The last one was back in 1975 so this shows how rare it is. The majority of people make a full recovery in just a few days.

What to Do if You Get Bitten by an Adder?

How to treat adder bites

While adder bites are not usually serious, it is recommended by the NHS that victims seek immediate medical attention just in case of the risk of complications. You’ll need to treat the situation as an emergency and can either call for an ambulance or go to your local Accident and Emergency department.

Where possible, try to get a look at the snake that has bitten you because being able to give a description to your doctor will help them to determine the type of snake and therefore, the most appropriate course of action.

Before you are seen, you can take painkillers like paracetamol but avoid things like ibuprofen or aspirin as this could exacerbate bleeding. Be careful not to move the affected area too much. Moreover, if you are wearing any clothing or jewelry at the bite site then remove this, as it could become uncomfortable when the area swells.

Stay as calm as you can; the chances of the bite being serious are incredibly low, and don’t ever attempt to cut out the venom. It’s important that you wait for a medical professional for the correct treatment. It’s also really important not to try to catch the snake for the risk of further bites.

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