I wondered if this was a breeding season as snakes seem to be quite conspicuous recently, but I found out that the warm weather has more likely brought them all out of hibernation at the same time. However, one of Portugal’s most common snakes, the Ladder Snake, breeds during May and June and will lay a clutch of 4 to 24 eggs 3–6 weeks after mating. Incubation takes between 5 and 12 weeks, so the hatchlings won’t be around for a few weeks yet.
I think it’s the way they move that I find creepy, and they do it fast if the mood takes them - how can a creature move that fast without legs, I ask myself. And that weird way of smelling, tasting the air, with the tongue flicking out. All a bit alien if you ask me! I remember as a child playing out in the woods with some other kids and a grass snake slithered across the pathway from a stand of bamboo, effectively cutting our group in two, while we all stood there shrieking like headless chickens.
Last year we had two inside our cisterna, one very dead, but the other very much alive and wriggly, and it managed to wind itself around the pool pole we offered it as an escape route. This month, one of my dogs had been mesmerised by the underside of the porch outside the house, and last week I stared too and was rewarded by seeing a small snake looking back at me, its coils loosely looped over a wooden strut. Don’t know who was more alarmed, it or me! Then this week, the same dog starts barking over the fence, and I see a snake as fat as a hosepipe slithering into the long grass. There are obviously plenty around, and I found the discarded skin of one while I was weeding too – not big enough to make a handbag out of, and in fact, it was barely big enough for a watch-strap!
Snakes always get a bad rap, especially when they are collectively called ‘cobra’ by the Portuguese. They are certainly not cobras, it’s just the Portuguese word for ‘snake’ - so no need to head for the hills yet. I believe there are eight species of harmless snake here, and maybe two to be cautious of - both are vipers, Seoane’s Viper and the Lastaste Viper being the ones to avoid. In fact, most snake bites are caused by people trying to catch and handle them as opposed to being stalked or hunted by them. Having said that, it would be wise to keep away from the business end of any snake, and seek urgent medical attention after a bite, whether the victim be human or a pet!
What do snakes eat, I wondered. They are all carnivores, and their diet depends on the species. Some eat warm-blooded prey such as rodents, birds or rabbits, while others eat insects, frogs, toads, eggs, other reptiles, fish, earthworms, or slugs. I also wondered if they eat snails, which drive me nuts eating my plants, and apparently they do - and to extract their escargot, the snakes push their lower jaws into the shell and grasp the flesh of the slimy critter with their curved teeth.
They are welcome to as many as they can find to be honest. Would save me having to give the ones I find flying lessons over the wall.
I wondered about the largest snake in the world, and the answer depends on whether you want length or weight. The reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) is the longest snake in the world, regularly reaching over 6.25 meters in length, and the longest ever recorded was found in 1912 and measured a staggering 10 meters. Green anacondas are the heaviest snakes in the world, the heaviest ever recorded being 227 kilograms (which is quite a lot, when you consider that an average human male weighs around 85 kg). This massive snake was 8.43 meters long, with a girth of 1.11 meters.
Deep down, I know snakes get a raw deal. After all, Eve shouldn’t have listened to the serpent, and she didn’t have to eat that apple in the Garden of Eden, did she? And for his troubles, the snake never got his legs!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.