Vipera berus LINNAEUS,
Family - VIPERIDAE
subfamily - VIPERINAE
Adders are only
interested in large prey such as
mice, voles, shrews,
lizards, frogs and slow worms. When young however they commonly eat
the grass-feeding caterpillars of butterflies in the subfamilies
Satyrinae and Hesperiinae. They also eat beetles, worms and spiders.
Adders are sadly
becoming a rarity in Britain - partly as a result of habitat loss,
which reduces the populations of it's prey, but also because of
persecution by ill-informed individuals who believe it is dangerous
and try to eradicate it.
In fact it is a very
timid creature, and cases of attack on humans are extremely rare.
The animal's instinctive reaction to human presence is to instantly
slither away to a place of refuge, and it will only bite if you try
to pick it up, or step on it bare-footed.
Vipera berus - Britain's only venomous
inhabit dry sheltered and sunny sites which include woodland
heaths, sand dunes and
grasslands throughout Britain and Europe.
beautiful snakes can be recognised by the distinctive dark zig-zag
band along the back, and the V shaped mark behind the head. Males are
silvery or pale brown with contrasting markings and grow to about
50-60cms in length. The females which are duller and less
conspicuously marked can sometimes reach 80cms or more.
spring, after awakening from hibernation adders can be found basking
on logs, or in depressions in the ground, typically close to bushes.
become sexually mature at the age of 3 or 4 years, and can live for up
to 15 years. Mating takes place in April and May after a complex
pre-nuptial ritual involving a great deal of side by side flowing
movement, tail vibrations and body quivering. In early September the
young are born live. Between 3-20 are born in each litter, and the
young snakes are independent from birth. Often tiny adders, no more
than 10cms long, can be found in early spring basking in sheltered
depressions on the ground beside woodland paths or along railway
hunt chiefly by day. When hunting they continually flicker their
forked tongues, with which they detect the scent of their prey. The
quarry is bitten, and venom flows from the snake's hollow fangs and
enters the victim's bloodstream. The venom contains a heart depressant
which rapidly kills the prey which is then swallowed whole. The meal
is slowly digested, and usually provides enough nourishment to enable
the snake to live for about 7-10 days before it needs to feed again.
The bite of an adder is
painful, but rarely causes death or hospitalisation of humans. Adders
only attack humans if severely provoked - most victims of bites are
over-adventurous teenagers trying to be "clever" by picking them up.
Pet dogs are also occasionally bitten, but the effect is rarely fatal
provided that they receive immediate veterinary treatment. If
concerned, keep your pet on a lead, and don't let it roam in habitats
known to contain Adders !