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female smooth snakes overwintering when gravid

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will View Drop Down
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    Posted: 18 May 2011 at 7:50pm
Thanks to ARC Trust I've been doing some research into whether smooth snakes can overwinter when gravid (like adders) and give birth the following season.  Also, if they can, is this a regular aspect of their biology.

This was prompted when I spotted a female (below) in late April which looked heavily pregnant - ie clear differentiation between end of body and start of tail, bulky posterior two thirds of body, raised spine as fat bodies are used up during pregnancy.  Three weeks later and she was just as fat, suggesting that it wasn't a big meal like a sand lizard or some nestling mammals, which would by now have been digested.

As I am licensed only for Dorset, I wondered if any raukers who have licences for Hants and Surrey had noticed (and better still photographed) females which look unusually large for the time of year?  It strikes me as odd that what literature there is suggests that smooth snakes can gestate their young within a few months in southern England (on the edge of their range) whereas adders take longer...


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will View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 2:32pm
A few from yesterday, my last survey visit of the season to look for evidence as to whether smooth snakes regularly overwinter when gravid.  Several litters of recent newborns found, still basking together, suggesting later than usual births perhaps due to the awful weather this year.  Also a female which appeared to be still gravid, as well as a still-gravid slowworm and a late male sand lizard.  There was a group of around a dozen red admirals all flying about together and then basking on a warm tree; any ideas why they were aggregated like that at this time of year?


smooth snake litter


smooth snake litter


smooth snake with loose folds along body after giving birth


by way of contrast with one which looks still to be gravid:


male with nice yellow throat


female slowworm still gravid


late male sand lizard:


a few of a 'flock' of a dozen or so red admirals...


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herpetologic2 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 3:46pm
Hi Will

I have been surveying for smooth snakes down in Wool, Dorset this year - only male animals. I wanted to find out whether you had seen any smooth snakes which have exhibited a defensive behaviour of tail twitching. I have seen this in one animal so far and it it looks like it is trying to make a noise to scare its would be attacker - I was handling it to photograph its dorsal pattern for identification.

I have seen this in my rescued corn snakes where they twitch their tails against the newspaper in their enclosures. Is this something other people have seen. I have not read up on the defensive strategies employed by smooth snakes yet. The animals we found also put on a good impression of an adder by flattening their heads and hissing etc

 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote GemmaJF Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 4:21pm
I've observed 'tail twitching' in captive corn snakes Jon, it can make quite a convincing rattle snake sound! I've yet to observe it in any of the native species. Though I expect in dry vegetation it could be very effective.

I think all three native snakes will flatten the head and hiss if cornered. I've seen large female grass snakes do a pretty good impression of a cobra in the past, rearing up, flattening the head and hissing loudly. It's a behaviour that tends to be witnessed when they are given no escape route, of if prevented from moving off by standing in front of them in open areas such as during photography. Not something I would provoke intentionally, but I did once corner a large female grassy in a concrete culvert during mitigation works. With nowhere to go she put up a very impressive defensive display. Then promptly skunked me and feigned death as soon as I had hold of her lol. 




Edited by GemmaJF - 23 Sep 2012 at 4:23pm
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Suzy View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 5:22pm
A lot of my slow worms in the garden are still preggers, but also newborns appearing every day.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AGILIS Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Sep 2012 at 7:09pm
Like your pics Will. I see a load of red admirals on a tree near the smooth snake bank the other week Keith
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 7:16am
Hi Jon - no tail twitching, but flattening heads and striking in the case of neos quite often.  Adults just tend to chew! Can you tell us why you are studying just males (or is it hush-hush?)    Suzy - sounds like theyre late for Devon this year?  will be interesting to see if they pop before disappearing underground, can you keep us posted please?  Keith - thanks - and yes, that exact spot!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 11:53am
Hi Will

Males were the only sex to have appeared in the survey so far. There have been no female snakes as yet which is strange or worrying perhaps. 

The snake definitely twitched its tail just like how it has been described for captive corn snakes - I do think that this should be written up as a natural history note don't you think?

J
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will View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote will Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 4:08pm
sure - interesting behaviour - have you tried going on fieldherping.eu forum to see if it has been recorded in continental smooth snakes?  certainly worrying not to have found any females - isolated population?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Iulia Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Sep 2012 at 8:57pm
No help I know but I hope the little guys are going to be OK over the winter born so late ..... Unhappy


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