Reptiles

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Grass snake

Grass snakes favour rough land and pastures, open woodland, wet heathlands, gardens, parks and hedgerows.

Reptiles need more than one habitat to complete their life cycles and woodland can provide the ideal location.

Snakes and lizards are the reptiles found on land in the UK, which is at the northern edge of the range for reptiles. They favour woodland with open areas for basking with areas of close cover nearby for shelter and nests. Open spaces, glades, rides and paths can provide these kinds of habitat in abundance.

In England and Wales there are six species of reptile. In Scotland only the adder, slow worm and common lizard are native, but the sand lizard was introduced to the Inner Hebrides in 1971. Due to its cool climate, all Scottish reptiles keep their eggs inside their bodies and give birth to live young. Only the common or viviparous lizard is found in Northern Ireland.

Reptiles cannot regulate their own body temperature. They get their warmth from the sun and their immediate environment (thermoregulation). In the UK the winters are too cold for them to function and they undergo a type of hibernation called brumation. It is not a true hibernation like some mammals, but it is a dormant state.

Snakes

Adder, Vipera berus

The adder, or viper as it is sometimes called, is the only venomous reptile in the UK, but is generally shy and non-aggressive. It is a fairly small and stocky. It can be variable in colour, with males being usually grey and the females reddish brown. There are also black adders. Both sexes have a distinctive diamond shaped or zigzag pattern along their backs. Adders have a vertically slit pupil and the female gives birth to live young.

Grass snake, Natrix natrix

This non-venomous reptile is the largest snake in the UK. Females are bigger (up to 130 cm) than the males (around 100 cm). The dorsal surface is green or brown with dark bars and a yellow or cream and black neck collar. The ventral surface is white or cream with black markings. The female lays eggs in warm, rotting vegetation. They have a round pupil and are also good swimmers.

Smooth snake, Coronella austriaca

The smooth snake is non-venomous and very rare in the UK, due to the destruction of heathland. It is similar to the adder but the dark spots or stripes on the back are not like the well-formed zigzag pattern of the adder. They also have polished scales, are more slender and have a round pupil with a gold iris. It is a secretive snake that gives birth to live young.

Lizards

Common or viviparous lizard, Zootoca vivipara

This lizard is grey to dark brown, often with a dark stripe that runs along the back. Females have yellow, grey or green undersides with few or no spots. Males have orange or yellow undersides with a profusion of black spots. There are also completely black forms. Common lizards give birth to live young.

Sand lizard, Lacerta agilis

The sand lizard is a rare European Protected Species due to the destruction of its sandy heathland habitat. Females tend to be sandy-brown whereas the males develop bright green flanks in the mating season. Both sexes have patterns of dark spots with lighter centres. The sand lizard is the only egg-laying lizard in the UK.

Slow worm, Anguis fragilis

Although it may look like a small snake, the slow worm is a legless lizard. Their colour varies from brown to grey or bronze. The young have a dark spot on the top of the head and a continuous black stripe along their back. When males reach sexual maturity they lose this stripe and can develop blue spots. The female keeps the eggs inside her body until they are ready to hatch.

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