Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Venom ...

Pirbright Common, 30 July 2013

Vipera berus

The European adder (Vipera berus) is the UK’s only venomous snake. Though painful, adder bites are rarely fatal; with only around 14 recorded cases of death in the last 150 years. As a result of its venomous bite, the adder is a much-maligned species in most of its range. However, they are generally shy, timid and non-aggressive, and bites are most likely to occur when the snake has been disturbed or deliberately antagonised; they should therefore not be intentionally handled. Professional medical help should always be sought as soon as possible after any bite.

V. berus is the most northerly member of the Viper family and is found throughout Britain right up to the north of Scotland. It is not found in Ireland. It shows a preference for open habitats such as heathland, downland, moorland, open woodland and sea cliffs; habitat complexity being essential for different aspects of its behaviour. They rarely stray into gardens.

It is easily recognised by a dark 'zig-zag' stripe along its back. There is also a row of dark spots along each side and a ‘V’ or ‘X’ shape on the back of the head. Its orange-red eyes and vertically slit pupil are also diagnostic. Background colours vary from grey-white in the male, to shades of brown or copper in the female (pictured above). Completely black specimens are occasionally described. They typically grow to around 65cm in length, though can reach up to 90cm, and generally have a rather stocky appearance. Mating takes place during April and May and female adders incubate their eggs internally (ovoviviparous), rather than laying shelled eggs like the grass snake. Adders 'give birth’ to live young in August or September. Their litters ranging in size from 3 to 20 with the young staying with their mothers for a few days. They feed largely on small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews. Lizards, frogs, newts and nestling birds are also taken.

Adders are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell wild adders.

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