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Posted by W von Papinešu on September 22, 2002 at 15:45:32:
THE TELEGRAPH (London, UK) 22 September 02 A name worse than its bite
Five adder attacks in one week is an exception, says David Wareham
Every year, a small number of people are bitten by adders, Britain's only venomous snake. This summer has been no exception, with five cases reported last week from a South-West coastal resort, where the species is still comparatively common. Yet this figure belies the fact that adder bites are extremely rare - between 10 and 20 are recorded a year.
It is always unfortunate when adder bites result in the victim having to go to hospital. It is equally unfortunate when such rare cases result in carelessly worded press headlines such as "Deadly snake bites local man", and "Horror in the grass". Such exclamations do nothing to help stop the decline of this attractive and retiring snake. The present British population is now thought to be less than 18,000.
Although the adder, or northern viper, enjoys protection under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act - which states that it must not be injured or killed - its persecution by the ignorant and ill-informed continues. Unique among snakes, it should be cherished. Instead it is often slaughtered on sight.
It is the most widely distributed of the world's snakes, occurring from western Europe to the eastern Pacific shores of Asia. It has adapted to live in almost any habitat and is the only snake found within the Arctic Circle.
It is also one of the few snakes in which the sexes exhibit a distinct difference in colour. Males are generally greyish, creamy or yellow with black markings, while females are normally reddish-brown or brick-red with darker brown markings.
The strongly defined zigzag markings running the length of the body make it easy to identify, although completely black specimens do occur.
Its venom is one of the mildest of all the vipers' and bites seldom prove fatal. More people die from the stings of bees and wasps than from the bites of adders - although, in rare cases, a victim may develop a serious reaction.
Symptoms are usually no worse than minor discomfort and swelling at the site of the punctures. As with any animal bite, it is always prudent to seek medical advice promptly.
Keeping to well-trodden paths, taking extra care when retrieving balls from undergrowth, and wearing sensible footwear when walking in likely adder habitats will help prevent such accidents.
A basking snake will "feel" the footsteps of anyone approaching and disappear quickly into the undergrowth, usually without being seen. Only if it is surprised, trapped or provoked will it naturally respond by hissing and, on occasion, attempting to strike.