Aesculapian Snake

Zamenis longissimus

The trademark of Aesculapius, the Roman god of medicine and healing, is the serpent-entwined staff. This Aesculapian staff is still used today by doctors as a type of medical "seal". The Aesculapian Snake may often be found on the edges of paths along the southern slope forests found in the Donau-Auen National Park.

Description
Very large snake that regularly achieves body lengths of 140 to 160cm; bigger specimens may even reach 180cm. The upperparts are shiny and light brown to olive-coloured; sides and head are lighter than the back. Towards the end of the tail the colouring becomes darker. Most dorsal scales have a brighter vertical line, and the belly plates are slightly keeled on each side to facilitate climbing. Like all snakes in the Colubridae family, the Zamenis longissimus has nine large shield-like clypei on the top of its head. Young snakes exhibit a yellow blotch on the back of the head; unlike the Grass Snake, there is no dark area encircling it. Its dorsal surface is grey to yellowish-brown with a pattern of 4-6 rows of dark square or rounded patches.

Distribution
With the exception of Vorarlberg, the Aesculapian Snake is native to all Austrian provinces. Not indigenous to the highest elevations, this warmth-loving species may however be found up to 1600m above sea level.

Endangerment and Conservation Status
The IUCN Red List documents this species as vulnerable.

Behaviour
Aesculapian Snakes feed primarily on mice, moles, lizards and birds, all of which are suffocated by the force of the snake's body entangling them before being eaten. Eggs are also consumed. This species lives primarily on the ground and in underbrush, yet thanks to their keeled belly scales, they are excellent climbers. They are diurnal and crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and enjoy basking in the sun. Their movements are quick, elegant and silent.

Special Characteristics
The largest snake of the National Park. At the end of June, five to eight eggs of up to 5cm are laid in rotting tree stumps or piles of leaves. After six to eight weeks, young snakes of around 20cm length are hatched. Aesculapian Snakes are able climbers who are aided by the pronounced ridges on their belly scales. The behaviour of males during mating season may include fights where one uses force to press down on the other; these battles, however, never result in injuries.