Venomous and valuable: Adders in Finland get legal protection

Adders in Finland

Adders are a venomous snake species, and they are currently facing several threats to their survival, including habitat loss and fragmentation as well as climate change. The snake has so far been free game in Finland: anyone has been allowed to kill an adder at any time. From the beginning of June, adders in Finland will be legally protected.

There are three species of snakes in Finland: adder (Vipera berus), grass snake (Natrix natrix), and smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), which can be encountered only in Åland. A slow worm (Anguis fragilis), also known as copper snake in Finland, is not a snake but a legless lizard.

Adders in Finland

I find adders a unique and fascinating species that play an important role in Finland’s ecosystem. As a dog owner, I can also understand negative feelings that these snakes can cause in many people. I am also scared of snakes, but the more I learn about them, the more I understand why they are worthy of our respect and protection.

Adders (Vipera berus), also known as vipers, are the only venomous snake species found in Finland, and they are one of the country’s two native snake species. It is also the northernmost snake species in the world. In Finland, it can be found almost all over the country, also in Lapland above the artic circle, apparently all the way up to Ounastunturi and Saariselkä.

The adult-size snakes that we may encounter are several years old, some of them can be even 30 years old. Adders in Finland can grow up to 50-90 cm long. Their color is gray, gray-brown or black. Bluish and gray snakes are usually males and brownish are females. Most adders have a zigzag dorsal pattern down the entire length of their bodies and tails. In Finland, about 15% of all adders are black. The black ones are actually more common on the coast and in the archipelago.

The black adder can sometimes be mistaken for the grass snake. The grass snake (Natrix natrix) is black or dark brown with characteristic yellow dots behind its head. The grass snake has round eyes and a round head, unlike the adder, which has a flat and triangular head that stands out clearly from the rest of the body. Adder’s pupils are upright ovals.

Adders are predators, and their diet consists primarily of small rodents, lizards, and frogs. They use their venom to immobilize their prey before consuming it whole. In terms of reproduction, adders are ovoviviparous, which means that the female retains the eggs inside her body until they hatch. The young adders are born alive, and they are fully developed and able to fend for themselves immediately after birth. Snakes give birth every second year or even less seldom than that in Lapland. Young females give birth to 4-6 babies, and older ones to 10-12.

Adders are generally solitary animals, but during the mating season, males will search for females and engage in combat with other males to secure mating rights. Adders are also known for their ability to hibernate during the winter months, which allows them to conserve energy and survive also in colder environments. In Finland, they hibernate from September to April–May. The times vary greatly depending on the weather and location: in northern Finland, the snakes can hibernate for eight months, in more southern Europe only one month.


New nature conservation law protects adders in Finland

At the beginning of June, a new nature conservation law will come into force, and it will protect the adder for the first time in Finland. The new law in Finland means that adders will be legally protected from hunting, killing, capturing, or disturbing them. The law also prohibits the destruction or alteration of their habitats, which will help to ensure their survival and promote their population growth. According to the new law, adder that is in the yard or that otherwise poses a danger to humans or domestic animals may be captured and moved, and if that is not possible, killed.

How to relocate adder

I have never had to relocate nor kill any adder I have encountered, but if there was one in Nalle’s yard, I would have to do something about it. Number one rule with vipers generally is, don’t touch it. But if you really have to, make sure your pets and kids are not in close proximity to the snake and that you are well-protected with high rubber boots and thick gloves. Try to handle the snake calmly and gently with a long stick or soft brush and a container to move the snake into.

The snake must be moved at least two kilometers away from the original place so that it doesn’t come back. The place must be one where it has a chance to find food, water and a suitable hibernation place.

Adder at Kastelli Giant's Church

What to do if you encounter an adder and it bites

In case of a snake bite in Finland, always head to hospital as soon as possible. There are about 50-150 snake bites that occur in Finland on a yearly basis. Adders are active right now due to their mating season. They also like to soak in the sun on duckboards at this time of the year.

Symptoms of adder bite

The symptoms of a snake bite can develop slowly. The first symptoms are usually swelling and redness. Later, there may be other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, headache and even fainting. Snake bite can also cause an allergic reaction. Severity of the symptoms depends on how much venom came from the snake. Some bites might not include venom. Adder bites can be lethal, and all victims should always seek medical help.

How to recognize a snake bite

You might not be sure if the snake has bitten to you. Adder has two venomous teeth, so its bite mark is typically two small puncture holes 3-4 millimeters apart. A snake bite can also have only one puncture hole if it has lost another tooth.

What not to do

Do not try to squeeze or suck the bite site. You may have seen this in a movie but it won’t help.

This is what you should do if you get a snake bite in Finland

In case of a snake bite, always head to hospital as soon as possible. If you are alone in the nature when you get a snake bite and the situation seems severe, you should use 112 Suomi app to call for help and allow emergency services to locate your exact whereabouts. If you don’t yet have this app on your phone and you are residing or travelling in Finland, download it now!

If you get bitten to a limb and you can make it to the hospital on your own, it is still recommended not to move the limb that got bitten. A slightly compressive bandage can slow down the progress of the poison in the lymphatic system, and can be used if the journey to treatment is long. Remember to open the bandage every hour for 5 minutes. The limb should be in an elevated position. In this way, swelling can be prevented.

Do not take any anti-inflammatory medicine, i.e. ibuprofen or acetylsalicylic acid. This is due to the possible kidney failure. Paracetamol can be taken for the pain instead. Pharmacies in Finland sell a product called Kyypakkaus. It contains hydrocortisone and it is intended as first aid in allergic reactions such as bee stings or snake bites, but please note that taking it does not replace the hospital visit. You should always see a doctor if you get bitten by a snake. Antiserum is available and doctor can evaluate if it is needed.

If the victim of the snake bite is under 15 years old, pregnant, elderly or a seriously ill person, you should call for help and take the victim to the hospital fast. A particularly strong reaction or other symptoms from vomiting to shortness of breath are also a reason to consult a doctor immediately. A bite can be particularly dangerous if it is in the head or neck area.

What to do if a snake bites your pet

Adder bites are even more dangerous to dogs and cats than humans. If your pet gets bitten by a snake, always take it to a vet as soon as possible. If you are on a nature trail and you are able to carry your dog back to the civilization, do that. Moving as little as possible will help the pet the same way as it helps a human victim. Try to remain calm and keep your pet calm on the way to the vet.

It would be best to have vet’s phone number with you if you have searched that beforehand. To find the closest veterinary clinic that is open, Google a veterinary clinic based on your location (city or town), call them beforehand to make sure you are heading to the right place and ask driving instructions if needed. Get a taxi if you don’t have a car. There isn’t a vet available in every town, but there is always some clinic that sees patients at all times.

Important to know: Do not give any Kyytabletti to your dog. This is a new rule that dog owners should know about. It contains hydrocortisone, which can put a strain on your dog’s kidneys in addition to the snake venom. It is therefore better not to give them and just to take your dog to vet as soon as possible. If you pet is having a difficulty to breathe and you are still far away from the vet, consult the vet on the phone about possibly giving the pet Kyytabletti if you have them with you.


How to avoid snake bites

  • Wear rubber boots to protect your feet and ankles.
  • Stay vigilant and always pay attention to the ground when you are walking.
  • Stomp your feed loudly when you are walking.
  • Adders rather slither away from you than bite, they only bite to defend themselves.
  • Do not approach snakes if you encounter them.
  • Remain calm.

Read more about snake encounters at our site

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