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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Adders and irresponsible reporting

I'm a little bit annoyed at this article on the BBC Wales news site. In brief, a teenage girl was bitten by an European adder, at an unnamed caravan park on the Gower Peninsula. To me, this article is sheer scaremongering. Although I'm glad the girl has made a full recovery, by printing some of the mother's comments, the BBC has suggested that adders go around leaping out at unsuspecting children and biting them. Not so.

In this particular case, the girl picked the snake up. Not a clever move. If I was a snake, and someone picked me up, my immediate thought would be 'aarrggh! predator!' - and I'd strike. You can't blame the snake. Sadly, the girl who got bitten mistook it for a slow-worm. I'd say that was an issue of education. European adders are a type of venomous viper. Slow-worms are not even snakes. They're a type of legless lizard, and totally harmless. Furthermore, adders and slow-worms are not especially alike. Take a look:


European adder

I have often met up with European adders, and have never been threatened or harmed by one. As a child, I often came across them hiding under the flower urn on my grandfather's grave. They were usually juvenile adders. Instead of striking at me when I took a cautious peek, they simply slid away. I had a run-in with an elderly man at Rhossili one day. As I sat on the cliff, an adder came along, and settled about three feet from me, enjoying the sun. I was in my element, as I have a soft spot for these creatures. The next thing I know, some silly old fool decided to be my knight in shining Hush Puppies. He approached, walking stick raised, shouting 'snake, snake'. I gave him hell, and told him to leave the poor snake alone. When the snake eventually departed, it slid right past my foot. I felt privileged, rather than scared.

The bottom line is that European adders are not aggressive snakes. They would sooner flee than fight you. Their venom is precious to them. They need it to kill their prey. Without it, they starve. Once an European adder has envenomed something, it takes a while for it to produce more venom. If the adder has its way, it's not going to waste precious venom on humans. We're not prey. But deliberately or accidentally hurt one, or make it feel scared in any way, and it may well bite. It would be a fool not to.

The adder's venom isn't strong enough to kill an average, healthy adult. But small children, the elderly and the infirm are at risk of death from an adder bite. That said, anyone unfortunate enough to be bitten needs immediate medical help, as they will become quite ill from the venom. Also all snake bites inject large amounts of bacteria into their victim, even if the snake itself isn't venomous. There is also the risk of allergic reaction to the venom, which can lead to very serious medical problems.

Luckily, European adders rarely bite, and only in response to threat or injury. If you're worried there may be an adder nearby - stamp your feet loudly on the ground. The vibrations will alert it to your presence, and it will depart. Remember - treat the European adder with respect, and it won't hurt you.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.


Chris Elphick said...

In total agreement with you Sian - the standard of supposedly professional reporters is slipping ever lower. The least they could have done is to point out that adders are no danger when left alone. I have lost count of the amount of times I have encountered adders on my walks and the first thing they do when they spot you is to get out of your way as quickly as possible.

Pema said...

Hi Siani, thanks for letting me know about your blog. Are both the European adder and the slow worm native to Gower, or is either a recent import to the area?

As for the press, these days (in America, at least) they are far more loyal to the advertisers and to getting the biggest ratings, than they are to public service. I'm sorry the reporters were so slip-shod in their report on the snake.

Aileni said...

It all comes back to education again, whether is of children or lousy reporters.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know good places to see adders on Gower? Recently, when I`ve been at Pennard Cliffs and the path between Langland and Caswell, people there have told me they`ve seen adders in the vicinity. But I`ve still never seen one!

Dragonstar said...

I've never actually seen an adder, although I've always wanted to. Snakes are beautiful creatures.

I have to agree about reporting these days. If it can't be sensationalised they assume it's not worth reporting.

Linden said...

Just seeing the photos of both slow-worm and snake made me shuder! But I wouldn't hurt one. And as you say, they will run away faster than we can usually.

thepigslip said...

adders can be found all over the south coast of Gower.they seem to be getting less scarce in the last few years as well. If i were to visit just one place to see one, I'd go along the coast path between three cliffs, Penmaen and Tor Bay

dragonfly said...

Doubtless the reporters could do better, but I would ask you to be thoughtful about my daughter's well-being in your comments. Siani - a curious and animal loving child will often ignore advice not to pick up an animal. She HAS been educated about the risk of adders, but this one was young, very small, and more easily confused with a slow worm, especially when she had never seen one before. Chris - you know about adders and to leave them alone because you have been given this advice. My comments were for parents of smaller children, like the ones who were with my daughter and who also wanted to handle the adder, to teach their children to stay away - as you were probably taught. If you could see my daughter's hand, and arm, even now nearly a week after the event, you would understand why parents should advise their children to be cautious. Education can work - but it doesn't always, so please stop being so judgemental of others, especially a child - it was an innocent mistake and she has paid the price.

Siani said...

Dragonfly, I'm truly glad your daughter is getting better - she's had a nasty experience, and a very dangerous one, too. I hope her recovery is going well and that she'll soon be back to full health.

I can appreciate why you have taken issue with my post. However, it is with the BBC's article that my gripe is. In my eyes, they took the comments of an understandably distressed mum to try to sensationalise a nasty accident, and demonise an animal that rarely bites.

Maybe I should have clarified what I meant by 'education'. I think our schools nowadays are sadly lacking in teaching kids useful information about the world around them. I was taught about adders in primary school, when I was about 5 or 6. Maybe that's because I lived in a rural area that was full of them. I can also remember finding dozens of dead adders in the grass verges around the locality, thanks to people killing them, out of fear and ignorance. Maybe I should have mentioned that in my post, too.

I certainly wasn't being judgmental of your daughter - just bemoaning the fact that schoolkids nowadays aren't taught about the natural world around them. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear. There was no mention in the media that smaller children had also tried to touch the adder, which is why the BBC report seemed so sensationalist to me.

My best regards to your daughter, and I wish her all the best in her recovery. Thank you for responding to my post in a courteous way, despite being aggrieved. Take care.

Anonymous said...

We live near Gower and have a labrador pup who like small children are inquisitive. No doubt the pup has some instinct in these matters but even so I am acutely aware that there is great danger in provoking an adder. I was myself bitten by one as a child. I agree that young children should be educated in the wildlife that is part of the british isles. I remember a large poster in my junior school classroom that identified and highlighted the adder as dangerous and not to be approached. I did not grow up in fear of the adder, but with the knowledge that it would defend itself if alarmed.
DRAGONFLY, I sincerely hope your daughter is getting better and will not become frightened of walks in the countryside. Like your daughter I was bitten, (age 9) but only because I ran through the undergrowth and accidentally trod on the snake. I remember my mother purchasing for me a colorful book on british reptiles, it helped me to overcome my fear.

Anonymous said...

My son came up with a great little maxim many years ago, called "Count the legs"; yes, is simple, just count the legs. This applies to most creatures except for fish (stinging or venomous fish excluded).
What you do is this: you count the legs on a creature; if it has more than four legs: kill it! If it has less than two legs: kill it!
One may say that the vast majority of these creatures have never harmed a human - maybe true ... but why take the chance?