New blog series celebrating some of the best things about snakes written by Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters.

Snakes are superb! Over the next few years we are going to celebrate our serpentine friends in a series of blogs in which I will highlight some of the great things about them, so that even if you do not finish reading these blogs a snake lover, you have at least learned a little more about what makes them such interesting creatures.

Smooth snake by Chris Dresh

Firstly, snakes are gorgeous! One snake, two snake, red snake, blue snake! There are so many stunningly beautiful snakes in the world with all kinds of adaptations to their scale shapes and patterns. The beauty of snakes is by no means limited to the tropics. Our own snakes are very handsome. The adder can be brown, ginger, or grey in colour with striking zigzags along its back. Grass snakes are typically a rich olive green with a bright yellow collar behind their heads. The elusive and cryptic smooth snake is a silvery brown, perfectly camouflaged to match the stems of the heather plants in which they live.

Secondly, snakes are incredibly successful. They are adapted to live everywhere in the world except the North and South Pole (where it is just too cold for an animal that uses heat from the sun or its surroundings to become active). Some snakes spend their lives at sea while others live in the driest of deserts. There are snakes that live underground and snakes that live in the treetops. One group of snakes flattens their bodies to glide from tree to tree and others pretend that their tails are insects as a cunning lure to attract birds close enough to grab them. Amazingly, the great success of snakes is at least partially because they do not have arms or legs!

Grass snake swimming by Nick Dobbs

The incredible adaptions of snakes can also be seen in our native species. The adder lives in a variety of habitats (even in towns and cities) where rodents can be found – using venom to quickly dispatch of these speedy prey items. Smooth snakes are very specialised, living only on the heathlands of southern England, the perfect habitat to find and eat other reptiles. Grass snakes, on the other hand, are water loving, found near ponds or streams where amphibians and fish are their prey.

Thirdly, snakes tell us about the world around us. All snakes are predators - by controlling populations of their prey items, such as  rodents, they remove weaker animals from the food chain, keeping populations healthy and ecosystems in balance. So, we know that if there are healthy populations of snakes that many of other species will be doing ok too. Even more amazing is that when we protect snakes we protect all sorts of other wonderful plants and animals. As predators snakes require large areas of habitat – so conserving these areas for snakes supports the conservation of entire natural systems.

To find out more about snakes that live in the UK visit species information pages.