A stones throw from our office here in Tilgate Park, we are working to manage a small patch of heathland no more 0.36 acres in size. We know it to be a good site for adders, slow worms and grass snakes and enjoy regular sightings of them basking in sheltered sunny spots. After hearing that it was possible to identify individual adders by their unique head markings, I decided that it would be interesting to find out how many adders used this isolated patch of heathland, which is surrounded by Scots pine plantation with plenty of Rhododendron ponticum.
It’s is possible to find adders emerging from hibernation as early as February but because of the lingering wintery conditions this year, it was not until 20th March we had our first adder sighting, which was a male. It is quite tricky to get record photos of adder heads without disturbing them, but with a bit of patience and care we now have head shots of two males and one female. Interestingly, females weren’t recorded until 12th April, and we are fairly certain that there are two females present, one who frequents a log pile, named ‘Log-pile Lady‘, and another much larger female who prefers a patch of mature heather, named ‘Big Mama’. Since the beginning of May we have witnessed frenzied ‘breeding knots’ of adders with both females being closely attended to by at least three males vying for an opportunity to pass on their genes.
We’ll observe how the season progresses for ‘our’ adders, but for now we think we have recorded at least six individual adders in this small area, two females and four males, though we have yet to get head shots of all of them.
Five adder facts:
- Adders our only venomous snake, This is not something to be overly worried by as snakes dislike being disturbed. If they sense that something big is coming they will simply slither away undercover. Adders do not want to waste their venom biting something they can’t eat so will only use it to defend themselves as a last resort. There are only around 100 adder bites reported in the UK each year, and the majority of these come from people who tried to pick a snake up.
- Females breed every two to three years, disperse from their hibernation grounds and give birth to up to 20 fully formed young in August/September
- Adders will feed on voles, lizards, frogs, newts and the young of ground nesting birds, swallowed whole
- The digestive juices of the adder are powerful enough to digest flesh and bones of their prey completely
- Adders are BAP species of conservation concern
We have also recorded two grass snakes, one adult and three juvenile slow worms, but interestingly no common lizards, which would normally be found in this habitat type too. Did the adders eat them?
As part of the Week on the Wild Side nature festival, you can try to find reptiles with the Gatwick Greenspace Project.
Find out more about Snakes in your garden.