7 things you never knew about the adder

Discover fascinating facts about the adder, Britain's only native venomous snake.

An adder in Godalming, Sussex

An adder in Godalming, Sussex © Elliot Neep


1. Slip of the tongue

The snake's common name is the result of a historical pronunciation error. The old English “nadder” became “adder” by the same route that “a napron” became “an apron”.


2. Live wires

Female adders (like the one above, seen in Sussex) give birth to live young © Sandra Standbridge / Getty

Like other members of the viper family, adders are ovoviviparous – the eggs hatch within the mother and the young are born live. Indeed, the name 'viper' is derived from the Latin for 'live birth.'


3. Depth charge

Like their close relatives, the rattlesnakes, adders have the most sophisticated venom delivery systems of all snakes. Their hinged, hollow fangs are capable of delivering venom deep into their victims' tissues.


4. Light bites

Britain's only venomous snake bites hundreds of people here every year, but has caused only 14 fatalities since 1876 (and none since 1975), though medical attention should always be sought following a bite.


5. Far and slide

Adders are widespread, but do not occur in Ireland © Nik Nimbus

Adders occur in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Ireland. They range across Europe and Russia to China and Mongolia, northwards into the Arctic Circle, and up to 3,000 metres in the Alps.


6. Length size

Though metre-long specimens have occasionally been recorded, adult adders are usually about 60cm in length. They hunt small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.


7. You dancing?

The famous adder dance, in which pairs of snakes entwine themselves around each other and wrestle energetically, is often assumed to be a courtship ritual but is actually a duel between territorial males.


Read more amazing facts about wildlife in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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