ar8922's picture

Grass Snake

Observed: 18th July 2013 By: ar8922
S159 Neighbourhood Nature - course complete
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We found this Grass Snake in the middle of a small country road, close to a disused canal and it alternated between playing dead and writhing about with its jaws wide open. It was also bleeding quite a lot from the mouth and nose and although it didn't appear to have been run over, we assumed it was on its last legs (so to speak) and I actually moved it to the side of the road. Having just read up on the subject, I now gather this is actually all part of its bizarre defence strategy.

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Amadan's picture

I don't think

this is a defensive strategy, I think it is a road casualty, sadly. I've seen an adder in a similar state. It was very distressing for us, as my friend was studying the local population and knew the creature well.
Grass snakes use three forms of defence that I know of - they play dead, emit a foul-smelling liquid from the rear end, or bite.
It isn't always obvious when a snake is hit by a car, and their reptilian nervous systems are different to ours - the muscles can keep working for some time. There is at least one recorded instance of a rattlesnake biting - and envenomating - over 20 minutes after decapitation.

ar8922's picture


you may well be right, especially as it was found on a road and unfortunately it was too far from my home from me to check the site again.

I hate to quote Wikipedia but in the 'Defence' section on its Grass Snake page, it does state:

"They may also secrete blood (autohaemorrhage) from the mouth and nose whilst playing dead."

Maybe someone with more expertise can shed some light on that possibility.

We couldn't see any signs of damage to the body but as you say, that may not have been obvious.

ar8922's picture


Actually, on examination of the first photo, there is some damaged skin a couple of inches behind the head. Not sure how we missed that at the time.

Amadan's picture

I didn't know about the autohaemorrhage -

Which is one of the joys of the site - learning new stuff.
Let's live in hope that it was shamming...

ar8922's picture

Living in hope

As I can't know for sure, I'll ignore the probable and live in hope too.

Masked Marvel's picture

Eyes not right

When grass snakes feign death they will often curl up a bit, whereas this one is relatively stretched out, so I think it probably is injured.

It looks like it's having some trouble with its eyes too. The left eye looks swollen and infected and the right eye looks like it's missing. There's some scarring over the left eye too.

ar8922's picture

Thanks MM

Thanks MM, I had noticed the eyes but hadn't commented on them (all part of living in hope I think). It actually was curled up to start with but was sporadically active.