Rat-eating six-foot snakes found breeding in UK after possible zoo escape

A breed of snake that can grow up to six-feet long has been found in the UK after a 10,000 year break – and experts think it’s because of a zoo escape in the 1970s.

The breed is called the Aesculapian Rat Snake, and it gets that name because it eats rodents.

They have been discovered in the Colwyn Bay area in Wales and it is believed that they originally came from the Welsh Mountain Zoo.

In the mid-1960s, animals were imported from Italy to the zoo and in the early 1970s, baby snakes were found in the grounds.

Initially it was thought to be grass snakes due to their yellow markings, but was later confirmed as Aesculapian snakes, North Wales Live reports.

The snake is non-venomous and was once a ‘native’ species to Britain before the last Ice Age.

They are not harmful according to PhD student Tom Major, who recently found an Aesculapian snake, saying: “We found a snake 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.

“Even allowing for six months of hibernation each year, and the cooler climate, it’s an extraordinarily slow growth rate. It suggests it might have eaten just once or twice in the past three years.”

Tom has been studying the snakes for five years now, and says that “it is used to living alongside humans and there is little or no evidence of it causing any harm.”

They appear to be popping up around the UK. A smaller population was found to be living on rats along Regent’s Canal near London Zoo in 2010. Currently there are a few dozen thought to be in the wild in London.

Just two years ago a third population was reported – but not confirmed – in Bridgend.

The Colwyn Bay colony is thought to be the UK’s largest: Tom beleives that there could be around 70 adults and 120 juveniles.

While they can grow up to six-feet, Tom suspects they are unlikely to grow much beyond 1.5 meters due to the UK’s colder climate.

Despite this, they are still Britain’s longest snakes.

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The snakes do not avoid humans and have been found in gardens and sheds in other countries in the past.

They like to nest in stone walls, derelict buildings and ruins, laying their eggs in garden compost heaps and revisiting the same safe places to seek refuge.

The Colwyn Bay population has been monitored since 2004 so that “rapid response can be taken if necessary”, said the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

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