Western Whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus
(Lacépède, 1789)

History and origin
The Western whip snake was first described by Lacepède in 1789, formally Coluber viridiflavus: Coluber meaning fast moving, whipping, hence the name "whip snake". Now known as Hierophis viridiflavus, Hierophis meaning sacred and snakes "sacred snakes". Viridiflavus is made of two words "viridi(s)" meaning green and "flavus" meaning yellow, making their other common name, the Dark green whip snake.

Characteristics
They are characterised by a black body decorated with various yellow freckles and spots sometimes even forming a series of vertical lines on the flanks and forming a striped tail. Juveniles are rather different.

Description
=Size=
They hatch at around 30 cm, averaging about 100 cm, growing up to 150 cm.
=Morphology=
They are strongly built but elegant. They have long tails and a small yet distinguished head.
=Patterns & colours=
Their patterns and colour change throughout their life. Juveniles are born with a dark head with lighter, usually yellow markings. Their body is more grey or greyish brown in colour, with future yellow markings being hard to see, but they are slightly different in colour, sometimes light orange. As they grow older, their body darkens and slowly becomes black. In some parts of its range, the yellow markings are not very obvious. However, in France they can be spectacular. A typical adult is black with many yellow markings on back and flanks.

Geographical range
Found over most of France except north, the Spanish Pyrenees and extreme northern Spain, S Switzerland, Italy (including Sicily), Corsica, Sardinia and Elba, Istria (Croatia) and nearby islands.

Subspecies
Although revoked in the past the subspecies
- carbonarius - has been revalidated by some authors. - northeastern and southern Italy, Dalmatia, Sicily, Malta and Gyaros. On the latter island, it was formerly identified as the species Coluber gyarosensis but this has been shown to result from an ancient human introduction.

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

Seasonal variations
None.

Diet
The Western Whip snake feeds mainly on lizards, but also large portions of rodents and other small mammals are taken. Also eats hunts birds, snakes (including vipers and other specimens of their own species) and frogs. Juveniles feed on small lizards. This snake hunts by sight. Sometimes constricts its prey.

Defensive habits
They are very fast moving, trying to escape if disturbed. They rarely put on a display of defense, unless caught or cornered. In that case, they may try to intimidate their opponent by hissing and enlarging themselves. They will bite, if handled.

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 10 eggs are laid (extremes are from 2 to 17 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 8 weeks before hatching.

Sexual maturity, life span
The average life span for Hierophis viridiflavus is about 20 years. They reach sexual maturity when they reach 4 years old.

Habits
They are diurnal, fast and agile snakes. One of the most common species in its habitat. They often hibernate in groups, and the hibernation site can be far from their summer territories. Males often fight for females.

Venom
This is a non-venomous snake.

Habitat
They usually live at the edges of cool and sometimes damp woods. Sometimes spending most of their time in thorny bushes. In very green habitats with lots of trees and other small bushes and vegetation, they also are frequently found near rock walls in which they sometimes hibernate and hide.

Predators
They have little natural predators, birds of prey are the most dangerous for them.

Western Whip snake - © Daniel Phillips
Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus - © Daniel Phillips

Western Whip snake - © Daniel Phillips
Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus - © Daniel Phillips

Western Whip snake - © Daniel PhillipsWestern whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus - © Daniel Phillips

Western Whip snake - © Daniel PhillipsJuvenile Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus - © Daniel Phillips