The Common Ringed or Grass Snake (Tropidonotus or Coluber natrix) (Fig. 54) belongs to the sub-order Colubrina of the order Ophidia (serpents), the species name meaning Water Snake, and is characterized by the large size of the upper mandible and by these bones possessing solid teeth utterly devoid of a poison apparatus. The head is of rounded shape, and the upper surface is covered by scuta or scales of large size.

The Common Ringed or Grass Snake.

Fig. 54. - The Common Ringed or Grass Snake.

The Ringed or Grass Snake is found in grassy places such as marshy land, hedges by a wet ditch, and other situations where there is plenty of cover for safe retreat. Unlike the viper, which shuns the vicinity of man, the ringed snake (easily distinguished by the bright band behind the head, a tinge of red sometimes giving to the yellow an orange tint, and another band of deep black runs just behind the yellow) seems not to fear human presence, but enters pleasure grounds and gardens, and penetrates even to hotbed frames and other warm places for depositing its eggs. Leaf piles, rubbish and manure heaps are favourite localities for the eggs, also an old haystack bottom, whence the example shown at the upper left-hand corner of the illustration was taken, the string of eggs being joined together like a set of large oval beads, soft parchment-like, and white in colour. The ringed snake feeds upon frogs, slugs, wood-lice, insects and their larvae, also grass voles and mice, and some say unfledged small birds. It is torpid in winter, and generally destroyed when found. It is perfectly harmless and may be tamed. In captivity it will feed on beetles, cockroaches, mealworms and similar creatures, also drink milk and eat bread soaked in it.

When much alarmed it gives off an offensive odour, therefore should be seized with a leather gloved hand and not allowed to touch either the skin or clothes of the captor. The ringed snake casts its skin several times during the year. The entire skin comes off, even the covering of the eyes. A rent opens in the neck, and the snake, by entangling itself in thick grass or bushes, actually creeps out of its skin, turning it inside out in the effort. It is an excellent swimmer, gliding on the water in a very graceful manner.