Ammonites are easy to find on Whitby Beach, so fossil and curiosity dealers would try to attract customers by carving snake heads on the stones. It was a particularly tempting ploy in the Victorian age, when fossil collections and curiosity cabinets were all the rage.
The carvers were inspired by the legend of St Hilda, an abbess who lived in Whitby in the 7th century. The area was infested with snakes until she turned them all into “coils of stone”. Her work was completed by St Cuthbert of Lindesfarne, whose curse left the snakes headless. Continue reading Whitby snakestones
The Herpetological Conservation Trust has this excellent page on the etymology and folklore of adders, including:
“Old natural history books often tell how female Adders swallow their young to protect them from danger. This myth is even perpetuated by some countrymen who have spent their lives amongst Adders. This story suggests a degree of parental care which is sadly lacking in Adders. If she did attempt to swallow her own young the strong stomach acids would digest them. In all probability, this story originated when a gravid female Adder was killed with well developed young inside her.” Read
Also I’ve added some statistics on adder bites here. Read