Adders! Cue the ‘hiss’teria

To many, the very mention of the word “Adder” conjures up images of swollen limbs, deceased pets and fanged beasties lurking in the undergrowth, biding their time before they lash out at unsuspecting victims. Given the fearsome reputation of the Adder (Viperus berus) you would be forgiven for thinking that it was in fact an equally lethal relative of the Black Mamba, not the shy and relatively unobtrusive viper that it really is. To me the mention of the word “Adder” conjures up images of beautiful reptilians basking in the sun, golden scales and entrancing eyes marbled with red and amber. Adders are beautiful, the jewel in the crown of Britain’s limited reptilian community. Despite in infrequency at which they are seen Adders are in fact fairly widespread in the UK, not that you would know it and for ever Adder you see you will undoubtedly have walked past another five, contently tucked away amid the crevasses of the nearest dry stone wall. Taking into account their undeniable beauty and rather placid nature, why is it then that Adders insight such fear among a great deal of people? Dog walkers, farmers, game keepers, many mention the Adder with distaste and animosity. This is a concept that truly baffles me and baring this in mind I would like to take this chance to paint the humble Adder in a different light, to show that when the venom and scales are cast aside that our incredible British Adders are far from fearsome..

Adder - James Common

Adder – James Common


Killer snake warming as record numbers of venomous adders spotted in Britain this year” – Daily Star, 2015

Pet owners WARNING: Poisonous snakes with the power to KILL PETS sweep across Britain” – The Express, 2015.

With headlines like those above rife in today’s media you would be forgiven for thinking that Adders pose a serious threat to human life. Unless of course you have actually bothered to do some research or gone one better and made the pilgrimage to view Adders in the wild. Headlines like these courtesy of the perpetually misinformed Daily Star and the Express serve only to demonize yet another intriguing British species with Adders joining Gulls, Foxes and Boar on the list of species man feel we could “do without”. Yes I know that these “Newspapers” must attempt to appeal to the masses, the majority of which dare I say, will never have even clapped eyes on an Adder. Scare tactics will always make for a good story but I cannot help but find such statements infuriating. When it comes to the threat posed by these intriguing moorland denizens the figures speak for themselves..

The term “Killer Snake” may well be applicable to threatening species such as Australia’s Inland Taipan or Africa’s Spitting Cobra but to the Adder? No. Yes deaths have occurred as a result of adder bites, with 14 fatalities noted since 1879. 14 deaths in over a century. To put that into perspective, more people have been killed by cows, trampolines and faulty toasters in that time. Shouldn’t the tabloids be focussing on our burly bovines instead? Or at least those supplying dodgey kitchen electronics. Anyways, most of these adder related fatalities no doubt occurred as a direct result of the individuals in question molesting the snake and some probably had something to do with an unlucky allergic reaction. The truth is that Adder venom is not all that harmful to humans and boasts a relatively low toxicity when compared to other snakes in the Viperagenus. I can say with a wholly clean conscience that most people bitten by Adders bring it upon themselves. Adders are shy, reclusive reptiles with a tendency to flee from human conflict. Speaking from experience, I have been up close and personal with adders on multiple occasions and have never been bitten. As with any creature, Adders should be awarded a certain degree of respect, perhaps more so given their venomous nature. Avoid handling them, suppress the idiotic desire to show off in front of your friends and no doubt you will walk away unscathed from your serpentine encounter. Of course some bites cannot be avoided, some occur by sheer chance due to clumsy humans inadvertently standing on said Adders. All due sympathy should this occur though even if it does, you’ll likely come out of it with no more than a spot of swelling and a fairly impressive bruise. With anti-venom in ample supply around the UK, fear of adders is totally unfounded. The moral is, if you respect the snake, the snake will respect you. 99% of Adder bites can be avoided if we only apply a spot of common sense to our countryside forays and leave these beautiful creatures to slither about in peace.

I will not deny that Adders do in fact pose a threat to smaller animals. Dogs for example, unlike humans, react more seriously to adder venom. Pet casualties do occur, though not as often as moronic manuscripts such as the Star would have you believe. Again such incidents relate directly to a lack of respect for the vividly marked vipers. If you fear your beloved pooch may be at risk, keep it on a leash and stick to predefined footpaths. Should a bite occur anti-venom is always often available at veterinary practices, particularly in areas where such incidents are common place. I fully understand that the loss of a beloved family pet is distressing but is it really fair to hold snakes responsible for lashing out in self-defense? Especially when our pets bare a distinct resemblance to foxes and wolves, the Adders natural enemies. Anyways, a lot more Adders are killed by dogs each year in the UK thus I stand fully in the snake camp in this regard.

One more thing that has really ground my gears in regards to the current Adder fiasco is statements like “plague of reptiles” and “sweeping across Britain”. Baring in mind all the nonsense spouted by the Daily Star, Express and their ilk you would be forgiven for thinking that Adders are indeed extremely common. This could not be further from the truth! Yes, Adders remain relatively abundant within the British ecosystem but this should not in any way, shape or form imply that they are overly numerous. Adders are in decline in the UK. These beautiful snakes have it far from easy; the upland habitats disrupted and degraded, increased human habitation forcing them to take up residence elsewhere, traffic, dogs, spade wielding lunatics. Combine all of these factors with predation from invasive, artificially reared game birds and it is a miracle that adders are still relatively widespread. It seems to me that these marvelous little reptiles have enough to contend with without dumb apes like ourselves piling on unnecessary pressure. The British press, and by default anyone misguided enough to believe their misguided ramblings must reassess their stance on Adders. Go out and look for them, enjoy them, study them, truly you will see that Britain’s only venomous reptile is far from fearsome after all. If that fails, take a look at the photos I have posted alongside this article, all were taken within the last week and none of them resulted in so much as a hiss from the individuals in question.

Adder - James Common

Adder – James Common

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