The cryptic coils of the adder confuse the senses, then comes alarm. I always feel an adrenaline rush at this point.
I am just going about my business in the bush, being careful where to plod my boot.
I don’t like stepping on wolf spiders carrying their bags of gold babies as they hunt for food among the grasses jungle, and as for stepping on a willow warbler’s nest in the rough meadow, that would cause anguish for days. So it is wise to have a cautious sole to your stamping foot.
Therefore, once or twice, I have just saved myself from having a close encounter with our only poisonous snakes.
The adder has felt the seismic vibration through the ground. So it has coiled, and prepared its fangs. Its jaw drops to expose these hollow needles. This is its only defence from oblivion.
I once saw a buzzard on Dartmoor dealing with an adder. With extended claws the little eagle grasped the scraggy neck of its victim that rose up to meet the crooked hand. It was all over in a second.
Some buzzards have learnt the trick of having what to them must be a frankfurter. I wonder whether there is any connection with the present dearth of adders and the increase of buzzards.
Scientists tend to dismiss these simple equations. The increase in badgers has nothing, they say, to do with the decrease in ground-nesting wasps and bumble bees.
The photograph above is of an adder, ready to defend itself.
At the beginning of April I eventually found adders at a well-guarded site where they can sleep throughout the winter down in the stoney tombs of a Bronze Age burial mound.
The males, all three of them, were hanging out among the brambles, showing off their black coils like teenagers gaining street cred for their Beckham spikes. They were all black and beige, scarny and desperate for sex.
Below them, fat and dusky as a harem queen, lay their desire. She was not exactly asleep, her eyes roving among the gymnasts above who were preparing to fight. But she was letting them come to her.
They twined their necks around each other’s, wrestling each other in turn to the ground. People used to call this the dance of the adders, but it is only the males fighting.
Eventually the victor with his Vs resplendent swung slowly down and covered his prize while his rivals slid slowly away to crunch woodlice by themselves.
In the first week of August I generally find the queen laying on the hot stones with her six babies, when she will hide them underneath her belly if my seismic sounding foot, silent to me but not to her, comes with caution through the heather.
I often wonder which would be worse – crush her and her family accidentally, or be bitten.
The adrenaline rush is almost worth the danger.