Yes, there are snakes in France

Although I am aware that we do have grass snakes and adders in the UK I have not had too many encounters with them over the years outside the confines of a zoo. In the last six months in France however I have seen more snakes of varying sizes than I have seen at any other time in my life.

A picture of the first snake we saw is below. And he (or maybe she) was a whopper! We estimate “he” could have been 1.5 metres long and believe him to be a Couleuvre verte et jaune. The Couleuvre verte et jaune is found throughout the South West of France and, as its name implies, it is predominantly dark green with yellow dashes or bands which are transversal on the main part of its body and are longitudinal towards the tail. Apparently it can reach up to 2 metres in length and exists in various forms and coloration which are determined by the stage of the snake's development. It is non-venomous and, according to reasonably reputable sources, you can tell this by it's prominent round pupils. A venomous snake will have slit-like pupils. I have to say that neither of us contemplated standing by the wall this particular beastie was sunbathing on to gaze into its eyes to check its pupil shape.

Couleuvre verte et jaune (grass snake or whip snake) catching some rays on Aimé's garden wall


We have also seen several snakes rapidly traversing one particular road we use frequently. This particular road cuts through large swathes of deciduous woodland and seems to be a favourite highway for snakes. While we were driving along this road today Jeff drove over what he took to be a twig and was somewhat surprised when the twig rapidly curled up before his eyes. We reversed back up the road to take the picture below. Well actually I took the picture below while brave Jeff proffered advice from the driver's seat like “Don't get too close if it is venomous it can strike up to a distance of twice its body length” and “I reckon its an adder, so its probably poisonous”. The snake, as you can probably tell from the picture, was not squished.

Dunno what species this one is but it's probably non-venomous (check out those prominent round pupils). It is probably a Grass Snake Natrix natrix (Couleuvre à collier), but if you think differently please let me know.

I have had a somewhat closer encounter with a snake recently too. A little bit too close for comfort. While out walking along the voie verte a few days ago I spied a walnut tree which had dropped all of its fruit onto the path. Having a bag in my pocket I was unable resist picking up the nuts even though I probably already have enough to last through to next year's harvest. As I plunged my hand deep into the fairly long grass to rummage through the fallen leaves for walnuts I spotted what I initially took to be a bright green smooth lizard no more than two centimetres from my hand. The creature was almost totally obscured by grass and leaves but I could see the body was no thicker than my finger. But I could not see its head, or the end of its tail or, now I come to think of it, any legs. I removed my hand rather rapidly and straightened up to see a small snake lying in an almost perfect circle. As I was standing almost directly above the snake I could not see if it had round pupils and after watching its forked tongue darting in and out for a few seconds I decided not to attempt a closer eye examination. I think it was probably a juvenile Couleuvre verte et jaune and therefore non-venomous, however I have now decided to take the rather sensible precaution of using a stick to rake out nuts and windfall apples rather than my hand. And instead of thinking that the frequent scurrying noises I hear while out walking is probably a cute furry mouse-type rodent, a wiggly lizard or an interesting species of bird, I will consider the possibility that it could be snake. And that it might not have round pupils.



Responses to this blog:


Many thanks to Willy "rat python" D who agrees that the snake in picture one is a whip snake.  In his opinion snake two is an Asperine  ( non poisonous and constantly mistaken for  an Asp Viper) based on the pattern sporadic shape and the head. Furthermore, according to Willy, the Asperine family "have a defence mechanism which actually gives them away in that if approached they will make a rearing up defence although they were going to attack". Apparently asps and adders "will move away and only start to look aggressive if you constantly corner them,block their escape route or seriously annoy them". So, there you have it. I am a little reluctant to test Willy's final piece of advice however which is to "push something thin and small towards their mouth in an attempt to get them to make a biting gesture ..... then you can check the teeth pattern and confirm if bad guy or good guy !!!." I think I'll stick to taking a photo and emailing it to Willy for identification....