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Reptiles

Breite is home to four species of reptiles: the grass snake (Natrix natrix), the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). In the surroundings of Sighişoara town we can also observe the European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) and the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis).

The grass snake prefers the wet and sunny areas such as the habitats along the drainage ditches, as they supply its food consisting of amphibians. It is not a venomous snake, but it compensates this “disadvantage” by using intimidation methods: it hisses, curls and spreads foul smelling substances.  If needed, it can play dead: it curls, remains still, opens its mouth and pulls out its tongue (see the photo below). All these aspects as well as its beautiful appearance make it a very nice snake that deserves our respect.

Given its feeding regime, the grass snake is affected by the decline of the amphibian populations. The grass snake can be seen more often in the southern part of the plateau. This is due to the fact that the aquatic habitats are better developed here and consequently the amphibian populations are more numerous. In the northern parts we have observed only young grass snakes, while in the south we have also encountered adult grass snakes. The longest grass snake that we identified on the Breite was about 1 meter long (see the photo below taken in 2004). Unfortunately such individuals have become scarce nowadays.

The smooth snake is rarely encountered, as a general rule, and this is true for the Breite Reserve as well. The first time we saw one in the reserve was in June 2010. It feeds mostly on lizards, which are quite numerous on Breite. It may be mistaken for the viper although it is not venomous. However, it hisses and might bite if caught. 

The sand lizard also dwells in wet and sunny areas, so Breite is a comfortable habitat for it. It feeds on invertebrates and does not have many natural predators. We observed that the sand lizard (especially the young individuals of this species) colonizes quickly the areas where the hornbeam invasion was cleared (as part of the management plan of the Reserve).

Despite its name, the slow-worm is in fact a lizard! It is one of the shyest and harmless reptiles in the region, encountered rather rarely, mostly in warm days after a rain. Because of its secluded life style, it is one of the least researched reptiles in Romania. However, it is well represented on the Breite most probably because the dense grasslands and the surrounding forests make good habitats for it.

According to our knowledge, the reptiles in the Breite Reserve do not require special management actions as of now. The management actions implemented by the Mihai Eminescu Trust are sufficient for the long-term conservation of the reptiles. The grass snake benefits from the amphibians conservation actions: as long as these work, the grass snake will also prosper. As such, the best way to protect the reptiles on the Breite is to just let them be.

Tibor Hartel, PhD

Custozi                                                                                                              Finanţatori

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