The Versatile Reptile looks beyond scaly, cold-blooded and possibly poisonous creatures. This book looks at both domestic and international recipes.
England does not have many dangerous reptiles (though adders are poisonous). But as with most wildlife, if you leave them alone, they will mostly do the same to you. Read the poem Snake (by our own DH Lawrence). It’s a beauty, about how he regretted throwing a stick at a venomous snake in Sicily, because ‘his education’ told him it was poisonous. It will kind of make you like snakes, even if you’re terrified of them. England has 6 native reptiles:
European adders are easy to spot, with their zigzag pattern. Living on heathlands, grasslands and sand dunes, unlike grass snakes they give birth to live baby adders. Living on field voles, mice and lizards, their venom is designed to kill rodents, but a bite to a human still needs medical care (the last human death from an adder bite was in 1975, with 14 other deaths in the last 100 years).
Take care when walking with dogs, as although adders usually disappear if they detect the sound of feet, they may bite if startled. Cornwall Wildlife Trust says avoid walking near ‘cool adders’ (snakes bask in the sun but tend to stay underground when it’s very hot – or cold, dark and rainy). Knowing it’s not good to walk dogs in hot weather, they recommend walking dogs before 9am or after 7pm in areas where adders could be (or adjust these times in warmer weather). If a dog is bitten by an adder, slow spread of venom by carrying and calming the animal, then take to vet immediately.
Grass snakes are fairly common, with round eyes and black spots on their backs. Living in wetlands, they eat fish and frogs. You may spot them in garden ponds (so choose netting that is safer for wildlife). Smooth snakes are related to grass snakes, but less common (mostly found on the south coast). Often hiding under stones, they have butterfly marks on their backs and black eye stripes (giving birth in early autumn).
Slow worms are also common (grey or brown, some males have blue spots). They are not snakes (more lizards without legs, with eyelids and ears). They also like to visit gardens, and eat slugs, snails, insects and spiders.
Common lizards are widely found in England and Ireland. They are usually brown with flecks (males) or stripes (females). Young males are sometimes green . They eat insects and invertebrates.
Sand lizards are rare (found on the south coast and Merseyside). They are larger than common lizards and mostly brown, but turn bright green in spring. Again they eat insects and invertebrates.
If you find snakes in your garden, they are likely slow worms or grass snakes (often near ponds, under rocks or in/near compost bins). If you find adders in your garden, bring pets inside (including outdoor pets like rabbits) and call Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (they have expert volunteers who can help). Report concerns of harming snakes to RPSCA, Wildlife Crime Unit, Animal Crimewatch or Crimestoppers (anonymous). Report dead snakes to the council or Garden Wildlife Health.
Pet Reptile Welfare
Blue Cross wants stricker laws and penalties, for importing pet reptiles (often endangered and need specialised care). Find help at RSCPA Reptile Rescue, National Centre for Reptile Welfare & Reptilia Reptile Rescue.
If you find an escaped pet snake (corn snake, python etc), bring pets indoors (including outdoor pets like rabbits) and call RSPCA (keep number in your phone and check with neighbours, most pet snakes don’t travel far). Although best not to capture the snake yourself, in an emergency use a broom to entice it into a pillowcase or trash can.
Wild Welfare wants better welfare for reptile houses in zoos (saying most are ‘heated artificially-lit glass jewellery boxes’. In nature, reptiles live amid trees, vegetation, swamps, water with natural sunlight. Some believe that lack of welfare for reptiles is one theory behind COVID-19.
People last, when they do not eat apples that were not meant for them. Paul Kingsnorth