Written by Lucy Brzoska
A fierce northerly wind had blown November’s mild mist into space. But on the south side of Montjuic castle, in early December, it was warm enough for the geckos to materialise from their nooks and for a very small Montpellier snake to go in search of them.
I found it coiled at the foot of the wall, pale brown and very slender, gazing upwards. When it began to negotiate the irregular stones, it revealed a length of only about 30-40 cm. Montpelliers are Europe’s largest snakes, with adult males reaching 2 metres or more, so this was still a baby.
For the moment it was perfectly suited for life in the castle wall, threading neatly in and out of the crevices, among the snail shells and woodlice.
Despite the scrutiny, the young snake didn’t go into hiding. Instead it began gathering information by flickering its forked tongue at me, the equivalent of twitching a nose in the air, picking up scent particles.
From a distance the snake was well camouflaged and plain. Close up, it showed intricate and rhythmic patterns. The particularly striking markings on the head will soon disappear as the snake grows. The juvenile Montpellier spotted here a year ago had already lost them.
Varied in size and shape, each scale on a snake’s head is carefully labelled and mapped out for identification. The Montpellier is distinguished by having two loreal scales, located between the eye and nostril but without touching either. The narrow shape of its small head means the frontal scale, centre-top, is also long and thin, squashed in by the supraoculars.
Grateful for letting me have such a good look, I left and let the little Montpellier get on with the business of hunting.