Heading out to work on Flanders, our Reserve Manager, Amee, made a sad discovery – a dead adder on the access road. Unfortunately some hapless driver had run the poor thing over, and having established that yes, it really was dead, our staff picked it up and stashed it in the van for closer inspection later on. [We have some pictures of the unfortunate adder – but all at the bottom of this blog post – so if you are likely to find images of a dead snake upsetting or triggering, you might prefer not to look!]
Sad as this event is, it does afford us the opportunity to have a really close look at the adder in question and really appreciate what wonderful and beautifully marked creatures they are. It’s safe to say that snakes in general get a bad rap and as Britain’s only venomous snake, adders suffer especially. Before we look at the snake Amee found, let’s consider look at some adder info, which might help dispel some of the myths.
Perhaps because of fear, myth and misinformation, adders are very misunderstood. Snakes in general can cause quite a reaction and sometimes a very negative one – but as one of the special species that lives on Flanders, which we treasure, our NNR team works hard to keep the habitat suitable for them, including building hibernacula (places for them to hibernate in), for the winter months to try and ensure as many survive as possible. These elusive animals are a conservation priority species in the UK as they have suffered huge population declines, so our adders on Flanders are very precious.
Adders – a bit about them and where you might see one. Flanders Moss is a good place to see adders, sometimes sunbathing on the boardwalk on warm days. Adders come out of hibernation in February or March, the males usually emerging first, usually about a month before the females emerge. The early spring is often a good time to spot them as they will be basking in the sun, trying to soak in the rays of sunshine to warm themselves up. The males won’t be feeding and so will be losing weight as their fat reserves go into developing their testes, ready for when the females finally wake up and breeding season begins. All being well, adders live for 5 – 10 years (unless they get run over!) and in nature, their main predators are birds such as buzzards and crows, and even foxes or badgers.
Male or female? The males can be identified by a greyish colour and their blacker zig-zag pattern on their backs and therefore a greater contrast between the zig-zag and the background colour. Females are a more chocolatey brown, with a dark brown pattern. Female adders incubate their eggs internally and so give birth to tiny snakes. They are also very faithful to where they live and will return to the same spot every year to hibernate the winter months away. The marks on each adder’s head are unique – it would be entirely possible to create a database of images to refer to, so you could build up data on each individual whenever it was sighted. Not something we have for Flanders Moss NNR – yet!
Like other reptiles, adders will shed their or slough their skin every few weeks or months depending on the age of the individual. If you see an adder with greyish or cloudy looking scales, it might be about to shed. After each skin moult, the colours of the snake are particularly vibrant. Adders shed from the head back, including the scale over the eye. Sometimes the officers find these cast skins as they go about their duties, such as shown in the image below.
Are adders dangerous? Adders are venomous – Britain’s only venomous snake – and use their venom to immobilise or kill their prey which is generally small rodents and fellow reptiles, such as lizards, which of course are also to be found at Flanders. But are they dangerous to humans? Very rarely! Occasionally adders have been known to bite people, or sometimes dogs, but it’s very rare that this happens, and usually only when the adder has been trodden upon or alarmed. Adder bites are almost never fatal – in fact nobody has died from an adder bite in the UK since 1975 – and only 10 reported deaths in the last century.
So, really and truly, these amazing creatures mind their own business and leave humans alone – so if you see one, just back away, give it space; afford it the same courtesy it gives you, and don’t get into a stooshie because there is absolutely no reason to. If the adder has to slither off to get away from you, it will use up valuable energy doing so, so it’s best to give them plenty space and don’t disturb them. Adders are protected by law in Great Britain – it’s illegal to intentionally kill or injure them.
If you do see an adder on Flanders, tag us on @flandersmossnnr and report your sighting on https://www.arc-trust.org/report-your-sightings and for some more info about this fabulous species, see our website www.nature.scot .
And so, time to turn our attention to the dead adder found by Amee last Wednesday – [warning – images of dead adder, just in case anyone’s squeamish or finds snakes triggering].
- firstly, it’s not exactly a ‘cold case’ because the poor thing has a tyre mark across it – so the cause of death’s pretty clear
- it’s female – this particular snake was identified by Amee as likely a female, given its brownish colouring and probably quite young
- this particular adder was 44 cms long, though adders can grow to around 60 cms in length
And now for some photos, given our opportunity to get a really close view: [warning – images of dead adder, just in case anyone’s squeamish or finds snakes triggering]
A close up of the amazing scales and a chance to marvel at an adder’s zig zag markings – and the pattern found on the head, which is unique to each individual.
Remember, our adders are precious and a valuable part of our wildlife. So, please, when you’re driving up to Flanders, go slowly and carefully; don’t run anything over – and if you see an adder anywhere, give it plenty space, don’t disturb it – and treasure the special day you got to see one!