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Something i never thought i'd see

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: Herpetofauna Native to the UK
Forum Name: Adder
Forum Description: Forum for all issues concerning Vipera berus
Printed Date: 23 Sep 2020 at 10:19am
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 -

Topic: Something i never thought i'd see
Posted By: Tom Omlette
Subject: Something i never thought i'd see
Date Posted: 18 Apr 2017 at 6:25pm
Well, today at 1:30pm I witnessed the 'adder dance', two male adders in combat. at 9:15am I found a beautiful blue male guarding a female. the female disappeared into the heather but then returned and stayed just about visible. The male joined her but periodically would do a little patrol of the surrounding area (only a meter or so away), tongue flicking and head twitching then lie out in the open for a bit. I checked the surrounding area and within a ten meter radius there were another three sloughed males and two pre-slough. 

I thought there may be trouble brewing so just sat and waited. At 11am a small male joined the guard male and was immediately chased off with both snakes crossing over my boot without caring whether i was there. 

The female then disappeared completely into the heather and the dominant male kept disappearing too, then patrolling then basking then disappearing etc. 

At around 12:30 a small male, possibly the same one, made another attempt to join the female and was again chased away straight away. 

The dominant male then continued with the pattern of disappearing, patrolling then basking then at 1:30 the he was lying out when another male of similar size emerged from the heather where the female must still have been and within seconds the two were battling. 

I panicked a bit and as a result forgot how to use my camera lol and so I managed only one in focus pic but what an amazing experience. And one I never thought I'd see.

The lovely blue male

The male guarding the female among the heather:

The rival male:

The dance:

The victor, looking very pleased with himself. 

Tim Smile

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 18 Apr 2017 at 7:59pm
once seen, never forgotten - well done Tim!Clap  top quality photos too, though if you're like me you'll want to photograph the same thing again and again striving for the 'perfect' combat photo!  top quality blue males too.

Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 18 Apr 2017 at 9:44pm
Amazing! Lovely photos Tim.


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 18 Apr 2017 at 10:29pm
thanks suzi and will. the pics are terrible quality really but it's what they capture that's important. I was actually filming when the dance started but i couldn't get them in focus so i decided to switch to photos but in my panic to do it quickly my mind went blank and i forgot how to switch lol. i was fumbling with the buttons and missing the action so gave up for a bit to watch so i didn't miss too much but remembered in time to get a few shots, although again cos i was flustered i forgot how to switch from single shots to continuous lol. 

who knows i might see it again and will be better prepared next time. it seems unlikely though that all the pieces will fall into place for me again...having the time to just sit and watch the same snake for three or four hours; finding a reproductive female being guarded by a male with several other males around; perfect conditions; happening to be there when one of the rival males tries it on. but if i don't it is a great memory and i'll never forget it :)

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 18 Apr 2017 at 10:36pm
i do have a couple of questions though, if someone would be kind enough to answer them. 
Once defeated will a rival male try again? i think i saw the same small male try twice and get swiftly chased away, although he didn't go far and was still about two meters away from the female when i left. 
How many battles might a male have to have to secure the first mating with the female and over how long a period?
Will the dominant male disperse once he has mated leaving the others with the chance to try again (i know the females may take multiple partners)? 
Do the reproductive females stay pretty close to their hibernation den to both mate and gestate? 

there will probably be more questions to come :)

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 8:27am
Hi Tim

in the absence of experts like Tony Phelps I will humbly(!) do my best to answer a few of your Qs based purely on my experience of this kind of thing:

1 - I think it's rare for the same male to indulge in combat again - the hierarchy is worked out very quickly amongst the resident males and only if a new one picks up the pheromone stream of the female will there be more conflict.  This spring at my favourite site there were several combats on the same day and then it all went quiet, with each successful male paired up with a female (more or less).  I think they are very good at remembering who has won and lost in their patch, once the fighting is done another male is sometimes tolerated quite close by, especially if the winner is actually physically attached to the female (there's not much he can do, but nor can the rival - stalemate!)

