Wildlife expert identifies unusual snake spotted in Eastbourne

The mysterious snake
The mysterious snake

A wildlife expert has spoken out after an unusual looking black snake was spotted on the South Downs near Eastbourne.

The striking black reptile was photographed by Paul Anthony, who said he found it on the hills overlooking the town.

The Herald posted the picture on its Facebook page, which sparked a discussion on what it could be and whether it is rare, dangerous, or had a cunning plan.

Paul said, “Saw this beautiful creature on the downs today. It was on one of the hills overlooking the town.

“I won’t give exact location as it is obviously early in the year for it and I’ve not seen a black fella before. Is it rare?”

An expert from Sussex Wildlife Trust has finally put the matter to rest.

Charlotte Owen, who runs WildCall, the Sussex Wildlife Trust wildlife information telephone service, said, “This is a black, or melanistic, adder. Normally you’d be able to see a distinctive zig-zag down the spine but this individual is so dark in colour that it’s not at all visible.

“The black colouration is caused by an over-production of the skin pigment melanin – it is the genetic opposite of an albino.

“Melanistic adders are unusual but not uncommon throughout their range, and such dark colouration may provide an advantage by allowing them to warm up more quickly and stay active on days that would otherwise be too cold.

“At this time of year, adders are emerging from their winter hibernation to bask in the spring sunshine in preparation for the breeding season.

“Adders are not aggressive and won’t willingly waste their venom on something they can’t eat, so will only bite in defence as a last resort and are much more likely to slither away undercover as they detect the vibration of approaching humans.”