Sunday, 23 March 2014

Why couldn't the Viper vipe her nose?

....Because the adder ad der handkerchief! My dad used to tell me this joke every time I went out looking for reptiles, followed by a story of woe regarding adder bites.

Despite his tale, and his bad joke, as a young boy I remember spending many hours searching for reptiles. In those days they were commonplace and I would regularly find abundant numbers of common lizard Zootoca vivipara and slow-worm Anguis fragilis. Grass snakes Natrix natrix used to hunt in our garden pond and adders Vipera berus were regular in the field behind the garden. Sadly those days are long gone and with suitable reptile habitats being swallowed up by development, those individuals that are left are becoming increasingly fragmented.

Today the weather was ideal for looking for reptiles, bright sun with occasional showers, cool air temperature, just ideal for basking reptiles. The adder is Britain's only venomous snake and contrary to its fearsome reputation, it is not considered to be an aggressive species. Male adders have black zig-zag markings on an off-white background; the head pattern varies and comprises an inverted 'V' or an 'X'. Females typically have brown markings on a light brown background, but both are extremely variable. The eyes are red with a vertical pupil.

Male Adder

I arrived at Browndown, today's chosen site just after 9am, and it was not long before the first adder was seen. It was curled up on the edge of a patch of bracken, and made no attempt to move as I approached for a photo. The first individual was a male, and the distinctive zig-zag along its back blended perfectly with it's bracken surroundings.

Female Adder

The next adder was a female, and its generally browner colouration blended in even more with its surroundings. This individual was more concealed but also more alert and quickly slithered off into the undergrowth.

Female Adder

As I continued to search it was apparent that I had got the conditions right as there were several animals basking. They were all situated on the edge of vegetation on the east facing side of vegetation, well-placed to catch that morning sun.

Male Adder

Wholly black, melanistic adders can be found, and I remember seeing one not far from my home a few years ago. Even though they are mainly black the zig-zag pattern along the back is still usually visible, but if you are unsure that it is an adder, check out the eye.

Male Adder

I was on site for only about an hour and by the end of my visit I had found nine individuals, which was made up of five males and four females, a very successful day.

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