Thursday, 10 November 2011

Reptiles in Malvern

Nigel Hand, the well-known reptile ecologist, gave a fascinating insight into the reptiles of Herefordshire and Worcestershire when he gave a beautifully illustrated talk to the Malvern local group last week.

Nigel became interested in reptiles as a youngster in Stourbridge where they were common along the canals and local brown field sites. His passion has taken him around the globe to study them. Closer to home he's monitored reptile populations on a number of sites for many years and has built up an impressive photographic database of individuals.

There are four kinds of reptiles in our area: adders, grass snakes, slow-worms and the common lizard; the latter belying its name as it's becoming quite rare. Neither of the two other UK reptiles - the smooth snake and the sand lizard - are found here.
Adder (c) Peter Preece
Adders are rarely seen and are non-aggressive. Sadly, stories and folklore misrepresent them and exaggerate the dangers of our only venomous snake - they're sometimes deliberately killed. About 40 to 100 adder bites are recorded each year in the UK; the last recorded death was a child in 1975.

Adder populations tend to be in small isolated pockets, leading to inbreeding. Nigel is involved in a project with the Zoological Society of London to collect adder DNA samples; scientists will then compare the samples to see if the smaller clan groups are genetically impoverished.   Adders are born live during August and September and can live for up to 30 years. Pregnant female adders will feed only after giving birth. Their main diet is voles and they consume between 4 and 12 of these a year. Adders are quite small, being only 50-60cm long.

Grass snakes (c) Rosemary Winnall
Unfortunately, grass snakes are often confused with adders and suffer the same undeserved fate at the hands of people. They are more common and  considerably bigger (up to 1m long). They are non-venomous and the young hatch out from eggs, often in compost heaps. They're good swimmers and can travel several kilometres along waterways. If cornered or disturbed they will play dead and if that doesn’t deter a potential predator they can release a foul-smelling fluid.  

Slow-worm (c) Nick Button
Most of us are familiar with the slow- worm. It's a legless lizard about 30-38cm long and can live for around 50 years. Malvern is ideal for slow-worms as one of their preferred habitats is stone walls. They're of great benefit to the gardener as their main prey is slugs!

Nigel concluded by showing two exotic pet snakes (a corn snake and a milk snake) from his private collection. This was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk, emphasising the beauty of reptiles and how they deserve our protection, not our dislike. 

Our next indoor meeting will be held on Thursday 1st December when Johnny Birks will give an illustrated talk entitled The Mammals of the Malverns. The meeting starts at 7.30 pm at the Chase Academy Sixth Form Annexe, Geraldine Close, Barnards Green WR14 3PF and we look forward to seeing you there.

Derek, Malvern local group

1 comment:

  1. I've always been scared of snakes but I think they are sweet creatures. It's just that I don't like the slimy feeling it gives me when it crawls in my skin.