How to identify a snake in your garden or the wild – RSPCA

Several wild snakes can be found in the UK, and sometimes in some gardens too! During the warm weather, our team of animal rescuers can even be found rescuing pet snakes that have escaped their homes too…

What snakes do we get in the UK?

There are three native snake species in the UK:


  1. The adder (Vipera berus) – widespread but declining across the UK and the only venomous species.
  2. The grass snake (Natrix helvetica) – widespread in England and Wales, including gardens.
  3. The smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) – localised to southern English heaths.

How to identify a snake in the UK

Our Scientific Officer, Emma Horton says:

In the UK, we’re lucky enough to have three native species of snakes – the adder, the grass snake (pictured) and the smooth snake. The adder has a distinctive zig-zag pattern down his/her back, with red eyes and a vertical pupil, and can grow to around 70cm. They’re the only venomous species of snake in the UK!

Grass snakes, in comparison, are usually an olive green colour, with large eyes and round pupils and can be over a meter long. They have a distinct collar behind their heads and are also the only native snake species to lay eggs. If you’re lucky, this species might visit your garden (look out for soft leathery eggs in your compost heap!).

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The smooth snake is the least widespread, localised to the south of England and found in heath habitats. They’re the smallest species, growing to only around 55cm in length. They’re typically a greyish brown in colour, have a dark stripe down the side of their face, a heart-shaped pattern on their head and a pattern of spots and bars along their back!

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How to identify a snake from their shed skin

The shed skin of a snake is known as a ‘slough’. If you find a shed snake skin, you may be able to work out which species of snake they are by looking carefully at the scale patterns!

Is it a snake or a slow-worm?

Sometimes other reptiles can be mistaken for snakes and so if you find a long visitor sneaking around your garden, perhaps they are actually a slow-worm. Slow-worms (Anguis fragilis) are actually legless lizards and not snakes! They can reach around 45cm and unlike snakes, they have eyelids. They are typically shades of grey or brown, and some males have blue spots.

How to avoid your pet snake escaping and getting lost

Our Inspector, Caren Goodman-James, was recently called to a garden following a call from a member of the public who had stumbled across a stray snake in her shed. Caren advises:

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The member of the public who contacted us had quite a shock when they were looking in their wood shed and came across a snake slithering amongst the bin bags. It’s not every day you find a snake in your garden shed!

Snakes are not only good escape artists, they, like other exotic pets, have specialist needs which are difficult to meet in a domestic environment. Anyone thinking of taking on that responsibility needs to thoroughly research what it entails before deciding to commit to getting one.

Our team of animal rescuers typically collect more snakes over the summer. This might be the result of escapees becoming more active in the warmer weather or even escapes happening when owners take their snakes outside for some sun!

Considering this, while it is good for snakes to be exposed to natural sunlight, we do urge owners to ensure that snakes are always kept secure, as reptiles can move very quickly as they warm up on a sunny day.

Did you know?

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Snakes can be microchipped (just like cats and dogs) and we very much recommend that owners ask their exotics vet to do this, as soon as possible, so that snakes can be easily reunited with their owner if lost and found.

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What to do if you find a snake in your garden

If you stumble across a native British snake in your garden or the wild, please leave them undisturbed. There’s no need to get in contact with us unless the snake appears to be injured or wounded. If you find a non-native species of snake, please keep your distance and call our advice line on +61404532026.

Keeping snakes and other exotic pets

Before deciding whether you’d like to care for an exotic pet, please do make sure that you’ve done plenty of research before committing to taking one home. Commonly-kept reptiles include:

  1. Bearded dragons
  2. Corn snakes
  3. Royal pythons
  4. Leopard geckos

However, none of these exotic animals are small work! Remember, exotic pet species (like reptiles and other wild animals in captivity) have the same needs as they naturally would do in the wild, and their environmental, dietary and behavioural needs can be challenging.

Find out more about the challenges of exotic pets. [external_footer]