Western Whip Snake Hierophis viridiflavus




Scientific Name: Hierophis viridiflavus (syn. Coluber viridiflavus). The name means 'yellow-green sacred snake'.


English Name: Western Whip Snake. Also Dark Green Whip Snake; Green Whip Snake.


French Name: La Couleuvre verte et jaune (='the green and yellow grass snake'). Also la Cinglard.



5 Key Characters:
  • yellow body with heavy black markings above, giving the impression of black flecked with yellow (juveniles grey-brown, with varying amounts of yellow flecking).
  • average length about 1 m (juveniles emerge 20-30 cm), can grow to 1.75 m.
  • round pupils.
  • fast and agile, climbing easily or vanishing into the undergrowth as soon as they spot you, not usually agressive but when cornered will put on a fine show of hissing and striking.
  • non-venomous but can deliver a painful bite and will produce a foul smelling excretion from the cloaca if handled.

Lookalikes: Juveniles could be mistaken for small Grass Snakes Natrix natrix.


Habitat: Eats mainly lizards and rodents. Also other small mammals, other snakes, frogs, baby birds. They prefer the edges of woods or dry sunny rocky places, but can be found in pasture, gardens, urban areas, dry scrub, arable land, riverbanks and plantations. The Loire River is more or less the northern limit of its range.


Active Period: Females lay eggs from late spring to the end of July in piles of hay or rotting wood. The young hatch in August. Hibernates from October to April, often in groups, in rock crevices or mammal burrows. Can live 20 years, mature at 4 years.


Status: Very common, with a stable population. Often seen as roadkill. Often killed because people believe it is venomous and despite the fact that it is a protected species. It is also illegal to disturb nests or hibernation sites.


Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

A mature snake found under a sheet of corrugated iron which is used to provide shelter for voles in our orchard.

Marc Fleury pointing out the round pupil to a group on a botany outing.

Close up of the head.

The cloaca and tail / body junction.

Close up of the pattern on a mature snake.

Close up of the pattern on a mature snake. The yellow forms distinct longitudinal lines on the tail, but is more random on the body.

Sleeping in the sun, well hidden on a patch of bare earth surrounded by tall grass in our orchard. This is a typical snake sunbathing spot, not easily seen until you are right upon it. Normally the snake will hear you and disappear long before you are near enough to see the hidden patch.

15 comments:

  1. Great information, keep up the good work.

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  2. Have just seen one of these! about a metre long. He/she was still for several minutes on our gravel path. unfortunately by the time we got the camera he/she was off very fast...!

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    1. Yes they can disappear in the twinkling of an eye. You have to be lucky to see them.

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  3. Great information yes they are fast.

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    1. One way of telling a Slow Worm from a snake -- snakes are fast! Slow Worms live up to their names.

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  4. I have three whip snakes on my property near Nontron. One has taken up residence in a rockery next to my pool.they are gorgeous to look at and obviously mature. Found a baby in the flower bed this week. They've got me surrounded.

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  5. Are cats ok around these snakes? I live in Andorra and I think we have one that has recently taken residence under some stone steps.

    Also, Isuspect it has laid eggs somewhere as a largish yellow lizard/gecko has turned up soon after the snake and we have discovered remnants of egg shells in the garden.

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    1. I would have said it's more a question of whether the snakes are OK around cats. The snakes aren't venemous so they can't harm a cat. They'll make a great fuss and hiss and strike if a cat is threatening them, but it's all show. Cats will hunt and kill young snakes (a number of times I've found young whip snakes on our front courtyard that have been the victim of the neighbouring cats).

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    2. Thank you. Turns out the snake was only passing through.

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  6. We have a metre and half whipsnake who has taken up residence near our polytunnel for 3 weeks- slow to move and undisturbed by our coming and going- can’t quite understand why it doesn’t zip out of the way- is it just very well fed? Is it old? Any comments or explanation?

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    1. Maybe it has grown up with you being present and knows you aren't a threat. It does sound a bit unusual though.

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