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Feature Creature - Adder

Credits: David Longshaw

Did you know we had native reptiles in the UK? This feature creature is the ADDER. These beautiful reptiles have begun to emerge from their slumber through the warming days of April and may be spotted basking in sunny places. They have earned themselves a bit of a fearsome reputation - but are we being unfair to these handsome animals? 

Fantastic facts:

 

*Life span: Thought to be up to 20 years     *Super powers: Poison, quick strike

 

*Enemies: Buzzards, other snakes, and even their own rodent prey when hibernating 

 

*Favourite foods: Rodents, frogs, bird chicks   *Young: Up to 20 in a litter. They don't lay eggs!  

 

*Latin name: Vipera berus (vipera = viper/poisonous, berus = snake)

 

But what are these creatures and what can they do? Adders are:

 

Poisonous

 

Adders are perhaps most famous for their poison, and for being the only venemous snake in Britain. Remember though - there are no wild snakes to be found in Ireland.

 

When catching prey, adders inject their venom with a single bite, putting it to sleep very quickly. This gives the snake all the time it needs to swallow large meals whole and keeps it safe from struggling prey that might cause injury.  

 

Secretive serpents

 

Despite their quick strike and poisonous bite, adders are not aggressive animals. An adder that hears or sees you coming would much rather try to quiety slip away and avoid you than hang around - a sensible decision considering how dangerous humans can be! Adder bites are very rare and usually only happen when the snakes are handled or trodden on.

 

If you're ever lucky enough to spot one, remember how big and scary you might look to a much smaller creature, and give the snake plenty of space. You might get a good look before it decides to move on. Chances are you've wandered past adders before and never even noticed them, beacuse they've noticed you first!

 

Adders are most likely to be found in acidic grassland habitats, woodland edges and heathland. 

 

Light eaters

 

Like many other snakes, adders can go for long periods of time between meals before feeling hungry again. An adult adder might only eat seven small rodents in a year! All reptiles have slow metabolisms, which means that their body processes - like digestion and growth - take longer to function than mammals. This might seem a bit strange, but it means that the snakes don't have to worry about catching lots of prey like this juicy vole, whereas we have to eat almost contantly!

 

 

Sun lovers

 

Another quirky characteristic that reptiles share is their inability to produce their own body heat. This is often refered to as being 'cold-blooded', although a snakes blood is actually a similar temperature to our own. What it really means is that adders must bask in the sun to help them heat up and allow their muscles to move properly.

 

You may notice that snakes disturbed at the begininng of the day or during colder weather are a bit sleepy and sluggish as they lack the abillity to move very fast. A fully-charged snake is a different matter altogether! It's thought that the dark, almost black colour of many adders helps them to absorb the heat of the sun, which is why they have lost their distinctive diamond pattern.

 

Have a look at this lovely video of adders emerging from hibernation this spring. They are making use of a piece of corregated iron to catch all the warmth they can before gearing up for their first hunt of the year