Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Spain 25: Horseshoe Whip Snake

Horseshoe Whip Snake
Given that the Spanish trip was in November, it is unsurprising that few reptiles were seen. Aside from a Wall Lizard, the only one was a distant view of what appeared to be a Horseshoe Whip Snake, Hemorrhois hippocrepis. The species gets its English name from the horseshoe shaped mark behind the head, and it one of four in the genus. Aside from the Iberian peninsula it is also found in north west Africa. The other species are found across north Africa and through the Middle East into central Asia.

Horseshoe Whip Snakes are animals of rocky, open spaces with scattered shrubs. This means that they spend a lot of time exposed to predators when hunting, and they are consequently nervous, shy, and have a good turn of speed. Their diet is mostly small mammals, but they also take lizards, birds, and when young insects as well. Prey may be captured on the ground or in the bushes as they are agile climbers. The snakes are non-venomous, with prey killed by constriction or simply swallowed whole.

Horseshoe Whip Snakes are fairly large snakes, reaching around 1.5m when adult. They are long lived snakes, only reaching maturity at around 5 years for males, with the larger females taking even longer. Barring predation, I would expect lifespan to be as much as 20 years.

Mating takes place in the spring after emergence from hibernation, with clutches of up to 10 or so eggs being laid in a cavity under loose rock or in a mammal burrow. Incubation takes around 2 months and the hatchlings can be up to 35cm long, usually less. On hatching they feed mainly on hatchling wall and other lizards, graduating to larger prey as they grow.
Short-Toed Snake Eagle
Natural predators probably include other snakes, various mammalian predators, and birds of prey. In southern Europe a key predator of reptiles is the Short-Toed Snake Eagle, Circaetus gallicus. This specialist predator has a range across southern Europe into central Asia and India, and is itself in a state of serious decline in much of its European range as a result of habitat changes reducing its prey base. Nonetheless it is classed as Least Concern by the IUCN, along with the Horsehoe Whip snake itself.

(Images from wikipedia)

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