There are enough alien big cats (ABC) seen across the UK for there to be organizations such as the British Big Cats Society and Puma Watch North Wales dedicated to reporting and recording their sightings, helping Brits to watch out for more, and convincing the rest of the world that they’re real. Now it appears the Welsh group should consider forming a separate wing for a different big invasive species – snakes. While they may eat rats, that doesn’t necessarily mean people will be less afraid of six-foot-long Aesculapian Rat Snakes that were last seen in the UK 10,000 years ago. Who brought them back and are the alien big cats afraid of them too?
“Rat-eating six-foot snakes bigger than an adder found breeding in the wild in Wales”
If you want to scare Brits, compare the new alien big snake to an adder – not the Blackadder played by the brilliant Rowan Atkinson but the venomous common European viper found throughout most of Western Europe, including England and Wales. Bites that are very painful but rarely fatal still doesn’t draw many black adder fans, so Wales Online knew the above headline would strike fear in the hearts of the otherwise stalwart Welsh. Telling them the snake is the Zamenis longissimus doesn’t help either – “Zamenis” means angry, irritable and fierce in Greek, and "longissimus” is Latin for "longest." Who wants a six-foot longest angry snake in their garden?
“We found a snake yesterday that was born around September 2018 and that weighed eight grams in 2019. Three years later, it weighed 15 grams – about the same as an HP pencil.”
Bangor University PhD student Tom Major, an Aesculapian Rat Snake researcher, spoke like a true herpetologist to North Wales Live when he pointed out that the one he caught weighed half an ounce – hoping locals wouldn’t fear that all of them were six-foot rat gulpers. He also points out they are afraid to cross roads so they tend to stay in groups. That news is little consolation to residents of Colwyn Bay which is home to a colony of around 70 adults and 120 juveniles.
What did Colwyn Bay do to deserve an infestation of alien big snakes?
Well, its close proximity to Conwy played a part. Back in the 1960s, Robert Jackson, founder of the Welsh Mountain Zoo, imported Aesculapian Rat Snakes from Italy. All was well until the early 1970s when babies roaming the zoo grounds were mistaken for local grass snakes and allowed to escape. When finally identified, it was too late – a colony had been established in the UK for the first time since the last Ice Age wiped them out. Since then, a second smaller colony was found along Regent’s Canal near London Zoo (does someone need to update the British zoo instructions on housing snakes?) and a third seems to be located in Bridgend, Wales – a long way from Conwy. (Does it have a zoo?)
“They spend long periods hidden in hay bales and in the walls of buildings.”
If you’re still worried, Tom Major recommends avoiding hay bales, barns, sheds, anything with stone walls, old buildings, compost heaps … in other words, most places in Wales. However, he assures the nervous that Aesculapian Rat Snakes are accustomed to living with humans and on the Continent live peacefully with badgers, stoats (weasels) and domestic cats. That last one may be important since many alien big cat sightings are found to be large domestic cats. And, of course, there’s that appetite for rats. Unfortunately, the cold weather in Wales seems to keep the Aesculapian Rat Snakes there from reaching their full six-foot potential, so rats there may rest easy as well. HOwever, mice, moles and shrews need to watch out.
While there’s not a British Big Snakes Society or a Rat Snake Watch North Wales, the North Wales Wildlife Trust assures those who see an Aesculapian Rat Snake that “rapid response can be taken if necessary.”
Don’t expect Indiana Jones to be visiting anytime soon.