swuklink: Adder or Viper - Vipera berus  
   
ADDER or VIPER
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The adder is one of only three snakes which are native to the British Isles (the others are the grass snake and the smooth snake). The adder is the only venomous species.

The smooth snake preys on other reptiles and will sometimes take a young adder.

The adder was called the ' nadder ' in Old English; the present form dating from Middle English.

The Adder is a small but stout snake and rarely grows to exceed 65-cm (2-ft). Its head broadens behind the eyes to give it a distinct head (cf: the grass snake) and possesses a distinctive continuous zig-zag marking along the length of the back. These markings vary from animal to animal and no two are quite the same - the differences being large enough to allow the recognition of individuals.

Body colouration is variable in adders with the males usually grey or buff with black zig-zag markings and spots along their flanks. Females are brown with a dark brown zig-zag. Occasionally melanistic (wholly black) adders are reported.

The Adder has elliptical pupils, vertical and narrow (cf: the grass snake and the smooth snake). The life-span of adders is thought to be about fifteen years.

Adders hibernate during the winter when bites are rare but they become frequent in the summer months when the snakes are active and outdoor pursuits bring people into contact with them. If threatened, the adder will attempt to flee and will only bite if it is provoked and feels cornered and will certainly do so if stood upon or handled.

The adder uses venom for catching prey (usually small mammals and lizards) and some of the bites may be warning 'dry bites' with no evenomation (injection of venom) taking place.

In the event of an adder bite DO:
! ! ! ! ! IF BITTEN BY AN ADDER, MEDICAL ASSISTANCE SHOULD ALWAYS BE SOUGHT ! ! ! ! !

  • Remain calm
  • Reassure patient
  • Keep the patient as calm as possible
  • Leave the bite alone
  • Immobilise the affected limb
  • Get the patient to hospital as quickly as possible

    DON'T:

  • Interfere with the wound in any way
  • Use potassium permanganate or ice packs
  • Use tourniquets or bandages

    Click here for more information on adder bites

  • Fatalities resulting from adder bites in the United Kingdom are very rare - only fourteen have been recorded in the century ending 1975 and none since.

    More people die from bee and wasp stings than from adder bites.

    REMEBER: your pet dog is at risk as well; while an adder just might tolerate being sniffed, it will almost certainly attack your pet on any sudden movement. A dog will usually be bitten on the head and will be very ill, possibly dying, and certainly needing vetinary attention as soon as possible.

    The adder ranges from Britain, through Europe as far as Northern China.

    Adders are chiefly creatures of heathlands and moors but may also be found on rough grassland, scrub and railway embankments. They tend to be favour sandy and stony places rather than alluvial areas.

    They are very timid animals and usually attempt to esacape quickly when disturbed. They will, however, defend themselves by striking trodden upon or handled (see ' Adder Bites' above).


    Like all our native reptiles, adders hibernate during the winter, in Britain from mid-October to February. The males emerge from hibernation first and the females only follow several weeks later. Mating takes place in April and early May.

    The male adders emerge from hibernation to be followed by the females about a fortnight later. Mating takes place in April and early May. It is preceded by a trial of strength between the males who 'dance' with each other to win the right to a female who is usually close by.

    Once they become pregnant, the females cease to feed for the three to four month duration of the gestation while the embryos develop inside them. Clutches usually numbering between four and twenty young, usually between four and ten, are born alive in Britain, in August or early September.

    The females do not breed every year as they need at least one intervening rest year in between breeding to feed up and regain breeding condition. Male adders reach sexual maturity in thier third or fourth year, females in their fourth or fifth.

    The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Schedule 5, protects adders from trade, injury and killing. There is also protection as to the exploitation of the species under the Berne Convention.

    The Battle of Camlan
    The adder was blamed for the Battle of Camlan; while the armies of Mordred and Arthur were drawn up during a parley in which the battle might have been averted, an adder darted out from the scrub, so startling one of Arthur's men that he drew his sword to slay it. Taking the flash of his sword as an instance of Arthur's treachery, Mordred's army attacked.
    In the Highlands, the adder or serpent is supposed to represent the CAILLEACH'S power, which Brigit defeats with her lamb.

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    Classification
    kingdom              Animalia
    phylum            Craniata
    class          Reptilia
    order        Squamata
    family      Viperidae
    genus    Vipera
    speciesVipera berus

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    Native Reptiles of the British Isles

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    DORSET
    Agglestone Heath

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    Description
    Adder Bites
    Distribution
    Habitat
    Behaviour
    Reproduction
    Taxonomy
    Protection
    Myths & Legends

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