The European adder, commonly known as either black adders or just adder and scientifically known as Vipera berus, is one of many types of adders in the world. These adders have the largest range of any terrestrial snake, spreading all the way to Northern China and Korea to the east and up to the Arctic Circle in the north. They are the only snakes to live above the Arctic Circle. They’re range also includes the highest elevation of any snake. In this habitat they can be found in woodland, moorland, and meadows at the edge of woods. They like basking in the sun during the day and hunting at sunset.
They are about 60-80 centimeters and can live for 10-15 years. Most of the time, Black adders are mostly greyish to reddish brown, but some are all white, cream, yellow, or black, giving them their name. They have a zig-zag pattern and red eyes. Females are larger and redder than males, who are more grey, black, and white.
Image courtesy of Danny Green
During the period between October and March, adders hibernate in abandoned mammal burrows, often with other adders. Then, in the spring is the adder’s mating season, when males will dance, raising their bodies and intertwining together, a dance used to scare off other males from a female. Females incubate eggs internally and then have live young. They do not take care of their young for more than a couple hours. They have 12-20 young. If born during hibernation, young snakes are born with extra fat to see them through the winter.
Like other vipers, European adders have hinged fangs that fold up to lie on a snakes mouth. They are also venomous. They are shy and almost never bite humans, and when they do, their bites aren’t fatal, except for the very young, old, or ill. Bitten people should still seek medical attention and may be in pain or have some complications. They use their venom to hunt, by finding prey, jumping forward and injecting venom, pulling back and waiting for their prey to wander away and die. Then they simply smell their way to their kill. Their prey includes lizards, nesting birds, frogs, and small mammals.
The IUCN lists European adders as least concern. They are protected under some British wildlife conservation acts.
Adder. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/reptiles/adder
Adder: Snake: Scottish Wildlife. (2019, December 18). Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/species/adder/
Szalay, J. (2016, March 30). Facts about adders. Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.livescience.com/54227-adder-facts.html
Cover image courtesy of Jon Hawkins.