Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Snakes and their names in France

This comes up in questions and conversation all the time and frankly there isn’t much point asking your neighbour, in fact mentioning snakes isn’t a good idea unless you want to run the risk of being treated to a diatribe on how they should all be killed.



There is a lot of confusion caused for English language speakers by the translations of French to English for snake “prefixes” resulting from historical errors that have never been corrected since the first dictionaries which have been copied ever since. These are the common or vernacular names in normal usage although again it’s unlikely that most French people know them.

Couleuvre is often thought to mean “Grass snake” but in fact it is used for a group of snakes in France, 6 in all, that reproduce by laying eggs, and are all but one harmless and non venomous.  

The snakes are. 

Couleuvre à collier – Grass snake
Couleuvre à échelons – Ladder snake
Couleuvre d'Esculape – Aesculapian snake
Couleuvre verte et jaune – Western whip snake
Couleuvre vipérine – Viperine snake
Couleuvre de Montpellier – Montpeiier snake, (venomous but with non retractable rear facing fangs at the rear of its mouth - generally harmless).

Coronelle, which won’t often be heard, is used for 2 species of snake in France that are harmless and non venomous  and that are “live bearing”, that is to say although not giving live birth in the standard sense it is when the babies hatch inside the mother and are then released to the outside world and can immediately fend for themselves.

The snakes are.

Coronelle de Bordeaux - Southern smooth snake
Coronelle lisse – Smooth snake

Vipère which are the true vipers, they are venomous, potentially harmful and have retractable forward facing fangs and are also “live bearing”.   

The snakes are.

Vipère aspic – Asp viper
Vipère péliade – Common Adder
Vipère d'Orsini - Orsini's viper
Vipère de Seoane (Vipère des Pyrénées) - Seoane's Viper


Chris