Snake season is here: These are SA’s 5 most lethal snakes and what to do if you encounter one
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Durban - September is the month that ushers in spring in South Africa and the country’s abundant flora and fauna burst into colour. And while spring is a sign of renewal in nature, it also South Africa’s snake season.
South Africa’s snakes and their shrinking habitat as they compete with rapid urbanisation has been popularised by reality television shows such as, Snakes In The City and Snake Season. Enthralled local and international audiences have watched in awe as snake catchers in Durban rescue some of the world’s most dangerous snakes from people’s homes.
Tyrone Ping a snake expert who has travelled throughout South Africa studying and photographing snakes, said that while these shows attach a sense of danger, and any people are terrified, snake bites in South Africa were very rare.
He said mostly handlers are bitten by snakes as they don’t generally attack people and are more inclined to escape.
“That’s because snakes by their very nature are defensive creatures, “ he said.
“However, if cornered or if they have with no escape route snakes will defend themselves, which may lead to a person being bitten,” Ping said.
If one encounters a snake in their home, Ping said that they should call a snake catcher immediately while keeping watch from a safe distance.
He said as it becomes warmer snake activity is likely to increase especially in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The snake activity is generally always picked by environmental factors. So, you know as the spring rains start to come. What happens is, is a lot of moisture a lot more water around. So there are a lot more frogs and amphibians start to breed and even now, you’re going to start hearing the frogs. The frogs are calling all-around Durban and because of this, snake activity increases because there’s more food and more food for snakes means more human encounters,” he said.
Ping said that in the unlikely event that a person is bitten by a snake they should seek immediate medical attention.
“You don't have to worry about taking the snake with you or anything like that, you just get straight to the hospital, no matter what hospital it is. They will be able to assist you and get you an anti-venom as quickly as possible,” he said.
These are South Africa’s most dangerous snakes.
Africa’s most potent species of Cobra having a mainly neurotoxic venom, these snakes do not spit/spray their venom. Polyvalent anti-venom is used in the effective treatment of bites. The Cape Cobra is extremely common in the Western Parts of South Africa including Cape Town. Favouring drier arid environments as well as fynbos biomes including table mountain and surrounds. These snakes are variable in colour and can be bright yellow, yellow with black speckles, sandy brown, dark brown almost blackish and pale yellow almost grey in colour in some parts. Juveniles have a prominent black throat band that fades with age. Unlike most cobra species they are also well-known to have a black tail tip which is a key indicator between the Cape Cobra and the Snouted Cobra.
Undoubtedly the most iconic and feared snake in Africa, mostly without reason, as these snakes do not readily feature in snake bite statistics in Durban. They’re the largest venomous snake in Durban and can reach a maximum of 4.5m. Specimens of this size are exceptionally rare and none have been seen or measured in close to 50 years. Typically these snakes are on average 2.5 metres to 3 metres long.
Mozambique Spitting Cobra
This is one of the most common, highly venomous snakes found in and around Durban. The Mozambique Spitting Cobra is responsible for the majority of the serious snake bites that occur in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly in the Northern regions. Averaging only 1.2 metres in length, these snakes are commonly found in the west of Durban; often in residential gardens particularly, those bordering nature reserves. Their activity peaks just as the first rains of summer arrive, coinciding with the increase in amphibian activity. As their name suggests, this snake can spit/spray its venom with incredible accuracy, reaching targets up to 3 metres away.
These snakes are strictly tree-dwelling animals and seldom venture down to the ground, except to feed or drink. Boomslangs are not commonly found in Durban due to their secretive nature and excellent camouflage. They are one of the few snakes in Southern Africa that are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the males and females feature different colouring. Often the males are bright green, and the females dull brown/grey or olive. Juvenile snakes are brown/grey with speckles and have brilliant emerald-green eyes. Averaging around 1.5 metres in length, Boomslangs can often reach close to 2 metres. These snakes rarely bite people and are docile in nature. They possess a potent haemotoxic venom, for which there is an anti-venom available. It solely deals with bites from these snakes, and is called a monovalent anti-venom.
Probably South Africa’s most widely-spread, common venomous snake, the Puff Adder is relatively scarce in Durban itself, only being found just west of Durban.
The Mozambique Spitting Cobra and the Puff Adder account for the majority of serious snakebites in KwaZulu-Natal. The Puff Adder is a snake with excellent camouflage, and it prefers to sit and wait for an opportunity when it comes to feeding. These snakes may remain in an ambush position for several weeks, waiting for a potential meal to pass by. They have a powerful cytotoxic venom which can lead to the extreme pain, severe swelling, and blistering of the skin.