by Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer
Adders can be found anywhere from heathland to woodland, meadows and coastal dunes, as long as there's a quiet spot to sunbathe and enough dense vegetation to disappear into if they feel threatened. They spend the winter in hiding until the first days of spring, when the earth starts to warm and the Adders awaken. Males emerge first and will spend several weeks basking, often returning to the same spot each day. Most have a distinctive dark zigzag stripe along the length of their spine and are silvery-grey, while the larger females are brownish. The head has a characteristic X or V marking and the eyes are a deep golden orange with vertical slit pupils. Sometimes Adders are black, or melanistic, and this dark colouration may provide an advantage by allowing them to warm up more quickly and stay active on days that would otherwise be too cold.
By mid-April, both males and females have shed their shabby winter skins and are in prime condition for the breeding season. Males locate females by their scent and may track them for several hundred metres each day. Courting pairs move in a synchronised ‘flowing’ behaviour, with much tongue-flicking and tail-lashing. After mating, the male stays to guard his female and will ‘dance’ with intruding males, rearing up and entwining bodies to wrestle his rival to the ground and drive him away.
After breeding, hungry snakes will seek out what might be their first meal in six months. The Adder hunts mice and other small mammals, birds, lizards and amphibians. It will strike its prey to inject a deadly dose of venom before rapidly releasing it and retreating to avoid being bitten back. The unfortunate prey soon dies and the Adder follows its scent trail to relocate it and swallow it down in safety. Adders are not aggressive and won’t willingly waste their venom on something they can’t eat, so will only bite in defence as a last resort and are much more likely to slither away undercover as they detect the vibration of approaching humans.