Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca)


The smooth snake is a species widely distributed in Europe and also in Romania, it can be found from the sea level up to an altitude of 1500 meters [4; 5; 7; 8; 14].

The Geographic Range of Coronella austriaca in Europe [6]

The Geographic Range of Coronella austriaca in Europe [6]

Only one subspecies lives in our country Coronella austriaca austriaca [4; 5; 8; 12].

The Geographic Range of Coronella austriaca in Romania [2]

The Geographic Range of Coronella austriaca in Romania [2]


Few of you know about the curiosities of the animal world and even less about reptiles. Did you know that females of different species of snakes are able to store sperm inside their bodies for a period of 90 to 2555 days [1]? And that this sperm is used for reproduction in periods of time when they don’t meet any males because of habitat fragmentation, excessive distances between populations or low reserves of food and energy [1; 3; 10; 11]. Therefore, a female can give birth to babies during a certain year without actually being coupled with a male within that particular year, but few years before. This shows a tremendous capacity to adapt that only some species of snake have. This capacity is also found in the present species Coronella austriaca. The longest period of sperm storage ever reported for this species is of 475 days [13].

Morphology. Smooth snake is a species of small to medium size with a slender and harmonious body.Maxillary teeth are unequal in length, the eyes are small with a round eyeball.The rostral is very evident from behind. The suboculars are absent, 7 (rarely 8) supralabials, the nasal shield is undivided and the nostril is in the middle.It has a single preocular, postoculars are in number of two and they are superimposed. The frontal is shorter than the parietals.The scales on the dorsal side are neat and without a keel, arranged in 19 transversals rows. Ventral plates are in number of 153 to 199, there are between 41 and 70 pairs of subcaudals and the anal is divided [4; 5].

The Color on the dorsal side is brown, red-brown for males and grayish brown for females. A black or brown stripe stretches from the corner of the mouth to the nostril.In the dorsal part of the head there are two short rows of brown-blackish spots. The dorsal drawing shows 2-4 rows interrupted by dark brown spots. The ventral side is white in the cephalic region and in the rest of the abdominal region the colour is variable (brown, brick red, gray or black) [4; 5].

Ecology. The smooth snake prefers dry and sunny areas, clearings and forest margins, nut-grove and areas with arborescent vegetation. It is a diurnal species that climbs on bushes to take the sun.When is attacked it bites harmlessly or splashes a smelly secretion removed from the cloacal region.The food consists of lizards, small snakes, rodents, insectivores and birds which it immobilizes by strangulation. It hibernates from October to April [4; 5].

Reproduction takes place in April-May, and the lay is deposited in August-September and includes 3-15 babies of approximately 15 inches, the babies exuviate soon after birth. It is ovoviviparous, but sometimes it also lays eggs, wherefrom come out babies. [4; 5].

Legislation. In Romania the species is protected by Law no.13 of 1993, by means of which Romania ratifies the Berne Convention (Annex II), European Directive 92/43/EEC (Annex IV), Law no. 462/2001 regarding the state of natural protected areas, the conservation of natural habitats, of the wild flora and fauna (Annex IV) and also by Government Emergency Ordinance no. 57/2007 regarding the state of natural protected areas, the conservation of natural habitats, of the wild flora and fauna, approved with subsequent amendments and supplements (Annex IV A),  being considered a community interest species which requires strict protection [15; 16; 17; 18].

According to the IUCN classification, at a global level, this species has a Not Evaluated status (NE), and in the Red Book of Vertebrates of Romania it is marked as vulnerable (Vu) [8].


1. Birkhead T.R., Mollar A.P., (1993): Sexual selection and the temporal separation of reproductive events: sperm storage data from reptiles, birds and mammals. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 50: 295-311.

2. Cogălniceanu D., Rozylowicz L., Székely P., Samoilă C., Stănescu F., Tudor M., Székely D., Iosif R., (2013): Diversity and distribution of reptiles in Romania, ZooKeys 341: 49-76.

3. Conner J., Crews D., (1980): Sperm transfer and storage in the lizard Anolis carolinensis. Journal of Morphology 163: 331-348.

4. Fuhn I.E., Vancea Şt., (1961): Fauna R.P.R. Reptilia (Ţestoase, Şopârle, Şerpi). Vol XIV, fasc. 2, Editura Academiei R.P.R., Bucureşti, 338 pp. [in Ro]

5. Fuhn I.E., (1969): Broaște, șerpi, șopârle. Ed. Ştiinţifică, Bucureşti. [in Ro]

6. Gasc J.P., Cabela A., Crnobrnja-Isailovic, Domen D., Groessenbacher K., Haffner P., Lescure J., Martens H., Marinez Rica J.P., Maurin H., Oliveira M.E., Sofianidou T.S., Veith M., Zuiderwijk A., (1997): Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Europe. Societas Europaea Herpetologica & Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle Paris.

7. Hill J., (2008): Coronella austriaca (LAURENTI, 1768) from the Croatian Island of Cres.- Herpetozoa, Wien; 20 (3/4): 192.

8. Iftimie A., (2005): Reptilia. In: Botnariuc & Tatole (eds): Cartea Roşie a Vertebratelor din România. Ed. Academiei Române, Bucureşti. [in Ro]

9. Malkmus R., (1995): Coronella austriaca acutirostris subspec. nov. aus dem Nordwesten der Iberisshen Halbinsel (Reptilia: Serpentes: Colubridae). Zoologische Abhandlungen 48(15): 265-277.

10. Philip G.A., (1979): Sperm storage in Moloch horridus. Western Australian Naturalist 14: 161.

11. Saint-Girons H., (1982): Reproductive cycles of male snakes and their relationship with climate and female reproductive cycles. Herpetologica 38: 5-16.

12. Sos T., (2008): Review of recent taxonomic and nomenclatural changes in European Amphibia and Reptilia related to Romanian herpetofauna. Herpetologica Romanica, 2, 61-91.

13. Strugariu Al., (2007): A case of efficient long term sperm storage in smooth snake Coronella austriaca.  Biota – Journal of Biology and Ecology  8 (1/2): 79-82.

14. Strugariu Al., Butnaru A., Gherghel I., Sahlean T.C. (2008): First record of the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca Laurentus, 1768) in Botoșani County (Romania). Biharean Biologist 2: 64-67.

15. ***Legea 13 din 1993 prin care România ratifică Convenţia de la Berna. [in Ro]

16. ***Directiva Europeana 92/43/EEC [in Ro]

17. ***Legea nr. 462/2001 privind regimul ariilor naturale protejate, conservarea habitatelor naturale, a florei şi faunei sălbatice. [in Ro]

18. ***Ordonanţa de Urgenţă a Guvernului nr. 57/2007 privind regimul ariilor naturale protejate, conservarea habitatelor naturale, a florei şi faunei sălbatice, aprobată cu modificări şi completări ulterioare. [in Ro]