I promised myself I wouldn’t do this again. I wouldn’t rise to the bait of tabloid nature scare stories. Then, last night, this one got flagged on Twitter:
Killer snakes invading Britain? “Slithery slayers”? An “invasion”? Really?
Yes, The Daily Express is at it again with the scare stories. This time an invasion of killer snakes that are a threat to you, your children, and your pets. So let’s quickly analyse this.
Up-front we should be clear; an adder bite could kill a small dog, in exceptionally rare circumstances, if the owner doesn’t act. There are plenty of veterinary websites out there that go into that. But how likely is it that, if your dog is bitten, it will react? Well, according to that vet website I link to, while 97% will react, less than 5% have any severe reaction.
When we add in the fact that Adders are exceptionally timid and will generally sense you coming long before you spot them, and then go hide, we can see the actual threat level here is negligible.
The loathsome Express goes on to mention that an adder bite could kill a person. Again, yes, this is in theory true. But there isn’t a recorded case in more than twenty years.
I also question how a native species can be described as ‘invading’. They lived here before we did. We are much closer to being an invasion than the snakes are. Yet if you are a newspaper owned by a porn magnate, that exists only to demonise immigrants, you will always retreat to that language when describing anything bad. Here, the snakes equal the immigrants, even if (as with many of the Express’ stories about immigrants), the snakes are nothing of the sort.
The ‘highlight’ of the article is this picture included near the end:
A large female adder can reach about 70-80cm. Males less than that. The snake in the picture here is comfortably over a metre, if not nearer to two. It’s not an adder. The markings are clearly that of a python. Not actually a venomous snake. But note the caption ‘one of the snakes’. The Express want you to believe this is what is facing you in this mythical ‘invasion’!
(Incidentally, this snake is such a threat that the officer in the photo is getting a grinning, thumbs-up selfie with it)
This would be funny were it not for the fact this article appears in the same day:
Yes, they actually *know* this is a Royal Python, not an adder (and thanks to Max Barclay for spotting this). So the inclusion of the image in the adder story is consciously dishonest. We could be charitable and believe a picture editor accidently included it, but the track record of The Express here means we must conclude they are just lying.
(Incidentally, and thanks go to Rob O’Sullivan this time, it’s not even a Royal Python, it’s a Carpet Python)
I would suggest you complain, but as previously established it’s pointless. The Express isn’t just innocently ignorant, they are wilfully so. They know fear sells newspapers, so they tap into anything that works.
Inevitably the Star and The Mail and the other bottom-feeders will pick this up and run with it, if they haven’t already. Inevitably a number of innocent animals, snakes not dogs, will end up dead due to some stupid panicked humans.
The adder is a species that is, broadly speaking, in decline. If we have been lucky enough to have a decent breeding year, it’s a cause for celebration not fear. If you are out walking in moorland, heathland, or related woodland, do keep your pets on a lead. Do keep an eye out. But if you spot an adder, don’t panic. Enjoy the fact you are seeing something that is really hard to spot. You are lucky. You are not under threat.
Meanwhile, we should start ‘Express Nature Bingo’ and try guess what the next great ‘killer invasion’ may be. We’ve had spiders and snakes. And jellyfish. And gulls. What next? Rats? Birds? My money is on bats.