Over the many years I’ve been writing these notes, I’ve collected a good few amazing stories: the screaming frog in the flowerbed, the huge gathering of jays that lasted only half an half an hour, the otter cub dropped at the feet of two astonished naturalists on a busy riverside path, and now another one – from my stepson in Snowdonia.
He decided to go for a little post-work walk across his smallholding. He recently laid a brushwood path across some marshy land in one of the fields, and was strolling across it when he suddenly froze. Just ahead of him on the path was a loosely coiled snake, its jaws gaping wide and in them quite a big frog. A snake can dislocate its lower jaw in order to get its mouth round large prey. No teeth, of course, so it has to slowly draw itself round the unfortunate victim, which is then often visible as a lump gradually moving down the snake’s body. What a way to go! Chris must have made some sight movement for suddenly the snake ejected the frog and rapidly slid off into the undergrowth. The frog, apparently unharmed, hopped quickly into the ditch.
At first we were a bit puzzled as to what kind of snake it was – only about 18inches long and very dark in colouring. There are three species of snake in the UK: the grass snake, the longest at a maximum for the larger females of 80 cm, the smooth snake – confined to the south of England – and the adder, the only venomous one of the trio, which, unlike the grass snake, gives birth to live young instead of producing eggs. There are also slow worms, around 40cm. long and grey or brown in colour, but these are not snakes, they’re legless lizards. However, we decided the snake on the path must have been a young grass snake. They like wet areas (they swim very well) and there is considerable variation in colour. Also, Chris gets grass snakes laying their eggs in his compost heaps where the warmth generated aids incubation. Had the predator been an adder, the frog would have already been killed or at least disabled by venom and the story would have ended differently. As it was, we were left with one lucky frog, one supperless snake and one very astonished onlooker. The moral of this story is a naturalist is always ready to be surprised.
Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Grass snake image: By Stephen Courtney (en:user:biocruiser) (Stephen Courtney (en:user:biocruiser)) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons