In the third chapter of our series introducing Hungary-native snake species, we are discussing the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus)...
Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus, formely known as Elaphe longissima) first appeared in greek-roman mythology on rod of god Aesculapius. Ever since, this species has become the symbol of healing and health.
Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus) is native to most European countries with mediterreanean and continental climates, including French, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria. They also occur in region of Black Sea. Several insular populations have been confirmed, as well.
They were also introduced to few places they had not been native before; one of them is Germany where they were introduced most likely due to the mythological significance associated with the species. Two populations has also estabished themselves in Great Britain; specimens had escaped from zoos ultimately found new home near London and West Wales suburbans.
This species prefer open parklands, forests with proper humidity, but they can also occur in scrogs. They are active by day, we have the best chance to encounter them mostly in the morning and late afternoon hours.
Freshly hatched snakes are 25-30 cm in length and feature very distinct colors from elders. They have large, dark browny blotches cut off by short white bands. As they mature, those blotches lose their distinct margins making the snakes appearance rather uniform. Due to the two light colored flecks visible behind both sides of the neck, young specimens are often mistaken for another species, Grass snake (Natrix natrix). Colors of adult varies from yellowish-brown to black, although most specimens looks brownish-green, dark green in Hungary. Adults can grow up to 2m in length.
Juvenile Aesculapian snakes prey small lizards, amphibians, mice, while the main food source are mostly rodents for adults. They will not refuse birds, either. They usually suffocate the prey by using constriction, although when there is no resistance they may start swallow the prey alive without constriction applied. When they encounter humans, they will quickly try to escape. However, when cornered they can attack willingly and very aggressively.
They spend wintertime inactive in underground caverns, where several specimens may assemble. Interestingly, this is one of the few snake species where males are longer than females.
Altough, several subspecies had been described over the years, most of these were elevated to separate species rank, therefore recent taxonomy suggests Aesculapian snake to be a monotype species with no further subspecies. These days, they are protected in most European countries, including Hungary. The populations in Germany mentioned earlier are critically endangered.
Dr. Botond Ádám
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