A sum of adders

Flanders Moss NNR

It is a busy time for the adders out on Flanders Moss. Having come out of hibernation there is the important tasks of mating to be undertaken plus also sloughing of their skin (casting off the old skin) and then finding some food.

At Flanders we really don’t know very much about the adders we have on the moss. How many? Where are they? what is their life style? These are all questions we don’t know very much about. This is partially because adders are difficult to study. It takes a huge amount of patience, skills and observation to study then in the field. And to find out some of the detailed information of the life of an adder on Flanders Moss you need to be able to identify individuals and that is really difficult.

But research is now showing that it can be possible to identify individual adders by their head patterns. Each adder has an totally individual arrangement of scales on the top of their head and the pattern of black patches also varies fro madder to adder. Below are pictures of adders I have taken on Flanders over the last few years. The pictures are not the best quality as they are usually taken from quite a distance back so as to not to cause the snake any unnecessary disturbance, but with a careful study you can start to see that there are differences in individuals. With more time, patience and a better camera, a database of adder individuals could gradually be built up (subtle hint to line manager!). Anybody fancy a PhD on adders on Flanders Moss?

And it gets you thinking about why these adders have this variation. Is it just by chance or does it serve a purpose? If on purpose does it help adders identify each other? And if this is the case, is it visually that they recognise individuals or by touch and the feel of a different scale pattern? There is so much to learn but it is added to my “when we get out of lockdown ” list to try to take more and better photos of adder heads.

For more detailed infornmation a link to a scientific paper is here.

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2 Responses to A sum of adders

  1. ebirdnature says:

    That’s so cool! Do the patterns stay the same from birth do you know?

    Like

  2. Certainly the head scale pattern stays the same unless they get physical damage. The pigmentation pattern I don’t know. The background colour changes as young snakes get older but maybe the pattern itself stays that same? Fancy a PhD?

    Like

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