Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus
(Laurenti, 1768)

History and origin
The Aesculapian snake was first described by Laurenti in 1768, the scientific name of this species is Zamenis longissimus, Zamenis is of unknown origin however longissimus comes from latin and means 'long', this snake is one of the longest over its range. The common name of this snake 'Aesculape' refers to the classical god of healing (the Greek Asclepius and Roman Aesculapius), this snake was encouraged around temples dedicated to him. This species is carried in an annual religious procession in Cucullo situated in central Italy.

Characteristics
They are characterised by dark, slim, shinny bodies. They are the most elegant snake of France and were associated with the classic god of healing where their name comes from, Greek Asclepios & Roman Aesculapius.

Description
=Size=
They hatch at around 30 cm, averaging about 110 cm growing up to 200 cm.
=Morphology=
They are slim and elegant. Their scales are very smooth and in the correct light this snake shines.
=Patterns & colours=
Juveniles can easily be confused with juvenile Grass snakes, also having a yellow collar on their neck. Juveniles are light green or brownish-green with various darker patterns along the flanks and on their back. They appear to have two darker patches in the form of lines running on the top of the flanks. Adults are much more uniform, sometimes being olive-yellow, brownish-green, sometimes almost black. When they have a pale colour, sometimes two darker lines can be visible, but if their body colour is dark, they usually have white freckles all over their body. Their belly is yellow as in most rat snake species (Elaphe s.l.).

Geographical range
Found over most of France except in the north, the Spanish Pyrenees and the eastern side of the Spanish northern coast, Italy (except the south and Sicily), on the western side of Sardinia (?), the Balkan peninsula and parts of Switzerland and Austria. Some isolated populations in western Germany and in the northwest of the Czech Republic.

Subspecies
None described.
- romana - former subspecies Elaphe longissima romana is now treated as a separate species- Zamenis lineatus – found in southern Italy and Sicily.

Sexual differences
Females are larger then the males, especially in late spring when they carry their eggs.

Seasonal variations
None.

Diet
Their main food source are rodents this snake being a rat snake (Elaphe s.l.). They also eat lizards and sometimes bird eggs as well as birds. They constrict their prey. Juveniles eat mainly lizards.

Defensive habits
They can be rather tame, confident that their coloration will keep them hidden within their natural environment. They usually disappear and hide, but if cornered they may sometimes stand their ground and try to intimidate their opponent, sometimes with a chewing-like movement of the mouth and occasionally biting.

Reproduction
Breeding occurs when the snakes wake up from hibernation in spring, a week after, they are all looking for each other and mating begins. After only a few weeks about 15 eggs are laid (extremes are from 9 to 20 eggs) in a moist, warm spot, usually under hey piles, in rotting wood piles and other places of this kind. The eggs incubate for around 10 weeks before hatching.

Sexual maturity, life span
The average life span for Zamenis longissimus is about 25 years. They reach sexual maturity at 80 to 100 cm.

Habits
They are active by day. In the warmer months of the year, they come out in late afternoon or early morning. They are apt climbers.

Venom
This is a non-venomous snake.

Habitat
They often live at the edges of cool and sometimes damp woods and in green habitats with lots of trees, bushes and other vegetation. They are also frequently found near rock walls.

Predators
They have little natural predators. Birds of prey are the most frequent of them.

Aesculapian snake - © Jan van der Voort
Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus - © Jan van der Voort

Aesculapian snake - © Paolo Mazzei
Juvenile Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus - © Paolo Mazzei

Aesculapian snake - © Konrad MebertAesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus - © Jan van der Voort

Aesculapian snake - © Jan van der Voort
Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus - © Jan van der Voort

Aesculapian snake - © Jan van der Voort
Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus - © Jan van der Voort

Aesculapian snake - © Jan van der Voort
Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus - © Jan van der Voort