Is it true there are no snakes in Ireland?

I always thought the legend that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland was a nice story, but I recently read that there indeed are no snakes to speak of in Ireland. Is this true? Why would there be snakes in England, which is also an island, but not in Ireland?

It’s a funny old world but if you put ‘Ireland + snakes’ into Google, pretty quickly you get stuff like this.

Ditto that little button top right of this page that says ‘Search’.
Fwiw, the same is true of NZ, except St Patrick diodn’t go there.

AFAIK there are no snakes in Ireland because during the last Ice Age it was too cold there for snakes, and when the temperature finally rised and as a result of the melting ice the sea rose too, Ireland was isolated from Europe before any snake could crawl it´s way to the Emerald Island.
I´m WAGing a bit here now, but I think that the Gulf Stream, moving from West to East would have prevented snakes to hitch a ride from England on a tree log or some other kind of naturally ocurring boat, for example, as probably happened with Iguanas in the Galapagos Island.

A parish priest at my church many years ago Fr. Danial Koughane (I probably butchered that spelling) said he never saw a snake in ireland except in a zoo.


According to The SAS Survival Handbook by John Wiseman, there are no venomous snakes in Ireland. It doesn’t say anything about non-venomous ones.

Interesting bit of trivia: there are also no venomous snakes in New Zealand, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Polynesia or the Polar areas.

As far as I can find in encyclopedias it says there are NO SNAKES period, in Hawaii, Ireland and New Zealand. My friend from Christchurch confirmed this. But they have that Taratua(sp?) which is in its own reptile class, but it looks like a lizard.

It does seem odd about Ireland, seeing that New Zealand and Hawaii are rather isolated but Ireland is close, relatively speaking to Europe.

There are most definitely NO snakes at all in New Zealand (excepting trouser snakes).

The tuatara looks like a lizard but is in a class all of its own apparantly.

There is only one native species in the country that is venomous. A spider known as the katipo. It is a relative of the Australian redback spider which is becoming more common in NZ and is the only other venomous species in the country.

IIRC An Post, the Irish postal service released a stamp about ten years back with a frog and a snake on it, the snake being Irelands only snake. Again iirc (which I probaby don’t) the snake was not an indiginous snake but one that had come to Ireland at a later date managed to establish a limited existance. I have never seen a snake outside of a pet shop or zoo.

The climate in most of Britain can barely support snakes. The Adder (1-2ft long, venomous) is endangered. and is most common in SE England, the warmest part of the country. The Grass Snake (4ft long) is rarer the further north you go. The Smooth Snake (2ft) is only found in grasslands in S England. Given that Ireland’s climate compares to Wales and Scotland more than to southern England, it’s hard to see that any snake population would survive, no matter how it came to be introduced.

Gorilla, I’m not buying climate as a factor in explaining the dearth of snakes in Ireland. Even though cold blooded, relying of outside heat to maintain body heat, it seem s me that the climate of Southwest Ireland is more than adequate for snakes. They have palm trees there for Pete sake. Snakes of all sorts do just fine in the American Midwest with its Siberian climate ranging form well below zero (F) in winter to temps in excess of 100 degrees (F) in summer and limited rainfall (ca. 30 inches / year). Surely snakes would do just as well in the moderate temps and frequent rains of Ireland?

It seems to me that the explanation must be something else. The combination of ice age extinction and isolation makes sense to me.

If Ireland is snakeless, does it have other reptiles? Does it have little green lizards scuttling around?

The link in my post talks about the last Ice Age, which really wasn’t very long ago.

Googling around, I found this link, which suggets that the Adder could have survived in Ireland had it managed to get there while there was still a land bridge - the fact that it gives birth to live young means there’s no eggs to be harmed by the cold. I guess you could say that the climate is too moderate for other snakes - there’s never a warm enough season for the eggs to develop. (Don’t forget that snakes hibernate, so winter temperatures are irrelevant.)

There’s only one reptile native to Ireland, the Common Lizard.

Hibernating snakes (really torpid snakes) that I am aware of winter up below the frost line in rock fissures. If you do winter excavations around here you are likely to come across balls of snakes holed up in rock cavities. Strangely enough they seem to all be of the same species–Eastern Rattle Snakes, Bull Snakes, Blue Racers, Garter Snakes, etc. The frost line around here in a really bad winter with a scant snow cover is about four feet down. In a heavy snow winter the frost does not penetrate so deep. How deep do you suppose the frost penetrates under a glacier or in a place that stays well below freezing for several thousands of years? Do you really think that a snake would work its way into a rock crevice some fifty or seventy-five feet down and over several thousands of years reproduce several thousands of generations without ever becoming physically active–you would think that the poor thing would have to wake up to copulate.

No frogs in Ireland?

Frogs are amphibians

The same climate conditions exist in interior Alaska, but there are no snakes here.

I believe the report about no snakes in Hawaii is incorrect. I watched a TV nature show a few years back about the difficult time they are having in Hawaii trying to stop the rapid extinction of many species, including birds. It seems that during the war years snakes crawled up into the airplane wheel pits (if that is the correct word) and then crawled back out in Hawaii. My memory is vague, but it seems to me that Hawaii lost 6 species of birds due to those snakes crawling up into the trees and eating the bird’s eggs.

It is incorrect, but you are getting your reports mixed up. Hawaii’s lone snake is the introduced Brahminy or Flowerpot Blind Snake ( Rampohtyplops braminus ), a tiny, burrowing, parthenogenetic critter that looks a bit like a large earthworm and is possibly the most widely introduced reptile in the world. It arrives in soil with imported plants and not needing to mate, is the perfect colonizer of tropical and subtropical climates ( you can also find it naturalized in Florida ). Perfectly harmless.

The critter you’re thinking of is the Brown Tree Snake ( Boiga irregularis ), which has devastated the avifauna of Guam, but has not yet made it into Hawaii ( though it has indeed been found at the airport and may bust loose some day ).

Among snakes, the viviparous European Adder ( Vipera berus is the champ as far as northerly distribution. It extends into the far north of Scotland and could certainly do just fine in Ireland. It just never made it there.

  • Tamerlane

As an addendum, I will note that the snakes found at the most extreme elevations and latitudes are generally ovoviviparous/viviparous rather than oviparous - i.e. they bear live young, rather than lay eggs.

Also a quick typo correction - it’s Ramphotyphlops.

  • Tamerlane

We have the Common Viper (Vipera berus) north of the Arctic circle in Finland, so it should certainly survive on Ireland if it made its way there.

There are no snakes native to Ireland. it is possible that an adder or something that can survive in the cold could survive in the wild but this would not make a breeding population (even if it was a released/escaped pergnant female). We don’t have many reptiles at all, there are very few lizards and no tortoises but there are a few naturalised snapping turtles (but they’re not native).

I think that the St Patrick story was created to show that the British (who do have snakes) still need saving.

Perhaps St Patrick could give them Rugby lessons while he’s at it : )