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No snakes, but Ireland does have other reptiles


The Slow-worm, Ireland’s only ‘snake’.

The Slow-worm, Ireland’s only ‘snake’.

The Slow-worm, Ireland’s only ‘snake’.

Saint Patrick is credited with banishing snakes from Ireland and by all accounts he did a pretty thorough job as there appear to be no records of these slithering reptiles occurring anywhere throughout our green and pleasant land.

While the Emerald Isle has no snakes, it does have other reptiles. However, the number of other representatives isn't very big, in fact, it is only one: the Viviparous Lizard is the sole land reptile species native to our shores.

Our native lizard is a common and widespread beast and has an unusual reptilian feature. Most reptiles lay eggs and the young hatch from the eggs after a period of incubation. Our lizard is viviparous, that is, females give birth to live young rather than laying eggs.

Marine turtles are, of course, reptiles too, so if they are included in the national tally of Irish reptiles the number jumps by five to six. Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley and Loggerhead and are all sea turtles that turn up on our shores every now and again.

Over the years, captive pet snakes have undoubtedly either escaped from their owners or were set free when no longer wanted but none has managed to survive and become naturalised.

One introduced lizard, the Slow-worm, has managed to survive and become naturalised. It is a very long, legless lizard so it looks like a snake, but it is not a true snake. True snakes don't have eyelids so they can't blink. Consequently, they have a fixed stare and sleep with their eyes open.

All lizards have eyelids and they blink. They can also shed their tails if required, something snakes can't do. While it is long and skinny like a snake or a worm, the Slow-worm is neither a snake nor a worm. It is a slow-moving legless lizard that hunts slow-moving prey like slugs.

The Slow-worm is confined to the Burren in Co Clare, but it is not our only introduced reptile; other alien reptiles have been recorded from various locations nationwide. The Cumberland Slider, the Red-eared Terrapin and the Yellow-bellied Slider, the three sub-species of the Pond Slider, are pet-shop terrapins that people regularly dump in their local waterways in the mistaken belief that they are 'returning them to the wild'.

Pond sliders are native to the southern United States and northern Mexico and are listed as one of the top 100 world's worst invasive and undesirable species to have.

Gorey Guardian