Snakes in the United Kingdom: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to pest control and snake, most people typically think of rats, mice, or insects. However, snakes can also be a concern in certain areas, especially for those who live near natural habitats. As experts in pest control at Bon Accord Pest Control in London, we have prepared this comprehensive guide on snakes, focusing on their etymology, evolution, biology, distribution, including the UK context, and information on the types of snakes found in London.

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snake

Etymology

The term “snake” originates from the Old English “snaca,” which simply means “serpent.” It further evolved into Middle English as “snake” or “snakke,” maintaining the same definition. This term has remained relatively unchanged throughout centuries of English language evolution, still referring to these long, legless reptiles we often encounter today.

Evolution and Fossils

Snakes are part of the suborder Serpentes and are believed to have evolved from lizards. They emerged during the Middle Jurassic Period, approximately 167 million years ago. The earliest snake-like fossils, such as the four-legged ‘Tetrapodophis amplectus,’ provide intriguing insights into their evolution, indicating a potential burrowing lifestyle.

The fossil record for snakes is relatively poor due to their delicate, small skeletons. However, significant finds like the ‘Pachyrhachis problematicus,’ a snake with hind limbs, provide crucial evidence of snakes’ evolutionary journey from four-legged creatures to the legless reptiles we know today.

Distribution

Snakes are found worldwide except in Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand. They inhabit a wide range of ecosystems, from arid deserts to lush rainforests, grasslands, swamps, and even oceans. Their diverse adaptability reflects their wide range of species, each with unique ecological requirements.

Snakes in the UK

The United Kingdom is home to three native species of snakes: the Adder (Vipera berus), the Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica), and the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). In addition, the Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus), not native but established in the UK, has also been found in some areas. Each of these species has its own unique habitats, behaviours, and characteristics.

Biology

Snakes are ectothermic, which means they regulate their body temperature through external means, often sunbathing to increase body temperature. They have elongated bodies, lack eyelids and external ears, and cover their skin in scales.

Snakes feed on a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, eggs, and other reptiles. They have flexible jaws that allow them to consume prey larger than their head. Most snakes are non-venomous and kill their prey through constriction.

Venomous Snakes in the UK

The only venomous snake native to the UK is the Adder. Its venom is generally not fatal to humans, but it can cause a severe reaction and therefore should be treated with caution. If bitten, immediate medical attention should be sought. Adders are identifiable by their distinct zig-zag pattern along their back and are generally found in heathlands, moorlands, and woodland edges.

Non-Venomous Snakes in the UK

The non-venomous snakes found in the UK are the Grass Snake and the Smooth Snake. Grass Snakes are typically found near water bodies, as they feed largely on amphibians. They are easily identifiable by the yellow collar behind their head.

Smooth Snakes are the rarest and most elusive of UK snakes. They are generally found in heathland habitats and have a preference for sandy soils. They have a more uniform, ‘smooth’ pattern compared to the other two species.

Snakes in London

While it might be surprising to many, a few species of snakes can be found in London, largely in green spaces. The most commonly encountered is the Grass Snake, especially near water bodies in parks. Adders have also been occasionally sighted, particularly in larger, less disturbed open spaces like Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park.

The Aesculapian Snake, though not native, has established populations around the London Zoo and Regent’s Canal. This species is non-venomous, feeding primarily on rodents and birds.

Conclusion

Though often misunderstood and feared, snakes play a critical role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling rodent populations. As pest control experts, we encourage respect and understanding of these fascinating creatures. If you encounter a snake in your London home or business, please reach out to us at Bon Accord Pest Control. Our trained professionals will ensure the safe removal and relocation of the snake, promoting harmony between humans and our slithering neighbours.

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