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Predation of Adder

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    Posted: 04 Apr 2006 at 5:48pm

I rarely come across dead adders, but have had the misfortune to come across two in three days.

The body I found today is on a closed reserve, and I have high confidence that neither Homo stupidus nor Canis yappi could have been responsible :P

So....it must have been a natural predator, or have died of natural causes and been partially scavenged. Interestingly the body was stiff, and appeared to have been there at least overnight, if not longer. The head was missing, as was the last part of the tail. The rest of the body was in OK condition.

I've read all sorts of references listing predators of adult adders, but I am particularly interested in real observations that any forum members may have had. Has anybody actually seen an adder being predated? did the predator carry the body away? or...what injuries were noted on any adder corpses found in the field. It would be interesting to see if there are any common damage types.

I can't get a pic of this last corpse as cameras are not permitted on site, but will post images of any more I find.

Cheers,

Steve Langham - Chairman    
Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote John Newton Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 1:28am

Hi Steve

Photos have been taken on local moors of a Raven ripping an adder to bits, and not leaving much - the snake had probably been carried some distance before being consumed.

It might be interesting to note that Sparrowhawk traditional only eat the head (brains) of passerines/pigeon - not necessairly invariably! - so maybe this might tie in with what you found. I guess the tail end might have been the first point of 'grab' from a retreating snake, so could account for the tail end damage. Obviously the sharp beak on these birds is easily capable of removing body parts fairly cleanly, unlike Corvid species that tend to rip prey apart.

Fox and Badger tend to consume all parts

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 3:35am

 

I have come across two dead adders in recent years - which I suspect were the result of Buzzards - one of the main predators of adders (apparently). Buzzards are often seen above adder sites and I am sure that they take the animals which stray from cover - plus a colleague of mine saw a buzzard within one of our sites - when she came to the spot where the bird hand landed - an injured viviparous lizard was found.

A friend of mine went on a birding trip to Eastern Europe - he spotted a viper (species unknown) being offered to chicks by an adult stork.

Another case included a gang of magpies apparently killing and pecking the eyes of an adder in Essex. I have photographs of the injuries to three adders - though I would save you the horror

JC

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 3:37am

 

But head injuries are normally present along with tail injuries where the bird lands on its prey - two sets of tallons

JC

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vicar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 4:12am

Interesting that you mention the Stork. I've never seen a Buzzard at this particular site, although Heron are very common. The issue I'm struggling with is why just the head and tail missing? I would have thought the 'meat' was on the body?

I didn't know about the Sparrowhawk head penchant...possible I guess?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 5:12am

Steve, it might reveal a bit if you post mortem your finds. There ain't a lot of meat on a adders body.

If you slit one open along the ventral, you'll find there is only really an outer shell to the viscera, with very little meat and muscle inside the skin and it's all mixed up with the nasty ribs, not very digestible (though I haven't tried myself). It may not be worthwhile for a natural predator to try and consume this or get the body cavity open to consume the viscera.

Most reptiles store the majority of fat in their tails.. and the yummy brains are often the sole target of birds such as magpies, horrible to find nestling birds subjected to this treatment, but understandable when one considers the balance of energy exerted for energy obtained for some advanced predators and scavengers.

I hope your finds are down to natural predator, much easier to live with than the work of Homo stupidus or Canis yappi.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Wolfgang Wuster Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 5:42am
Hi Gemma,

Snakes don't store fat int heir tails, that tends to be a specialty for some lizards, particularly things like geckos and Gila monsters. The fat of snakes is all in the main body cavity.

Hope you don't mind the smal correction....   

Cheers,

Wolfgang
Wolfgang Wüster

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http://pages.bangor.ac.uk/~bss166/
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 5:47am

Not at all Wolfgang, I learn something new every day  (I should have known this as I've seen fat deposits in the body cavity)

So how might this relate to predator attacks? Are we seeing the tail as the first point of contact, and damage to the head of the snakes a learnt response by the predator that the snake may well be capable of biting back with possibly lethal consequence?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vicar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 7:42am

So....Suspects for predators of adult adder include:

Birds: Raptors, Heron, Corvids.

Mammals: Badger, Fox (No Cats or Dogs on site).

Have I missed anything? How about Stoats ?

Btw, very interesting paper, partly authored by some chap called Wuster here:  http://biology.bangor.ac.uk/~bss166/Publications/2004_Viper_ Aposematism_online.pdf

At a stretch, you could infer that melanistic adder are more prone to avian attack, due to the lack of characteristic zig-zag.

Wolfgang, you specify Buzzard, were any other raptors candidate predators?, quite interested in the Sparrowhawk theory.

As this is a closed site, I may be able to rig up some photographic equipment to capture predator attacks on a model.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Wolfgang Wuster Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2006 at 9:17am
Hi Steve,

Buzzards were the obvious raptors around I assume kestrels would have been there also. We did not really consider sparrowhawks, partly because they tend to be more woodland birds (most of the field sites were very open), and also because I tend to think of them as being mostly bird predators rather than feeding on terrestrial prey. Does anybdy here know more about that?

About attacks to the head: birds attacking snakes usually attack the head end first - this has been tested experimentaly with a number of species, and it even worked with our plasticine snakes. Whatismore surprising is that they did not eat them whole. How large is the brain of an adder? I cannot imagine there being much to it.... Also, would larger birds like buzzards not simply swallow them in one piece? I remember seeing a secretary bird sucking back a Vipera aspis like a spaghetti during a raptor show in France 30+ years ago, no idea howother birds of prey do it.

Finally, I would imagine that larger sea gulls (herring, black-backs) would also have a go at an adder, at least in coastal areas. A friend reported seeing a sea gull carrying off what looked like an adder at a local reserve, although he was too far away to be absolutely sure.

Cheers,

Wolfgang
Wolfgang Wüster

School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor

http://pages.bangor.ac.uk/~bss166/
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