The Reptiles of Birmingham and the Black Country
Birmingham and the Black Country is home to a number of native reptile species, some of which seem to thrive in the most unlikely of places!
Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) have been found in places such as on railway embankments, post-industrial land and graveyards and even in garden compost heaps.
Despite its name and appearance, the Slow Worm is neither a worm nor snake but is actually a legless lizard that grows to 30-50com long.
Unlike snakes, Slow Worm have eyelids. They have smooth long, shiny bodies that vary in colour from grey to bronze, with the females being darker, often with a dark vertical stripe. They feed on insects, worms snails and slugs.
Other reptile species present in Birmingham and the Black Country include Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara), whose population unfortunately seems to be in decline, but isolated populations do still exist, most notably at Sutton Park in Birmingham and Fens Pools/Buckpool Wedge in Dudley.
Common Lizard can found in woods, heath, bogs hedgerows and, like Slow Worms, can also be found on railway embankments and even in rubbish dumps. The population decline is mainly due to fragmentation of the species’ key habitats.
Snake species, although present, are somewhat less common in Birmingham and the Black Country. Of the two native snake species found in the area, Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) is the more widespread, although it is thought that populations are in decline as the undisturbed habitat it requires is becoming more scarce.
Grass snakes live in damp areas such as ponds, ditches and the banks of rivers, but also in wet meadows, farmland and damp woodlands. They predominantly eat worms, tadpoles, frogs and newts and occasionally fish or small mammals, which they swallow alive.
The other of the native snake species in the area; Adder (Vipera berus) is much rarer, only being present on very few sites. This rarity is mainly due to a lack of suitable management of already fragmented habitats. Adder, which grow up to 65-80 cm, are fairly short snakes with relatively large heads, rounded snouts and rusty-red elliptical pupils.
They use venom to stun and immobilise their prey before they eat it. This prey can be frogs, small mammals, lizards or birds. Adders, in spite of their reputation are non-aggressive snakes but require treating with respect.
Another reptile species present in the wild in Birmingham and the Black Country is the Red-Eared Terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans), which is an introduced species native to South America and the USA. This species was very common in the pet trade during the 1980’s and 1990’s and many have been released or escaped from captivity and have survived in the wild for several years. They are hardy and able to thrive in ponds, lakes and canals. The species is not currently classed as a threat to the ecosystem as they are unable to breed successfully in the UK climate. With climate change and global warming, this species and other non-native terrapins may be able to breed and establish themselves in the area.