The mild winter we had has been good for all the local wildlife. In particular, butterflies and snakes seem to have benefited from it. There are definitely more than usual to be seen. You can’t take a step in any of our fields without sending a cloud of butterflies into the air. And you can spot a snake fairly regularly, usually swimming in one of our lakes but occasionally slithering out of the way.

The snakes in question are couleuvres. Voltaire spotted a large one in our garden. He stalked it for a while but jumped several feet in the air when it hissed at him. Unfortunately I missed that, but Rors told me all about it.

Voltaire snake-watching

Voltaire snake-watching

Chris went out with the camera to take some photos as we rarely get any of these snakes in the garden. Chickens will happily eat baby snakes so anywhere they hang out tends to be serpent free. This guy, an adult, was a good few feet long so safe from even the greediest chicken.

couleuvre closeup

Now, just like mulot is the general term used for any mouse-like critter here in France, it turns out that couleuvre is a similarly vague term for quite a large variety of non-venomous snakes. The name covers many different types of snakes in the colubridae, boidae and lamprophiidae families. And whilst they’re non-venomous to humans, some of the varieties do have a very mild venom in small hollow hooks at the back of their upper jaws. These are used only on prey once they’ve caught them, and not for biting.

Despite their harmlessness, Ruadhri’s dinner lady at Nouzerines school used to merrily batter to death any couleuvre that dared to stick its nostrils into the school yard. Her weapon of choice was a broom and apparently she’d then shove the body into the nearest drain! Poor old snakes.

I once held a snake, many years ago in a pet shop in Belfast, and it was a very pleasant experience. Its skin was warm and smooth and I remember it being quite heavy as it slithered over my shoulders. I’d only gone into the shop with Benj and Caiti to look at furry animals. I’d been taking part in an arts festival in Belfast, doing a couple of school visits in my capacity as a children’s author, so once that was over, the kids deserved a treat for being good. We happened across the shop while searching for a café and went in for a look-see. We’d done the guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas and rabbits, and had moved on for a quick look at the snakes. To my horror, the pet shop owner swooped and asked me if I wanted to hold this particular corn snake. Having grown up with a silly fear of spiders until I was a teenager, totally as a result of Mum running a mile any time she saw an arachnid, no matter how small, I was determined not to stigmatise my kids with a fear of snakes. So although I actually really really didn’t want to touch it, I gritted my teeth, put on a stoic expression and said, “Yes please.” And I was so glad I did as it was a brilliant experience. The kids held him too and, as a consequence, they’ve always considered snakes to be very cool and nothing to be bothered about.

couleuvre coming

Of course, if we lived in Australia with its 100+ types of poisonous snakes, I imagine we might have a slightly different attitude…