An Adder

Sharon Perrett

Portsmouth, United Kingdom

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Taken at Havant Thicket, I went there today with my thick socks and wellies on. I was amazed I saw at least 5-6 snakes basking in the sunshine.
Adders can be variable in colour, but typically the background colour differs in males and females. Males tend towards a grey, whitish, occasionally yellowish colour. The contrast with the black markings can make them appear almost silver. The females tend to be brownish with considerable variation of shade and occasional hints of red or yellow – although in the latter case always a much darker shade than the males. Both sexes are similarly marked. Typically these markings are very pronounced and extremely easy to identify, consisting of a heavy dark zigzag pattern down the back with dark spots in rows on the flanks. At the back of the head there is a heavy “V” or “X” shaped marking and a dark band running from behind each eye. The young are coloured and marked much like adult females. Although Adders are rather stocky snakes they are not very big, seldom exceeding 60 cms in length, the males being slightly shorter. The head shape is notably different from the other British snakes being rather broad and angular with an upturned snout. The eyes are large and tend to be reddish in colour with a vertical pupil – again a feature unique to this species in this country. The back pattern can vary in some individuals. With these variations there are occasional individuals that are not readily identifiable. The adder is the only British venomous snake, a fact which has earned it a dubious public image. Bites from adders are very rare, and the vast majority occur when a snake is picked up. Most reactions to adder bites are mild, but any bite should be regarded as potentially serious and immediate medical advice should be sought. In the last century, 12 human deaths in Britain have been attributed to adder bites (this compares with several deaths every year due to insect stings). Bites to cats and dogs do occur, but rarely prove fatal. Vets and doctors in areas where adders occur are aware of the treatment required in handling bite cases, and effective treatment is now well understood. Occasionally people doing the gardening report being bitten by an adder, but not having seen the snake. These cases are more likely due to spider bites (there are several British species capable of delivering a painful bite) or pricking by thorns

Artwork Comments

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  • Sharon Perrett
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