Interview with an adder – #30dayswild
A lot of people have issues with the poor old adder. Many are put off adders by the fact they are the only venomous snake in Britain. Others simply don’t like the glaring red eyes. And of course some people just hate snakes regardless.
As part of my series of wildlife interviews for #30dayswild, I thought I’d get to know a “real” adder. Snakes don’t hear the way humans do, so we communicated using a mixture of signs and vibrations. Thankfully I’m getting quite used to the Babel fish I acquired a few weeks ago!
Memetic Drift (MD): Hi there, thanks for agreeing to this interview. So, what’s your name and where do you come from?
Beryl: Greetings to you. I am Beryl. Vipera berus is my full name. I came from Iping Common, part of the South Downs. However adders like me hail from heathland, moors and grasslands all over England, Scotland and Wales.
MD: Not Ireland, then?
Beryl: No, there are no wild snakes in Ireland. I believe a common human story attributes this to a certain St Patrick. Really though, we were never there to begin with. It’s a geography thing, nothing personal.
MD: I must say, you’re rather smaller than I expected…
Beryl: Is that a question? Would you like me to apologise? Explain? So yes, if I’m an average sized adder, and you’re an average sized human, I’m a bit longer than the distance between your feet and your knees. I feel safer coiled up though, like I am now, so that might make me look smaller.
MD: I must say, you have quite beautiful dark markings down your brown back. Don’t they make you stand out?
Beryl: I may look quite bold here out of my natural habitat, but you’d have a hard job spotting me on the heath. Our zigzag patterns amongst the heather and ferns break up the shape of my body most effectively. The boys tend to be more grey and black, but the effect is the same. Each of us has unique patterning, like your fingerprints but more elegant.
MD: I’d have to agree with you there. So what does a day in the life of an adder look like?
Beryl: As cold-blooded creatures, the morning duty is to warm ourselves up. This means going out in the sun to absorb heat from the sun. We can spread and flatten our bodies out to speed this process up. It’s not good to stay exposed for too long…
MD: Oh really? What dangers are out there?
Beryl: If it’s a hot day, staying out too long could actually roast us. We could also make a good meal for a bird of prey which might spot us from above. Staying under cover is generally the safest option. No offense, but it tends to keep away you humans and your overly-curious dogs as well.
MD: Fair enough. So you go back under cover. Then what? Hunting?
Beryl: I guess, sometimes. Little-and-often isn’t really the way of the adder. We eat things like voles, lizards and frogs. Often our food is so big compared to our faces we have to dislocate our jaws and skulls in order to get it down. Their large size and relative lack of activity mean we can get by on perhaps a dozen of these per year. It helps that we spend the winter sleeping. At this time of year though, lady adders who are, um, in the family way, will sit tight and grab prey that comes close enough to grab. The boys, lucky things, go out and search for their dinner.
MD: Ah, so the mating season has already passed, then. Do many fights break out?
Beryl: Indeed, the boys do partake in springtime “adder dances” for the sake of the ladies, but the name is a typical human misnomer. The dances are really fights, or rather wrestling matches. If two males encounter each other on the scent trail of a lady adder, they will wrap around each other trying to push the other to the ground in a show of strength. The strongest male wins and gets to carry on the trail. Even an old girl like myself attracts quite a lot of attention and is apparently worth fighting over!
MD: You mentioned being “in the family way” earlier. Don’t you lay eggs?
Beryl: No, we find that a rather common reptilian thing to do. The adder way is to keep our eggs inside us and having live young in late summer.
MD: You also mentioned being “old”… could I ask exactly how old you are?
Beryl: First you pry into breeding, now my age? Do you ask the humans you meet the same questions? Well, again if you must know, I’m 20 years old soon. I suppose the average is about 10-15 years, but I’ve heard of adders that live to 25 or more. Not bad for an animal of our size! The slow life rather works for us.
MD: Question from my last interviewee now. Erin the hedgehog asks “Are you as angry as you look?”
Beryl: Hmph, what a question. Impudent hog! Just because I don’t have the dopey round eyes of a grass snake and I just happen to be venomous doesn’t mean I’m always angry. If you must know, I had to work up quite a lot of courage to come here and meet you. I’d be far happier hidden away nice and safe among some ferns. I would never lash out at a human unless they were seriously bothering me. And if that did happen, I’d be acting out of fear, not anger. I can’t help how I look, but if it means people leave me be, that’s fine by me.
MD: Live and let live – makes sense. Just one more thing, Beryl. Next week I’m interviewing a Barn Owl. Could I have a question for him, please?
Beryl: I’d like to ask – why must you vomit up the lovely bones and furry bits of delicious rodents? Seems like a waste to me!
MD: Thanks Beryl, see you around! Adders may look fearsome up close, but they are quite retiring creatures really. Adder bites cause painful swelling and immediate medical attention should be sought if you are bitten, but they are very rarely lethal. If you are walking on heathland where adders live, it is still best to wear sturdy boots and keep dogs on leads. Overly-friendly canines can make an adder feel scared and bite.