Montpellier snake

Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus – culebra bastarda)

Photo of Montpellier snake by Robert Parker, somewhere in Alicante

A montpellier snake in Doñana

This photo of a young Montpellier Snake ( Malpolon monspessulanus Culebra bastarda) was sent to me by Dutch photographer Gerard Beersma to identify. It was about 80cm and was taken in Doñana. Once again thanks to (2004 – before I knew anything about snakes)the expert Cyberlizard, Reptiles and amphibians of Europe, and his mates Chris + Roger, the latter of whom wrote:

This is a Malpolon monspessulanus and is just like the one that fell out of a tree ( in Spain ) that my wife and I were sitting under having our dinner. I did not believe my wife when she first said a snake has just fallen onto the table and slithered off and had gone under a pile of nearby stones. It was not until I dismantled the pile of stones that I found it. It was very similarly marked to the one in the photo.

©Gerard Beersma. Many thanks Gerard for letting me use it. (Click on picture for full-sized image. Note the telltale yellow rim around the eye. With age, the snake’s white and brown darkens, often taking on a greenish colour)

The Montpellier Snake is the largest snake in Iberia (up to 2m) and probably the commonest snake in the Mediterranean region and in Spain. This is despite the numerous deaths on the roads to which it is attracted in search of heat, and its persecution by man – it is seen as a threat to small game species and farm birds because of it size. On the contrary the Montpellier appears to be on the rise, as it easily adapts to humanised environs, which push out its competitor snake species. It is present throughout Spain , with the exception of the Atlantic strip of Northern Galicia , Asturias , Cantabria and the Basque Country. The snake is a generalist, feeding particularly on lizards* but also small mammals, birds and even small rabbits.

*In parts of Castilla it is known as culebra-contra-lagarto – Gerard Beersma tells me in Dutch it is known as a ‘hagedis-slang’, which means ‘lizard-snake – and notes ‘ I remember I found once a dead one, on the road in the Spanish Pyrenees , in Aigues Tortes de Lago de San Mauricio. While I wondered if this animal had eaten something I opened it with a sharp knife, and I found a complete lizard in it. ‘

It is in theory one of the five venomous snakes in Spain , though the back position of its venom fangs means poison injection is unusual. Lifted from Cyberlizard’s site (

This snake is one of the back-fanged colubrids which have a certain venomous capability: not usually enough to kill a human, but certainly enough to dispatch its prey (lizards, snakes or small rodents) and bad enough to inflict a good deal of pain on a person. Owing to its prey preferences it inhabits dry stony areas heavily populated by lizards, such as piles of stones on the edges of fields or near ruined buildings. When hunting it will occasionally rear up and look around, making it somewhat resemble the cobra. If it feels threatened it hisses loudly and attacks with the mouth closed. Unusually for a snake, this colubrid possesses good vision.

Aggressive and good-sighted it might be, but its frequency means that it is a common prey for a number of Iberia ‘s birds and mammals: a number of birds of prey particularly the short-toed eagle ( Circaetus gallicus) for which the Montpelier represents an important part of its diet), magpie, mongoose, fox and wild boar. Much gleaned from here: –

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Around the web

  • Malpolon monspessulanus (Excellent, definitive – Spanish) “Es probablemente el colúbrido terrestre más abundante en la región mediterránea. Por su termofilia, utiliza a menudo las carreteras para desplazarse, siendo atropellados numerosos ejemplares. Por el gran tamaño que puede alcanzar, es especialmente perseguida por el hombre, pues la considera depredadora de especies de interés cinegético y aves de corral. Sin embargo, nada de esto parece hacer retroceder sus poblaciones, y hay indicios de que podría estar ganando dominancia en la comunidad de colúbridos mediterráneos en la Península Ibérica, ya que se adapta bien a los paisajes modificados por el hombre.”
The Iberianature guide to Spain

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