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.

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