Adders

What does it look like?

The one poisonous snake in Britain is the Adder. It is recognisable by the black, zig-zag edged strips along its entire back and its red eyes with a vertical slit.

Why are they dangerous?

Most of the snakes in Britain are fairly harmless. Even though their bites can hurt a lot, they do not contain dangerous venom.

Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, this is usually if it is caught or trodden on.

With proper treatment, the worst effects are nausea and drowsiness, followed by severe swelling and bruising in the area of the bite.

Some symptoms include:

  • Severe pain at the location of the bite.
  • Swelling, redness and bruising at the location of the bite, spreading up the bitten limb.
  • Feeling sick (nausea) followed by vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Itchy lumps on the skin.

The last time someone in Britain died from an adder bite was over 20 years ago.

How can I avoid it?

Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, usually if caught or trodden on.

Adders are relatively common in areas of rough, open countryside and are often associated with woodland edge habitats. They are less inclined to disappear into the surrounding undergrowth when disturbed and so are probably the most frequently seen of the three British snakes. The best time to see them is in early spring when they emerge from their hibernation dens. By mid April, the males have shed their dull winter skin and are ready to mate. There is a lot of frenzied activity on warm days, with males looking for females and occasionally wrestling with other males for supremacy.

  • You should regard all snakes as dangerous even if they are not adders. Even the bite of a non-venomous grass snake can be extremely painful and can lead to an infection.
  • Look out for warning notices on heaths and commons.
  • Wear boots and long trousers.
  • Never pick up any snake, even if you think it’s harmless or it appears dead.
  • Never put your hand in a hole or crevice (for example, between rocks) – if you need to retrieve something, stand well back and use a stick to reach it.
  • If you find yourself very close to a snake, stand completely still – most snakes only strike at moving targets, so the snake will escape without harming you if you remain calm and still.

What do you do if it bites you?

Remain calm and don’t panic. Snake bites, particularly those that occur in the UK, usually aren’t serious and are only very rarely deadly.

  • If you have been bitten by a venomous snake, anything that raises your heart rate will spread the venom around your body more rapidly. Staying calm will improve your likelihood of survival.
  • Try to remember the shape, size and colour of the snake.
  • Keep the part of your body that’s been bitten as still as possible, to prevent the venom spreading around your body.
  • Remove jewellery and watches from the bitten limb as they could cut into your skin if the limb swells.
  • Do not attempt to remove any clothing, but loosen clothing if possible.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.
  • Wash the area of the bite very thoroughly while waiting for medical help, if this is possible.

More information

Forestry – UK Government website

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