The Aesculapian Snake In Central London

The following story was adopted from the West End Extra by Josh Loeb. The Aesculapian snake, Zamenis longissimus, is widely distributed in Europe, but rarely considered abundant and also appears to be declining in numbers. Several isolated populations occur around the edges of the range and are thought to be remnants of a wider distribution. Apart from its ecological role, it also has symbolic and cultural interest in Europe, and it is the snake depicted on the international medical symbol. A recent article in The London Naturalist describes an established a breeding colony on the fringes of Regent’s Park. Over time many have apparently been found in the capital, most of them thought to be unwanted pets released by their owners, but few if any have managed to survive for long periods in the cool and unfamiliar ­climate of central London, let alone breed. It is for this reason that Westminster’s colony of aesculapian snakes, which experts say thrive on the banks of the Regent’s Canal, is considered significant, although mystery surrounds how the creatures, native to the Balkans established a population in London. One theory is that snakes kept at a now defunct Inner London Education Authority facility for scientific experiments were released “on the quiet” in the 1980s. According to the paper, the feral population was first described in 1998 by a head keeper of reptiles in London Zoo. The article also states, “Several newly born snakes were found in the basement of a building around 30 metres from the embankment in 2010, and breeding in that year was also shown in 2011 with a young 2010 cohort snake being located. To this date this is the only example of a non-native snake species breeding successfully and forming populations in the wild in London and the UK as a whole.” Fragments of juvenile aesculapian snakes have also apparently been found in bird aviaries close to the canal. The snakes are believed to survive by feeding on rodents and possibly small birds.

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