2 - The male 'mate guards' for a few days, typically, but then goes off in search of another female (typically, again).  He has to choose between securing the paternity of 'his' litter or spreading his genes elsewhere, a classic evolutionary conundrum.  Given that most litters apparently have multiple paternity, the latter strategy seems to be commonplace.  With the rapid advances in sequencing DNA it ought to be easier to get more quantitative data on the degree of multiple paternity within and between litters.

3- gravid females tend to be more likely to stay near the hibernaculum, but it depends on the site and what it provides in the way of food, shelter etc.  In my local population I think there are three types of female at this time of year - ready to mate, already gravid from the previous season (but I need a portable ultrasound to confirm this hypothesis) and non-breeders taking a year off - the latter are most likely to disperse widely to grassy areas with high mammal populations to feed up and come back into condition for next year.

Just based on my experience of course, as I say



Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 10:20am
brilliant! fascinating thanks will :)

Posted By: VickyS
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 10:55am
Great thread, Tom you have great patience and photography skills and also thanks for Will's input.
Fascinating for me :)

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 1:06pm
Brilliant Tim. Not only very special to see this behaviour for the first time, but to catch brilliant images of it too! To this day I never have managed to get any photographs of it. 

One of my most memorable observations was seeing a mate guarding male fend off several rivals. 

During the last 'battle' a third much larger male arrived on the scene, promptly mated with the female then made his way off, having never entered into a combat. I could not help thinking he knew exactly what he was doing and it was a well rehearsed tactic to sneak in while the guarding male was occupied.

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 7:27pm
thanks VickyS. To be honest patience wasn't necessary...the time absolutely flew by. It wasn't like watching a typical freshly emerged sedentary snake, although that can still be fun, there was always something going on and it was absolutely fascinating really. 

thanks Gemma. Sounds like a canny old chap...brains over brawn lol. I was very lucky to get any shots at all. as mentioned above in my panic I literally forgot how to use important parts of the camera lol. Glad I did though. I was also lucky in the sense that I gave up trying to get shots for a bit and just watched to make sure i didn't miss the whole thing. I think I would like to see it at least twice more..once to get better images and again to just watch it and not have to worry about capturing it...just savour the moment. but i've seen it now and if i never see it again i'll be happy :)

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 9:06pm
@ Tim and Vicky - thanks for your comments!  without a doubt one of the top UK wildlife spectacles, well done again Tim.Clap

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 19 Apr 2017 at 9:56pm
still smiling :)

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 20 Apr 2017 at 8:13am
...and it will keep you smiling through the dark snake-free days of winter..Big smile

Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 20 Apr 2017 at 4:23pm
Great sighting Tim ,in all my experience I haven't managed to get a shot off adders dancing had a quick sighting but alas no photos carry on the good work regards keith

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 20 Apr 2017 at 6:27pm
cheers keith...right place right time Smile


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 21 Apr 2017 at 1:13pm
I think the same happens to me Tim. I said I never got shots, then I thought about it and realized I never tried! I always just ended up watching the action. I need something to get me motivated to get back out in the field, so perhaps I should make it a 'mission' to get some pictures of the adder dance. I remember Tony put up a thread on the old forum where he gave focus points etc to get both heads in focus and some other tips.

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 21 Apr 2017 at 8:39pm
That would be interesting to read if you can find it. Can't think of any better motivation to get back out there Smile

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 22 Apr 2017 at 5:07pm
Unfortunately I cannot find it Tim. I think Tony set a focus point between the two heads, but as you know he is the expert and I cannot hope to give the same information from memory.

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 23 Apr 2017 at 12:59pm
no probs. i ended up using manual focus as they were moving too fast for my autofocus to follow but that sounds sensible. i should practice on other moving targets first. 

Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 23 Apr 2017 at 2:18pm
These are good for learning to take shots of moving targets Tim! One soon learns to 'pan' Wink

Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 23 Apr 2017 at 8:54pm
Yes...I bet they are Smile

Posted By: Iulia
Date Posted: 15 May 2017 at 9:31pm
Fab pics!!

Jealous .... my adder stalking has never yet seen a combat Cry

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