25 Jul 2007
Zola found him. He's never been trained as a hunting dog, but there he was pointing for all he was worth at a patch of long grass under one of the old pear trees.
This happened a few years ago, but I was reminded of it while writing about a grass snake's visit to our office a couple of days ago.
We went to check what Zola was getting excited about. He kept nosing into the grass then jerking back.
We saw the snake straight away, which gave us pause. We'd seen plenty before, of course. We frequently used corrugated roofing sheets or 'paillage' plastic sheeting to suppress weeds in areas of the garden. During Summer, lifting any shelter like that will reveal either a grass snake or a slow worm.
This was a big one, though. And he might not like being disturbed during lunch. At that point, the toad seemed to be sitting, in a rather unconcerned way, on top of the coiled snake. But its state of mind was betrayed by the whitish poison that oozed like nervous sweat.
Trish rushed to the office to get on the web and double-check that it was a grass snake and nothing more dangerous. I ran to the house to grab a camera. By the time I got back, the toad was in the snake's mouth and not looking happy.
Regardless of what kind of snake it might be, I calculated that I could approach quite close because the snake was busy swallowing its meal. I closed in for the picture. The snake spat out the toad, struck out at me and hissed savagely.
By the time I walked back to where the snake was, it had resumed its feast. Trish arrived to say that it was definitely a grass snake, and that hissing very loudly is one of its two main defence mechanisms. The other is pretending to be dead, which seems a lousy way of avoiding being eaten, but then not every animal likes carrion.
We left the snake to its lunch and the toad to its fate. This is nature, after all, and even snakes have to eat.