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.
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
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.