Why Ireland Has No Snakes

There are a couple of things that everyone knows about Ireland. It’s the place where Guinness was first made, the birthplace of St. Patrick’s Day, and the place of origination for a huge diaspora that spread across the globe. It’s also famous as a land where there are no snakes. For those who spend their time outside warily checking for rattlers or cottonmouths, this seems too good to be true! So, where did those snakes disappear?

The Legend
According to myth, Ireland’s lack of snakes is credited to St. Patrick, the same guy who we celebrate in March with parades and alcohol. There he was, piously fasting on the top of a hill when he was bothered by some snakes. Control of these pesky creatures was no problem for St. Patrick; he simply took out his staff and banished the snakes from the island, along with all of their snakey friends.
According to some scholars, this may be a metaphor for St. Patrick’s Christian preaching and its effect on the native Druids of Ireland.

The Truth
It seems that St Patrick actually had an easy job of it, as there were no snakes in Ireland for him to banish. A hundred million years ago some reptiles lost their legs and evolved into snakes. This didn’t mean much for Ireland at the time, as the whole place was completely underwater. So when Ireland emerged from the sea it was completely snake free.

Despite much research, scientists have yet to find a single piece of fossil evidence showing any trace of snakes in Ireland. The closest thing is the slow worm, which is a kind of legless lizard that was only introduced in the 1970s and is restricted to a small range in the west of the country.

Why Snakes?
Of course, other animals, birds and plants all managed to make their way over to Ireland, so why not snakes? At various times in history, Ireland has been connected to Great Britain by land bridges that emerged due to low sea levels. Unfortunately for the snakes, Ireland has also had its fair share of Ice Ages. Making snake control a pretty simple thing in the small country!

Being cold-blooded, snakes simply cannot survive prolonged and extreme cold, so any snake foolish enough to slither over the land bridge would have perished. The only route left for the snakes would be to swim across the cold ocean from Scotland – a 12-mile trek.

Thus seeing snakes in the wild is something that Irish natives simply never experience in their country. For them, a snake is something that is only seen in the zoo, at a pet shop or in the home of a snake-loving friend.

Image is licensed under CC Attribution
Aaron Walker
About the Author:

Aaron Walker is a blogger who loves trying new gadgets, reading true crime novels, and hiking. He hopes to someday end up in a writing career combining all of his interests.

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