New generation of grass snakes

Submitted by Looduskalender EN on Thu, 28.09.2017 - 21:35

Image Merike Hiibus
Translation Liis

Estonian text published 25.09.2017

Pildil olev „nastikulaps“ peab tugevasti toituma enne talvitumise algust
The grass snake ”baby” in the photo must fatten up considerably before beginning the wintering



Grass snake       Harilik nastik        Natrix natrix

Some weeks ago we asked those of you who had met with young grass snakes hatched in late August-early September to share your photos with us. Merike has sent us this photo. Thank you!

The newly hatched snakes start their independent life led by instincts, the pencil-long creatures have no guides. Those who have hatched earlier feed on the invertebrates that they manage to overpower, but researchers believe that if necessary they will manage to survive the winter using the reserves stored in the body. When frosts arrive in October (or sometimes in early November) they search for winter quarters. Grass snakes spend the winter together if possible. Autumns have grown longer and warmer and snakes are no longer expected to creep into their burrows by September 8, the traditional ”Ussimaarjapäev*”.

In the old days the ”house snake” was part of farm life: the dung heap at the cattle barn was a good incubator for hatching grass snake eggs. People noticed that the presence of snakes kept rodents away from the household. Grass snakes were thought to bring luck to cattle; a little milk was left for them at the cattle barn, and it was noted that it was easy to keep grass snakes around home.

After the last decades not many such households are left and the grass snakes have moved back to their original environment near water bodies, with fresh or sea water; from there they at some time arrived to our buildings.

On the concrete in Naissaare harbour this summer a grass snake was busy trying to swallow a round goby (Neogobius melanostomus), an invasive species that was first noted in Estonia 16 years ago, by now occurring abundantly in Estonian waters. Onlookers were curious about how the reptile had managed to get to the island: had it been brought by some stork, bird of prey or a human?

Grass snakes are capable of swimming out to islands (in the sea specimens have been seen 40 kilometres from the nearest land area). They swim quite as well as they crawl; in hot weather they may even bask in the sun on the water surface without moving. On diving they can remain under water for up to half an hour. Since they live to a high age in nature an individual of the opposite sex may well arrive too at such a place some time later.

Interesting, protected and completely harmless beings.


*Ussimaarjapäev, “St Mary Snake Day”. In the ancient folk calendar four days, “maarjapäevad”, were dedicated to St Mary, also marking particular activities: March 25, July 2, August 15, September 8.


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