How to identify different snakes of South Africa

When the season is getting hotter, there is a high possibility of seeing some serious nasties as they crawl out of their hiding places to have a feel of some sun in South Africa. And without doubt, a significant class that is common in this category are serpents. However, among these serpents, there are poisonous ones and those that are not harmful, hence the need to acquaint yourself with the snakes of South Africa. This education can help you protect yourself and your loved ones to avoid any form of mishaps that may occur in case you come in contact with any of them.

South Africa is a country with some of the most dangerous serpents in the world. Small children and the elderly, so far, have been found to be more susceptible to bites from serpents, and while some lives have been lost in the process, it is worth noting that a snake bite does not necessarily have to kill. This is why once you get familiar with the classes of these South African serpents, how they behave, when they are most likely to strike and all of that, you will know what to do at every instance. Therefore, I encourage you to read on.

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What kind of snakes are in South Africa?

There are different types of snakes in South Africa with some of them peculiar to each of the provinces. For instance, in the Western Cape, it is recorded that there are well more than 35 different serpent species that live there. In classifying all of these South African serpents, there are those which are very dangerous and some other dangerous ones. Then, there are the venomous snakes in South Africa and harmless ones.

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Majorly, what these venomous ones do is to produce venom with which they could use to defend themselves, kill preys and also aid in the digestion of their preys. Depending on the serpents, there are various types of venoms which are neurotoxic and cytotoxic venoms. But then, please note that there are some of these serpents that can combine more than a kind of the venom.

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It is not good to be bit by any of them, really. However, when examining the potential dangers of the venom of a serpent in a human being, there are several factors that are considered. Some of those include the quantity of venom delivered, how efficient the delivery mechanism is, and where the bite is located on the body of the victim.

What poisonous snakes are in South Africa?

There are so many poisonous serpents on the South African snakes list. However, a few of them are given below with their descriptions:

1. Cape Cobra

Among all the cobras that are in South Africa, the Cape Cobras are known to be the ones with the most potent venom. The Cape Cobra is also called the yellow cobra and can have different colours like shades of black, yellow and brown. Occasionally, it may even look speckled. You can keep a juvenile cape cobra in a terrarium that has 20 to 50-gallon capacity while the adult requires, at least, 50-gallon capacity terrarium.

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2. Boomslang

This serpent is another deadly one that is known in South Africa. It has haemotoxic venom, and whenever it bites, it takes more than 48 hours before the person bitten can start to feel the symptoms. And unfortunately, at this time, it would have become late to treat it. This serpent is identified through its very slender body and big eyes with the stubby head. The female boomslang is olive brown while the males have different shades of green alongside black, yellow or brown. Then, the young ones are greyish, and they have blue speckles.

3. Puff Adders

These are large extremely venomous serpents considered as part of the most dangerous serpents that are in the world. As an ambush hunter, a puff adder can be under a tree for several weeks while waiting for something that it can strike. When they are disturbed, they start to make a loud hiss.

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4. Black Mamba

This specie is an extremely venomous serpent and based on a report, after the king cobra, it is the second-longest venomous serpent. It can strike at considerable range, bite in rapid succession and in a situation where it is threatened, it will open its inky-black mouth and then spread its narrow neck-flap.

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5. Rinkhal

This snake has a neurotoxic and partially cytotoxic venom, and looks like the cobra. When it is threatened, like the cobra, it creates hoods with its head, and when it wants to fool an enemy, it can fake its death. Its colour can be yellow, orange or grey. On its throat, it has white bars, and the belly is black. It average length is between 90 cm and 110 cm.

Some other poisonous snakes in South Africa include snouted cobra, Mozambique spitting cobra, Gaboon vipers, Vine snake and Egyptian cobra.

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Which snakes are not poisonous?

Apart from the venomous snakes, there are also some others that exist in the county which are not poisonous. Some of them are described below:

1. Mole snake South Africa

The length of this type of serpent can be as long as 2m (6ft 7in) with its small head and pointed snout. Its body is firm and tubular, and compared to most other types of serpents, this is not venomous. You will see it, usually, in a colour which could vary from yellow to brown or grey and occasionally on solid black.

2. Brown house snake

This serpent is known with the homes mostly where there are bricks, rubbles, pot plants and under pieces of wood. It is non-venomous and has markings of cream or paler brown colour over dark, chocolate-brown base tones most time. The males are never as large as the females, and while the female can be up to 4 feet (120 cm), the male can get up to 2–2.5 ft (61–76 cm).

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3. Spotted bush snake

This is a non-venomous snake that has a bright green colour with black speckles. You find them, mostly, on trees in bushes and forest areas. The serpent is excellent in climbing and swimming, and has very good eyesight. It is an entirely harmless serpent and would quickly escape from any threat once it notices one.

Snakes of South Africa identification

In terms of identifying a type of serpent, there are some things which are usually put into consideration and part of which is the structure of the body. This deals with the size and shape of the serpent. Then, the colour and the length of the serpent are other things that are considered. So, based on the serpents that are found in South Africa, the following are brief descriptions of some of them.

1. Grass snake South Africa

This serpent is known with other names which are ringed snake and water snake. You will find it, most time, around water and then, typically, the colour can be dark green or brown with a characteristic yellow collar behind the head. Its underside is whitish in colour, and it has irregular blocks of black that it uses to recognise individuals. It rarely bites when defending itself, and it can hiss and strike without even opening the mouth.

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2. Red lipped herald snake South Africa

The red-lipped snake or herald snake has an olive green or grey body as well as multiple white speckles. It also has a distinctive black head while the upper lip can be red, yellow, white or black. In terms of size, it can be 70 cm long with its tail.

3. Mozambique spitting cobra

This is another highly venomous snake with slate to blue colour. It can also have olive or tawny-black above while part of the scales (or all in some occasions) can have a black edge. Under it, you can notice salmon pink or purple yellowish colour and bars around the neck which could be black. The length of the adult can average between 90 cm and 105 cm.

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4. Night Adder

The night adder does not grow beyond 1m (3.3 ft) in length. Its head is usually a bit different from the neck, and it has nine head shields which are large and symmetrical. Instead of an elliptical pupil, its eyes are round, and the nostril is found between two nasals. This serpent is very active in the daytime and the night as well. When it is disturbed, it starts making ferocious hisses.

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5. African rock python

It is the largest snake in Africa and also part of the six largest serpents that are in the world. The serpent can be found in forests near deserts and most time, around sources of water. In the dry season, it usually becomes dormant. It can eat animals that are up to the size of an antelope and even though it is widely feared, it is rare before it kills humans. It has a thick body and the markings on it can vary from brown, olive, chestnut, to yellow. It has a triangular head and many sharp teeth.

While the list of the snakes of South Africa is inexhaustive, the most common ones have been discussed so far. And based on their given description, you should be able to differentiate among them when you spot any. Then, you should bear in mind that it is not all the serpents that are venomous. Normally, when they are not threatened, you would hardly see them attacking humans; so, anytime you see a serpent, as much as possible, be calm and do not panic, and you will rarely be hurt.

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