New identity for UK grass snake

One of the UK's native reptiles has been renamed by scientists.

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Two grass snakes warming up after emerging from hibernation © Gary Chalker / Getty

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Researchers have been analysing the genetic lineages of grass snakes across Europe, and believe that the species found in the UK is actually a separate species.

The international team of scientists compared 1,600 snakes in two contact zones where the different species of grass snake meet.

“We studied two areas where different genetic lineages of the grass snake come into contact,” says Prof Uwe Fritz, director of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany.

The barred grass snake whose range includes the UK, France, Italy and western Germany, was previously considered to be a subspecies.

Fascinating facts you never knew about the grass snake

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The barred grass snake is now considered a separate species © Gary Chalker / Getty

“We discovered that the barred grass snake {found in the UK} is in fact a distinct species. Thus, the number of European snake species has increased by one,” says Fritz.

The research has caused confusion with UK herpetologists and media outlets, with some believing that there are now two grass snake species in the UK.

However, the number of grass snake species in the UK remains at one, and the number of native snakes in the UK remains at three (the other species are adder and smooth snake).

“Although it is always exciting to have a ‘new’ species added to the list of European herpetofauna, it is not uncommon for scientific names and classifications to change” says UK ecologist Amy Schwartz.

“This infrequently has much of an impact beyond the scientific literature except for when one or more ‘new’ species is particularly rare or range restricted (which could have impacts for conservation). The animals themselves are blissfully unaware of the names we have assigned them!”

The newly recognised species will be known scientifically as Natrix helvetica.

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Read the full paper in Scientific Journals.