Gary Zammit from Feadon Farm Wildlife Centre part of the Gwel an Mor Resort, talks about his
experience with adders.
Adders or vipers as they are sometimes known are our only
venomous snake in the UK
They are not poisonous but are venomous. The difference is
that ‘poisonous’ describes a plant, animal or anything else that is toxic or
harmful if you eat it or touch it. ‘Venomous’
on the other hand refers to animals that inject a toxin directly into their
prey to subdue them or in self-defence against a predator or a perceived
The adder can be abundant in some parts of Cornwall particularly
around coastal and moorland areas. They are however rarely seen due to their nervous
behaviour and secretive nature so anyone who gets to spot one should consider
it a privilege, as most people in Cornwall and Devon will never see one.
If you are lucky enough to see an adder, the key thing is to
observe from a distance – no one has been chased by an adder so as long as you
are a few feet away, you are safe. It’s also worth remembering that adders are
one of our protected species making it is illegal to intently harm or kill one.
Unfortunately, each year a small number of dogs are bitten and an
even smaller number are killed as a result of encounters with these beautiful
reptiles. The last reported human death
in the UK by an adder was a 5-year-old boy in 1975. I myself experienced an
adder bite on my 16th birthday whilst I was living in Hampshire. I
had skipped school to go adder catching and after seeing several beauties, I
managed to catch a lovely little male, which after being accidentally scuffed by
me, managed to get one fang into my finger. The delivery system the adder uses
is amazing as first the snake opens its mouth with the fangs hinged so
they swing forward then as they plunge into the victim’s muscles squeeze the
venom gland which forces the venom through the hollow fang. This delivers the
venom in a fraction of a second and with all the precision of a hypodermic
needle. The venom of the adder is a hemotoxin, which attacks the blood
preventing it from clotting. It can also attack the tissue and start breaking
it down so when the venom is used on prey, it helps to start digesting it
before its even swallowed.
When I was bitten, I left it for several hours before getting
medical help and because of this I had to spend two days in hospital as my
symptoms included severe local painful swelling, vomiting and fever. Perhaps
karma was coming into play that day as that was my reward for manhandling the
snake, bunking off school and not getting the bite looked at straight away but
that encounter did not put me off my favourite species of snake.
The most important thing to remember if someone or a dog is
bitten, try to keep them calm and keep movement to a minimum and get them to
the appropriate medical attention as soon as possible.
This time of year there are usually still a lot of flowers to be
seen in the fields and hedgerows but after the hot dry weather we have been
experiencing, most flowers have already gone to seed. You will see more looking
in any wet, boggy areas.
It’s a great time to look for butterflies particularly the
migratory ones such as the red admiral and the painted lady, which may turn up
on mass at this time of year.
Also basking sharks can be seen from the cliff tops.