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Wild reptiles found in Great Britain - native lizards and snakes of the UK

Updated on June 22, 2012
Imogen French profile image

Imogen is from West Dorset, in the UK. She works in publishing, and writes mainly about the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.

Great Britain has a small but interesting population of reptiles, consisting of only three species of snake and three species of lizard. Natural habitat for these fascinating creatures is always under threat as heaths and moors are swallowed up by housing developments or farmland, so it is important to highlight these beautiful and unique creatures and to recognise the need to preserve their habitats to make sure they are not lost forever.

The common European adder
The common European adder | Source
The grass snake
The grass snake | Source

Snakes

The three snakes found in Britain are the adder, the grass snake and the smooth snake.

The adder (Viper berus) is the only venomous snake, and the only creature with a deadly poison in the British Isles. It is easily recognisable by the zig-zag pattern down its back, usually black and white but also sometimes brown and white. They are a fairly small snake, rarely growing to more than about 90 cm (36 inches) in length. They use their venomous bite to immobilise their prey, and rarely bite humans unless they are disturbed or feel threatened. It takes a few hours before the poison takes full effect - usually enough time to get to a hospital for some anti-venom, and the bites are rarely fatal. In fact, the last known fatality from an adder's bite in Britain was in 1975. It is quite widespread, and can survive in a variety of habitats, including grassland, heaths and forests.

Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) are the country's largest snakes, sometimes reaching up to 2 metres (6 ft) long. They are greenish in colour, with yellow markings around the neck, and are often seen near water or swimming in ponds or lakes where they eat small amphibians and fish. They are the only British snake to lay eggs, whereas the others give birth to live young.

The smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is the rarest of the three, and only found in southern England in heathland areas which are becoming increasingly rare and isolated habitats, making it difficult for smooth snakes to increase their distribution. It is a small slender snake, growing to only around 60 cm (2 ft) in length, and is mottled grey or brown in colour. It is a constricting snake that preys on small mammals and reptiles, which it crushes and then swallows whole.

Lizards

The Sand Lizard
The Sand Lizard | Source

The three types of British lizard are the common lizard, the sand lizard and the slow-worm.

Common lizards (Zootoca vivipara) are, as the name suggests, the most commonly seen lizard in Britain. They are small and usually brown or grey, growing up to 12 cm (5 inches). When fully grown the tail will be longer than the body, but if caught by predators they have the ability to break off their tails, so they are often seen with broken or missing tails, although they do eventually grow back.

Sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) are a little larger, and roughly the same shape as the common lizard, but have a more striking green and yellow patterning. They too have fallen victim to the disappearing heathlands of Britain, and are now quite rare, being found only in some southern heathlands and north-eastern sand dunes.

The slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) is often mistaken for a snake or even a large worm, as it has no legs, but it is in fact a legless lizard. They have smooth skin, and are a non-descript brownish-grey colour. They are often found hiding under rocks or in cool, damp places, and feed on slugs, worms and bugs. They also have the ability to lose and regrow their tails.

The Slow-worm
The Slow-worm | Source

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    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Great article. I see Grass Snakes and Common Lizards quite a lot, when I go Birdwatching on my local patch. I'd never seen an Adder until I went to the New Forest in the summer, I was really thrilled, because they are very hard to spot.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      There are lots of warning signs about adders on the path to our favourite beach. We always want to see one, but haven't yet.

      Interesting and informative hub - voted up etc.

    • Imogen French profile image
      Author

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      thanks for reading, JK and JBee. Hope you both get to see one sometime, they are beautiful - but do be careful!

    • The Finance Hub profile image

      The Finance Hub 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Wow, these are beautiful creatures. Great information as well. Love the hub, voted up and interesting. Hope you enjoy my hubs as well!

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 5 years ago from India

      Interesting creatures! In India we see rat snake, cobra, viper, krait etc. I like to read articles about reptiles and watch the shows on TV, though I am very much scared of them.

      Voted up and sharing

    • Imogen French profile image
      Author

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      I think your Indian snakes are a little more scary, Thumbi! but still beautiful and fascinating. And FinanceHub - glad you enjoyed it, thank you both for your comments

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Fascinating ~ and I've never seen any of them :)

    • Gloshei profile image

      Gloria 5 years ago from France

      Interesting hub I can remember the children having a slow-worm as a pet, they kept it in an old flower pot by the greenhouse.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello, I feel like I learned a great deal about the few snakes and lizards in Great Britain tonight! Wow, I had no idea there were so few there, and its funny how people might just assume it is similar to how it is in the United States or other places perhaps.

      I think its wonderful you share about their habitats, even the ones with venom, because it does matter that they not die off. Great hub, I enjoyed it very much!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Very interesting hub! I didn't know that you had so few reptiles in the Brittish Isles. Just in this past week I have seen a rat snake, a water moccasin and a grass snake, here at my house. We killed 6 rattle snakes the first year we were here. I reeaallyy don't like snakes! Great hub! Voted up and interesting! Have a great day! :)

    • collegedad profile image

      collegedad 4 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

      Very interesting!

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