Smooth snake

Coronella austriaca

Coronelle lisse

The Smooth snake is similar to the Southern Smooth snake, Coronella girondica , being 50 to 80cm long but more slender and with smoother scales which can have a marbled effect. The back has two rows of darker markings in pairs which join together to form transverse bands. The underside is a mixture of browns, greys and russets. The sides have darker flecks and at the rear of the head is a dark V with the V open towards the rear. Their eyes have round pupils and there is a relatively thick dark stripe that extends from each nostril, through the eye, and along the side of the head to a little beyond the neck.

The Smooth snake can be found in most parts of France, generally at lower altitudes where they prefer dry, sunny open situations that also offer shelter; open forests, hedgerows, old stone walls, old quarries, roadsides and vineyards. Prey is mainly lizards, but they will also eat small mammals and baby snakes. Absent or rare in a large part of the south west.

Photo - Julie Roberts

They are diurnal and spend most of their time on the ground or frequently beneath the ground in holes and tunnels, although they will sometimes scale walls and climb into shrubs and hedges. When disturbed they rarely move fast, sliding slowly away their colouring blending with the background. Hibernation is quite late from November until March.

Coupling takes place twice, the first just after hibernation and the second in September / October. This species is ovoviviparous (1) the young, between 4 and 14, are born after a gestation period of 6 to 12 weeks in a transparent mucus sac which they then exit being about 20 cm long. If coupling is late in the year or the weather conditions are bad the young will be born the following spring. Violent fights take place between males and also between the sexes at coupling times, twisting round each other and biting savagely, sometimes this ends in death.

Smooth snake head showing dark band through eye


The distribution map rather overstates their presence in France as they are more or less absent in the south west where they are replaced by the Southern Smooth Snake

(1) Animals that retain the eggs within the body of the female in a brood chamber in which the development of the embryo takes place, perhaps deriving some nourishment from the female, but without the strong umbilical attachment to a placenta as in mammals; the typical condition of so-called "live-bearing" fishes. Also called aplacental viviparous. The young hatch inside the mother's uterus from their thin egg capsule, and are usually born shortly afterwards.