Adder (Vipera berus)

Animal Lore (British Isles).

Adder (Vipera berus)
Photo by David Clode / Unsplash

Also known as common European vipers, adders are the UK's only venomous snake. They typically have a lifespan of up to 15 years, and according to English folklore, can only die at sunset – suggesting that during the empire period, all British adders were temporarily immortal.

Adders are shy snakes that spend their time in woodlands, heaths, and moors. Within these romantic landscapes, the usually bashful adder dances for their intended mate, wooing them with their bold moves. Be careful to never harm an adder's beloved. These snakes do not have a justice system, if you cause the death of one, accidental or not, it's mate will seek revenge.

If an adder appears at your door, be wary, as this is believed to be an omen of death.

Please note: insisting the visiting adder has the wrong house will not be effective as this snake is believed to be deaf, as per the biblical verse found in Psalm 58:4 "Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear"

Oddly enough, adder oil was once used as a cure for deafness and earaches.

In the 19th century, snake-catchers could sell the adders they caught to chemists for a guinea per ounce. (That's £1.05, or adjusted for today's inflation, around £100 per ounce!). To catch these scaly money-makers, a silk neck cloth would be used. The adders irrational hatred of silk would cause it to strike at the fabric, trapping its fangs.

*When selecting an adder to use for oil, ensure first that it is single, as to avoid the situation mentioned above in paragraph two.

Other medical uses of adder come from it's shed skin which can be used to pull out splinters. Adder skin can also make for a spiffy headband that is said to relieve headaches. Pregnant women would sometimes wear adder skin as a belt.

If one is seeking to get on an adder's good side, it's said that adders have a great fondness of milk. A story by The British Chronical, 15th of October, 1770, reported that a farmer and his wife had come across an adder who so much liked the taste of fresh milk, that it had taken to drinking it directly from their cow!

These snakes also seem be attracted to menstruating women and have been known to creepily follow them around. Adders may also visit a person in their dreams, which according to dream-lore suggests one's enemies are looking to cause trouble.

Finally, in case of adder bite, put on a fresh sheepskin and apply pigeon. If pigeon dies, replace with new pigeon. Continue until the pigeons no longer die. Alternatively, use fat from the guilty adder.

(Not to be confused with The Black Adder, a wildly amusing BBC sitcom.)


Simpson, J. and Roud, S. (2000). A dictionary of English folklore. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press. (2010). Adder | The Wildlife Trusts. [online] Available at: (n.d.). £1.05 in 1800 → 2022 | UK Inflation Calculator. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jul. 2022].