Graeme’s special passion for adders

Hartwegs Spikethumb tree frog, a critically endangered tree frog from Guatemala expedition
Hartwegs Spikethumb tree frog, a critically endangered tree frog from Guatemala expedition

Graeme Skinner who is a wildlife consultant from Guisborough, North Yorkshire, gave an instructive talk on the 16 amphibians and reptiles which are to be found in the British Isles.

For many years he has been photographing and trying to understand these creatures, especially adders for which he has a special passion.

He has travelled extensively abroad to study and give advice and we were shown species from a number of countries including Estonia and Guatemala.

As well as studying the creatures in the wild he has a collection of 80 rattle snakes at home.

The 16 species found in Britain included snakes, newts, lizards and frogs, a number of which are foreign species which have become naturalised.

About 30% of one non- ative species, the Alpine newt, carries a fungal disease which is a serious problem for our native species and there are attempts underway to try and control its numbers and spread.

Our native adder is a remarkable hardy snake and because it is so hardy it is the most widely distributed snake in the world.

If you are lucky you may spot an individual from February onwards, sunning themselfs and warming up on sheltered south facing bankings, especially peaty ones where the black peat will concentrate the warmth of the sun.

A normal adder is easily recognised by the dark zigzag marking down its back, but occasionally very dark specimens can be found which are almost black.

Graeme has visited Estonia where in an old abandoned Russian military base there is a large colony of adders where most of the population are the dark form.

The grass snake is more or less absent from Scotland and it will feed on amphibians, fish, mice and voles. If it feels threatened and under attack the grass snake will regurgitate its last meal which has a revolting smell.

A third British snake is the smooth snake which is restricted to heathlands in the south of England where it will feed on lizards, adders and its own kind!

The smooth snake is highly protected and developers and road builders must go to great lengths not to disturb its natural habitat.

In the final part of his talk Graeme took us to Central and South America where he has been doing research into the frog populations there and fungal threats to the many frog species found in the rain forests.

There are great numbers of different frogs species in the forests, many of them small and colourful and an introduced disease is threating many of them.

The photo is of the critically endangered Hartwegs Spikethumb Tree Frog, one of the species studied on Graeme’s Guatemala expedition.