The other day I was walking along a quiet road in the campo with my two dogs when we came across a snake. This was at around nine in the morning and the snake was sunning itself on the road. At first I thought it was a stick because it was lying quite still. As I got a little closer the “stick” transformed itself, developing a scaly skin and and a narrow flickering tongue.

The dogs walk ahead of me and they reached the snake first but they seemed to take no interest in it at all and the snake seemed to take little interest in them. It remained quite still.

This was a good size ladder snake and was certainly a metre in length if not longer and it allowed me to take a pretty good look at it without seeming in any way disquieted by my presence or the presence of the dogs. And so for a few moments we all stood there, the snake (okay, technically it wasn´t standing!), the two dogs and me.

The road is quiet at that time of the day but I was worried that somebody might come around the corner in a car and run the thing over and so I volunteered to remain with it until, in its own good time, it decided to cross the road into the cover on the opposite side. Eventually that did happen. It threw its body into a series of graceful curves and was on its way.

Ladder snakes are probably the most commonly reported snakes around here. When they are younger they have “rungs” across their backs connecting the two parallel lines that run from head to tail. As adults though the rungs are lost. They are found mainly in Spain and Portugal although they are found also in southern France and a little bit of Italy as well as, curiously, the island of Menorca.

These are “rat snakes” and most of the diet of adults, like the one I came across, consists of rodents like mice and rats although they will also take rabbits and may climb to take birds.

This time of the year seems to be the one when most snake sightings take place and I have heard reports recently of an even bigger snake, the Montpellier snake, which somebody came across with a dead rat in its mouth. The Montpellier is a venomous snake but is rear fanged and so unlikely to cause any harm to a person. It is also not too aggressive nor is its venom particularly toxic.

That being said, let me tell you about an account given to me by my neighbour Andrés about an encounter between him and a large snake (he didn´t say it was a Montpellier but that´s the biggest we have around here). The snake, he told me, attacked him and slithered up his arm aggressively as he was out and about walking along the road. And then, in an act of unparalleled heroism, he managed to decapitate it with some weapon he had to hand.

That sounds like a bit of a yarn to me but it is a good story whether it is true or not!

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 16.50.45

Here is a nice photograph of a ladder snake (Zamenis scalaris) stolen from Wikipedia. You can see the two parallel “supports” of its ladder on its upper surface but as an adult the “rungs” that used to connect them have been lost.

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 16.49.27

And here is “my” ladder snake. You can see from the dark shadow that this was taken early in the day. I think the snake was just warming itself up before getting on with its day.