Does Scotland have venomous snakes?

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
Does Scotland have venomous snakes?

Yes! But only one - The adder (Common European adder / Vipera berus).

The Adder

The adder is Scotland's only venomous snake but is actually a very shy and timid creature and will try to avoid humans at all costs. I've lived in Scotland for over 35 years, and have visited many wild areas all over the country and I have never seen an adder. I wouldn't have even known the adder was a native snake in Scotland if it wasn't for the kid's TV show "The Animals of Farthing Wood" in the early 90s which was actually quite a dark and disturbing program... but not on the same level as the nightmare fuel that is "Watership Down".

Defense / Offense

Hiding is the adders main strategy, and its markings/camouflage works well for this purpose. Bites occur when humans get too close or attempt to touch them, they will lash out as a last resort if they feel threatened with a nasty bite.

If you see an adder you can view it from a respectable distance, it will not chase you or aggressively attack you, just don't go near it and let it go about its business. Adders are not aggressive snakes, they would rather save their venom for real prey.

Adder season

Adders hibernate from October each year and will emerge in March when the warmer days return. Normally they will seek out a suntrap and bask on a warm surface, such as a rock or log to heat up in the sun. Long grass is the favourite place for an Adder.

Adders have beautiful zig zag markings

What do adders eat?

Adders will hunt lizards and small rodents (voles, mice and rats) for their main food source, but ground-nesting birds eggs (skylark and meadow pipit) can also be a target. Frogs, newts and common lizards can be on the menu, but the opportunistic adder is not fussy and will eat anything it finds palatable. Its venom is primarily used to paralyse small mammals and begin the digestion process.

How to identify an adder

Adders are actually very beautiful animals if a little scary. They have stunning markings over the length of their bodies which help them blend into their surrounding.

They are quite stocky snakes and usually have a reddish-brown or grey colour, but their most stand out feature is the distinct zig-zag pattern on their backs.

Adders are normally about 60 cm long, but can reach 90 cm and can weigh between 50 and 180g. Their average lifespan is 8 to 10 years. Female adders will normally reproduce every two or three years, birthing 3-20 offspring. They are not an endangered species.

If you are bitten by an adder

Always seek medical attention first if you are bitten by a snake, don't try to do anything you've seen on film or TV, just call 999 emergency services or if you can get transport head to your nearest hospital.

If you have been bitten on the hand, consider removing any tight-fitting rings or jewellery from the bitten limb as they could dig into your skin with inflammation.

What will adder venom do to my body?

There are a variety of symptoms associated with adder bites:

  • Severe pain at the location of the bite
  • Swelling, redness and bruising at the location of the bite;
  • Shock
  • Sickness/vomiting
  • Stomach cramps/diarrhoea
  • Itchy raised lumps on the skin
  • Lips, tongue, gums and throat may become inflamed
  • Breathing problems
  • Mental confusion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness/fainting
  • The heartbeat may become irregular

Although that is a rather nasty list, you may not experience them all... pain and swelling are the most likely. Don't panic - seek help.

Great camo on this adder | Moorland habitat

Will I die from an adder bite?

It's unlikely but people have died in the past. Children and the elderly are most at risk, a 5-year-old child sadly died in 1975 from an ankle bite from an adder. It's possible to have a reaction to adder venom, in the same way some people have bad reactions to a bee sting, but it is rare.

Are adder bites painful?

Yes, the adder bite would be quite painful, and the venom would also create some unpleasant effects as described above.

Could an adder bite my dog?

Yes, it's possible if the adder feels threatened. If you think your dog has been bitten please take it to the nearest vet, do not wait to see if it has an effect on your dog. Carry your dog, and try to keep it calm.

Where are adders found in Scotland?

They can be found in most wild habitats, such as meadows, coastal dunes, moors, heathland and woodland. Many Scottish Nature reserves have adders, for example, Feoch Meadows, Knowetop Locks and Shewalton Wood but they are really quite rare and really shouldn't be sought out.

Adders love warm weather, and hiding in warm places

Are there other snakes in the UK?

Yes, there are a few other varieties of snakes in the UK, but only the adder is venomous.

Grass Snake

Grass snakes are not native to Scotland and are sometimes incorrectly reported as adders. The existence of grass snakes in the wild are more likely due to escaped pets, rather than a new or native species to the UK.

Smooth Snake

Smooth snakes can look like adders, but they do not have the distinct zig zag pattern on their backs. They are mostly located in southwest England, they do not exist in Scotland and it would be highly unlikely you would see one.

Slow Worms

Slow Worms do look like snakes but are actually a species of legless lizard. Slow worms tend to hide under stones, wood, and compost heaps... they prefer to be near objects that heat up, instead of in direct sunlight. These lizards are the only reptile species that exist in the Outer Hebrides.

Slow worm, little danger | Prefer woodland

Is the adder the only venomous snake?

Yes, the adder is the only venomous snake in Scotland and the UK.


So there you have it, the adder is Scotland's only native snake that has a venomous bite. A shy and beautiful animal, don't mess with it and it won't mess with you!

Read more about Adders on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

More Scottish wildlife: newts, bears, highland cows, pine martensdangerous animals in Scotland, wolves in Scotland.

An adder in Scotland

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?


27th of February 2022 @ 20:21:27

Hi Leanne, yes it's possible for Adders to appear in Edinburgh.

27th of February 2022 @ 20:00:46

Do they live in small woodland in the center of edinburgh