Couleuvre d’Esculape ~~ Zamenis, (Elaphe), longissima ~~ Aesculapian Snake
One of the largest snakes in Europe the Couleuvre d’Esculape can be more than 2 metres long, recognisable by its thin body with small pointed head, prominent eyes, round pupils, uniform back coloring being yellowish-brown, greyish-brown, greyish-black, or olive green – the underside is paler. Prominent eyes, round pupils
To be found in most regions of France with the exception of the extreme north and north-east. It prefers a dry sunny habitat and generally lives in dense vegetation, brambles, thickets and woodland, this in combination with its colouring making it very difficult to observe. It can sometimes be seen by the edges of these habitats or on a stone wall or roadside. Its principle diet is composed of small mammals, birds and their young from nests in trees, lizards and young snakes. It kills by constriction and suffocation by eating its prey head first.
Photo.Couleuvre d'Esculape, France
Its period of main activity is during the day until nightfall and although principally a land dweller it is also a spectacular tree climber able to climb vertically old rough barked trees. A generally calm snake with very little aggression, sometimes known when provoked to point its head at whatever is annoying it and makes strange “mouth” sounds in an attempt to frighten. Hibernation takes place in October/November until March/April under an old tree stump or somewhere of a similar nature.
Photo.Aesculapian snake attempting to threaten, France
Coupling starts in May with some simulated combat, sometimes spectacular but completely harmless for those taking part. The female produces between 5 and 20 eggs in June/July; these are laid under a stone, in a stone wall, under decomposing vegetation / compost heap or in the rotting base of a tree stump, hatching is about 8 weeks later.
Photo. Aesculapian snake climbing in a tree, France
Population: in decline