Snakes

Snakes were the one thing that made me hesitate about living in the bush as we do.  I have friends with pet snakes which I steered clear of because of my fear.  I have touched them before (I made myself because I like to challenge my fears) but I just didn’t like them and they scared me.

The best thing I did when we moved to Hoedspruit was a course in game guiding.  I never planned to be a game/safari guide but I thought that I would learn a lot about the environment that I was to live in.  I am so glad I did because I learned a lot about snakes and this knowledge has minimised my fear of them.  I hate to admit it but I am sometimes in awe of the beautiful creatures.

Our ecosystem relies heavily on snakes, so it is wrong to kill them unless you really have to.  What we try to do is catch them if they are in our cottages and remove them to a more favorable location.  To be able to do this you need to know what snakes you are dealing with, how to treat bites, what type of venom each snake has, as well as good equipment to handle them.  The first thing I did when we moved was to purchase the following items:

Good quality snake tongs,

a snake hook,

and a large bucket with a sealable lid

My bucket is bright orange and has decals on warning that there may be snakes inside.  It also has clips that hold the lid in place tightly.  We don’t often need the bucket because it is quite easy to just walk into the bush holding the snake with the tongs and hook and release it, however, if you need to catch one at night, it is advisable to put it in the bucket and release it in the morning, rather than stumbling around in the bush in the dark (you don’t have a free hand for a torch) with a snake in your hands.

The main snakes that we deal with around our home are the black mamba, the spitting cobra (mfezi), puff adders and pythons. There are also quite a few others but are not really that significant.

The Black Mamba

The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is the longest venomous snake in Africa, averaging around 2.5m , and sometimes growing up to 4.3m . Its name is due to the black inside of its mouth; the actual color of the skin varies, from dull yellowish-green to a gun-metal grey. It is one of the fastest snakes in the world, capable of moving at 4.5 to 5.4 meters per second (16–20 km/hr). Some people say if you see the black of the inside of the snakes mouth – it’s too late for you.

The Black mamba’s environment is rapidly diminishing. This encroachment on its territory contributes to potentially dangerous human contact with these snakes. The Black mamba is Africa’s deadliest snake.  The Black mamba spends much of its time basking in a favored sunny spot. They are usually active from a few hours after sunrise until about an hour before dusk. They are shy, secretive and will normally retreat from danger. However, this snake will become highly aggressive if it feels threatened, especially if the threat is standing between the snake and its lair. A cornered Black mamba will, while balanced on the rear third of its body, raise its head far off the ground, open its mouth, expand a narrow hood, flick its tongue, open its jaws to reveal the inky black inside of its mouth, and hiss loudly before striking.  The strikes will be rapid and numerous.  The Black mamba uses its incredible speed to escape threats, not to hunt prey. The Black mamba is capable of traveling with up to a third of its body raised off the ground.  They are also excellent tree climbers.

The venom of the Black mamba consists mainly of neurotoxins. One snake can produce enough venom to kill 15-25 people. Mortality rate is nearly 100% unless the snakebite victim is promptly treated with antivenom or is put on a respirator or ventilator. There is a polyvalent antivenom produced by the South African Institute of Medical Research to treat all Black mamba bites. The venom is highly potent, and due to its aggressive nature and its speed, it is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa. However, bites from Black mambas to humans are rare, as the snakes would rather avoid confrontation with humans.  We have seen quite a few of them on the property but none have ventured into our home.

The Mozambique Spitting Cobra

The Mozambique Spitting Cobra (often called Mfezi locally)(Naja mossambica) is a type of cobra, native to Africa. In color the snake is slate to olive grey, olive or tawny brown above, with some or all scales black-edging. Below, salmon pink to purple yellowish, with black bars across the neck and ventrals speckled or edged with brown or black; young specimens sometimes have pink or yellow bars on the throat. Younger specimens are much more frequently encountered in the open at daytime. Unlike the Egyptian Cobra, this species prefers localities near water, to which it will readily take when disturbed.

It is also considered as one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa, second only to the Mamba. It can spit its venom. Its bite causes severe local tissue destruction (similar to that of the puff adder). Venom to the eyes can also cause impaired vision or blindness. 

This snake is a nervous and highly strung snake. When confronted at close quarters it can rear up to as much as two-thirds of its length, spread its long narrow hood and will readily “spit” in defense, usually from a reared-up position. By doing this the venom can be ejected at a distance of 2-3 meters with remarkable accuracy. The spitting cobra does not often actually bite despite its aggressive behavior, and has the habit of feigning death to avoid further molestation.

The average length of adults is between 900mm – 1,050mm

One of these snakes recently cruised right over our neighbours leg as he was lying on the lawn fixing his sprinklers and then under his great dane dog who leapt into the air, and then carried on into the bush!

The Puff Adder

The puff  adder (Bitis arietans) is a venomous viper species found in savannah and grasslands from Morocco and western Arabia throughout Africa  It’s wide distribution, common occurrence, large size, potent venom, and willingness to bite make it responsible for more fatalities than any other African snake.  I recently heard that this snake is not really that willing to bite but because it stays still when threatened instead of moving away, and because it really camouflages well – it gets stood on often and only then will it bite.  It is a rather lazy snake.

The average size is about 1 m in length and very stout. The head has a less than triangular shape with a blunt and rounded snout and  is much wider than the neck. Although mainly terrestrial, these snakes are good swimmers and can also climb with ease; often they are found basking in low bushes. If disturbed, they will hiss loudly and continuously, adopting a tightly coiled defensive posture with the fore part of their body held in a taut “S” shape. This species is responsible for more fatalities than any other African snake. This is due to a combination of factors, including its wide distribution, common occurrence, large size, potent venom that is produced in large amounts, long fangs that inject it deeply, their reliance on camouflage which makes these snakes reluctant to flee, their habit of basking by footpaths and sitting quietly when approached.

So far, we have not encountered one of these on our property but they are sure to be here.

I am not going to tell you anything about the pythons yet, but instead will ask my friend Rob if he would “guest write” something about them for me.  Rob knows a lot about them because he keeps them in his home crazy man – poor Tracey. So far I have only seen one small one here but we have some very huge python looking holes on the property and another owner has seen quite a few.

6 thoughts on “Snakes

  1. We have our share here, too (primarily rattlers, pygmy rattlers, cotton mouths, and coral snakes). So far they’ve never come into the house, but I have encountered a couple in the pool with me–not a happy meeting. Amusingly enough, it’s usually my job to remove them, as my husband refuses to go near them.

    I’m with you, though, I always try to put them back out into the swamp, which is behind our property, where they belong.

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  2. We have a snake (with Black and Green Mambas) and lizard viewing place near us and the kids love going. I enjoy looking at them as well–as long as there is glass between us.

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