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An occasional species of the heaths and scrub



  • Adder: summing it up

    Post date: Thursday, 13 March, 2014 - 00:00

    I guess if there is one species of British wildlife that will strike fear into people then it has to be the adder (Vipera berus)! Not only is it a snake (and many people love to hate snakes), it is a poisonous snake and uses its venom to kill its prey.

    Now I am not going to pretend the adder is a harmless creature and I treat them with respect as anyone should, but I never see reports of people being bitten by them. Here in the Purbeck area of Dorset the adder is probably as 'common' as it is anywhere and if people were suffering serious effects of adder bites we would surely know about it. If anything it is uncontrolled dogs that are most likely to be 'innocent' victims of the adder and I am not even sure that that is at all common either. The reality is that the adder is a very shy creature and can detect approaching people by the vibrations in the ground and so they generally slide away in to nearby cover at the first hint of danger approaching. Only if accidentally trodden on, or foolishly handled, are they likely to bite.

    I said above that the adder is as common here in Purbeck as it is anywhere but the truth is that the adder is now far from common even here and it seems to be in serious decline. Research shows that as the adder's natural habitat becomes fragmented by roads and development so populations are forced to interbreed and the gene pool is becoming very weak and the species is dying out. Efforts are under way to try and correct this but it will take time before enough can be captured and relocated in to other colonies before we know if the programme is successful.

    Not only can they be found on the Purbeck heaths you may also find them basking on sea cliffs, grass downland, south facing embankments and other 'wild' places.

    To many, I guess the news of the decline of the adder will be welcome but it is such a truly beautiful creature with those striking markings down its back and dark V on the back of its head that to me the loss of the adder would be a tragedy. I rarely see them but when I do I never fail to be thrilled buy the sight; they are just special!


  • A doctor says ...

    Post date: Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 - 14:24

    A doctor says:

    HI you state of adders: but I never see reports of people being bitten by them. Here in the Purbeck area of Dorset the adder is probably as 'common' as it is anywhere and if people were being bitten by them we would know about it.

    I worked as a GP in the Wool area for 30 years and in an average year saw several adder bites (one year 6). My guess is that they are fairly common in 'holiday areas'.

    Some were quite serious (needing hospitalization) but most were warning shots or bites of snakes that didn't envenom much (probably low after a previous strike or didn't want to waste venom on an inedible being, I suppose). So some patients were only mildly effected. I did have one chap who had a scratch on his leg, and thought he had been snagged by some wire in long grass, but careful inspection you could see the other 'puncture' wound on his shoe. A lucky escape I think.

    The common symptom was sudden nausea (and vomiting), faintness, and then over next couple of days the effected limb swelling up and looking very strange green colour and very painful. It could take several weeks from a bad bite say on a the leg to settle enough to go back to work.

    Most victims were holiday makers from towns and didn't realise that to pick up an adder is not the wisest thing to do.

    Having said that I am glad they are surviving well, just need to keep unwise people away from them.

    --- 27th July 2016 ---


Common Name Adder
Alternative Name(s) Viper
Scientific Name Vipera berus
Species Group Snakes
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