On 7th August, a scientific paper was published which suggests re-classifying our native UK grass snake from its current Natrix natrix helvetica to Natrix helvetica.
Until this paper, it was considered that there were two grass snake species, Natrix astreptophora (found in north Africa and Iberia) and Natrix natrix (found in Europe). This latter species had been divided into a subspecies Natrix natrix helvetica (which is the UK’s native form of grass snake).
The paper’s authors carried out genetic analysis and compared this with museum specimens and concluded that the subspecies N. n. helvetica is a species in its own right and should be re-classified as N. helvetica.
Some news agencies misinterpreted the paper and have been reporting a fourth snake species is present in the UK, which is not the case.
You will find that ecology reports start to name our native grass snake with its new name in the coming months. You can access the original paper for free here: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-07847-9
It’s fascinating that as new technologies allows us to explore the natural world even further, new discoveries such as these are still being made and can affect conservation efforts of our native British wildlife. The UK has three species of snake, the Adder Vipera berus, smooth snake Coronella austriaca and grass snake Natrix helvetica.