7 things you never knew about the smooth snake

Discover fascinating facts about the UK's rarest snake species, the smooth snake. 

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A smooth snake in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany © Hans Lang / Getty

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1. Not an adder

Although smooth snakes have a similar appearance to the adder, they can be distinguished by a rounder head and slender build, and a less well-formed pattern on its back.

The main body colour tends to be brown or grey, with a paler belly. 

2. Rarity

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A smooth snake seen in heathland in Hampshire © Ian West / Getty

This species of snake is confined to sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, although it is widely distributed in Europe. There are reintroduced populations in Devon and West Sussex.

The main caused of its population decrease is the loss of suitable habitat, usually due to heathland being lost to development or conifer plantations.

3. What’s in a name? 

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A smooth snake curled up on heathland © Sandra Standbridge / Getty

Smooth snakes are so called because their scales are smooth. In comparison, the scales of grass snakes and adders have a ridge down the middle.

4. Defensive mechanisms

If threatened, a smooth snake can secrete a foul smelling substance. This is excreted from its anal glands. 

5. Diet

Smooth smakes primarily predate on other small reptiles, as well as small mammals and chicks. 

They lack venom but use a powerful strike on their prey and wrap their body around it. Prey is swallowed whilst still alive. 

6. Eat or be eaten

Whilst smooth snakes are predators, they are also eaten by other species, including birds of prey, foxes and weasels. 

7. Live birth

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A juvenile smooth snake © Sandra Standbridge / Getty

Female smooth snakes are ovoviviparous, which means that they incubate their eggs internally and give birth to live young.

This normally consists of between four and 15 young snakes, which have similar patternings to adults and thus look like miniature adults. 

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Read more amazing facts about wildlife in BBC Wildlife Magazine