Western whip snake

Hierophis viridiflavus 

(Previously Coluber viridiflavus)

Couleuvre verte et jaune

The Western whip snake is present in the southern three quarters of France and they are difficult to confuse with any other snake in this country. As their French name implies they are predominantly dark green with yellow dashes or bands which are transverse on the main part of their body and are longitudinal towards the tail, although as can be seen in the photos various forms exist depending on the stage of development with young snakes up to about 45cm being a grey / brown with a marbled head.  Growing to as much as 2 metres they can be a large snakes when mature with prominent eyes and round pupils.

Juvenile Western Whip Snake
Juvenile western whip snake France
Juvenile with tail bitten off by a cat

They occupy all types of habitat with a preference for dry, quiet areas – open woodlands and land which is left to scrub or fallow, sometimes to be found near rivers or other wet areas. They are extraordinary hunters and their prey varies with local availability but it will predominately take small mammals, small birds, frogs, lizards etc. They have also been known to eat adders and even its own species. 

Above all else they are a powerful snake, though normally discreet they can be obstinate and quite aggressive, thrashing the ground with their tails and hissing when angered, sometimes tilting their head back and then striking and "biting" with force, it is this force which gives them the ability to easily overcome quite large prey but they are of no serious concern to humans. They are also agile climbers weaving their way rapidly through bushes and hedgerows.

Hibernation takes place from October until April using spaces in the ground, low cavities in trees, stone walls etc.

Coupling takes place in May and can result in violent fights between males for a female, this can also occur between the sexes. During copulation the partners roll and twist themselves around each other, keeping their heads raised upright. Between 5 and 20 eggs are deposited under stones, old tree stumps or in rotting vegetation in June/July, the young hatching 6 to 8 weeks later.

They are locally threatened by a high accidental mortality on roads, especially close to urban or tourist areas, but this is not considered to be a major threat to the species overall. They are also persecuted throughout their range because people mistakenly believe them to be venomous.