Country diary 1974: adders find their place in the northern sun | Reptiles

NORTHUMBERLAND and DURHAM: The viper or adder is a common enough reptile of these two northern counties. They seem to put in an appearance as the weather turns warmer. Adders love to lie coiled on some rock in the rays of the sun. You often see them lying on the unpaved forest tracks which run through heatherland and the vast conifer forests. The southern flanks of the Rothbury Hills are a favourite place for adders. Early this year I was up on Simonside, which on a clear day can be seen from the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. There on the forest road lay what I at first took to be a length of abandoned rope. As I approached I saw the coil move. It was a big adder and it was sunning itself on the unmetalled road. I estimated its length at over two feet and its sex as female for the she-adder is nearly always larger than the male. It was certainly the biggest adder I have ever seen and I have seen many. When I touched it with the tip of my stick it raised its head and shot out a flickering black Y-shaped tongue.

To the naturalist the British snakes are fairly easily distinguished for there are but three species here: the grass or ringed snake, which is a greenish olive; the adder or viper, which is decidedly marked in black and grey; and the smooth snake, which is a rare reptile frequenting isolated localities in the far south of England.

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