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10 Most Common Snakes in SA

Exploring the outdoors is all fun and games until you come across a dangerous situation. This blog is going to outline the most common snakes in South Africa, what to do when you encounter each of them so we can all enjoy the outdoors while being properly prepared!

MOST COMMON SNAKES IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is home to around 170 different species and sub-species of snakes. Although snakes are often quite shy and hurry away before you are able to get a glimpse of them, it is important to know exactly what to do in case you are one of the “lucky” few who come across snakes; and if you are an avid hiker and explorer, these chances are significantly increased.

The 10 most common snakes in South Africa include:

1 . Black Mamba

 Black mambas are FAST, NERVOUS snakes and when threatened can be HIGHLY aggressive. They are often referred to as the world’s deadliest snakes.

 

Level of Danger: HIGH

 How to Identify: grey/brown color with a lighter underbelly. The “black” from its name, refers to the inside of its mouth.

  • Can grow up to 4.3m

  • Weight: 1.5 kg

 What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

 What TO DO if bitten:

If bitten by a Black Mamba follow these steps:

 FIRST PRIORITY IS TO GET VICTIM TO NEAREST MEDICAL FACILITY

In the meantime:

  1. Remove restricting items such as rings and tight clothing

  2. Keep victim as still as possible and limit unnecessary movement

  3. Wrap a tight bandage or anything you have with you and create a tourniquet close to the bite – this is the pressure immobilisation technique

After a bite, adult humans usually have 45 minutes to an hour before collapsing and without treatment, bites are 100% FATAL

Provinces it is found in:

  • North West

  • Limpopo

  • Mpumalanga

  • KwaZulu-Natal

2. Cape Cobra

The Cape Cobra is one of four NON-spitting cobras found in Southern Africa.

Level of danger: HIGH

How to Identify: The Cape Cobra varies in colour from light to rich yellow/copper or even sometimes dark brown to black

Length: 1.2m

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten:

  • Stay calm and avoid unnecessary movement

The Cape Cobra has a neurotoxic bite, meaning their venom will affect your nervous system. If bitten, it is recommended that you apply a wide bandage firmly around the bitten area as TIGHT as possible. This will slow the spread of venom to vital organs

SEEK MEDICAL ASSISSTANCE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BITE OR TRY TO REMOVE THE VENOM WITH YOUR MOUTH

Provinces it is found in:

Extremely common in Western parts of SA

  • Western Cape

  • Northern Cape

  • Eastern Cape

  • Free State

  • North West

3. Common Boomslang

Boomslang snakes are strictly tree-dwelling animals and avoid coming down to the ground, with the exception of eating or drinking.

Level of danger: HIGH

Although these snakes are mostly docile and rarely bite people, it is still important to be extremely cautious when around them as their bites can be fatal; containing a hemotoxic venom which destroys red blood cells

How to Identify:

These snakes are sexually dimorphic (different colours based on their sex)

Males: Bright green

Females: brown/grey, olive

Juvenile: brown with spots and green eyes

Length: 1.5 – 2m

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten:

  1. Immobilise victim

  2. Lie down and keep as quite as possible

  3. Apply a pressure bandage immediately and immobilise the limb with a *splint to reduce the spread of venom

*Making a splint in nature:

  1. Pad area with something soft such as a jacket, sleeping bag or clothing

  2. Find 2 straight objects such as hiking poles, tree branches, paddles etc

  3. Position around bitten area to restrict movement

Provinces it is found in:

  • Western Cape

  • Eastern Cape

  • KwaZulu-Nata

  • Northern Gauteng

  • Limpopo

  • Free State

  • Northern Cape

4 . Puff Adder

South Africa’s most widely-spread venomous snake. This snake lives in a number of habitats including coastal bush, grass land, vybos and montane. These snakes are extremely good at camouflage so it is important to keep your eyes open when exploring.

Level of danger: HIGH

How to Identify:

  • Triangular head

  • Body patterning – looks like arrows pointing down its back

  • Has rough scales so does not appear shiny like most snakes

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten: (http://toxicology.ucsd.edu/Snakebite%20Protocols/Arietans.htm)

  1. Keep the victim calm and reassured. Allow him or her to lie flat and avoid as much movement as possible. If possible, allow the bitten limb to rest at a level lower than the victim's heart.

  2. Immediately wrap a large crepe bandage snugly around the bitten limb starting at the site of the bite and working proximally up the limb (the full length if possible). The bandage should be as tight as one might bind a sprained ankle.

  3. Secure the splint to the bandaged limb to keep the limb as rigid and unmoving as possible. Avoid bending or moving the limb excessively while applying the splint.

  4. DO NOT remove the splint or bandages until the victim has reached the hospital and is receiving Antivenom.

  5. Have the SAIMR (South African Institute for Medical Research) polyvalent antivenom ready for the Lifeflight crew to take with the victim to the hospital. Give them the following:

    1. the available antivenom (at least 10 vials)

    2. the accompanying instruction (Protocol) packet

    3. the victim's medical packet

DO NOT cut or incise the bite site
DO NOT apply ice to the bite site

Provinces it is found in:

Found across South Africa, commonly from the Southern Cape to the Sahara desert

5. Mozambique Spitting Cobra

One of the most common snakes found in and around Durban.

Level of danger: HIGH

How to Identify:

  • ability to spit

  • irregular black throat bands that are visible when it lifts its head (as seen in photo)

  • plays dead when threatened

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY - the spitting cobra, as the name suggests, can spit/spray its venom as far as 3m.

What TO DO if bitten:

Spitting cobras can harm you without actually biting you through spitting/spraying their venom. They always aim for your eyes. Having neurotoxic venom, their bite or spray causes pain and damage to the mucus membranes and cornea which can lead to blindness. It can also result in swelling.

  • Do not apply ice, boiling water, lotion or potions

  • Get victim to a hospital as soon as possible

  • Keep victim as still as possible

  • Remove rings and tight clothing

  • Do not waste time applying bandage, do so on the way to hospital is possible

For more information: https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/snakebite/

Where its found:

  • Western Cape (East of Cape Town)

  • Namaqualand

  • Northern and Southern Namibia

6 . Snouted Cobra

Level of danger: HIGH

How to Identify:

Sandy brown, pale yellow, dark brown and has a striking black and yellow banded variety

Length: 2.5m

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten:

These cobras possess both a neurotoxic and cytotoxic venom

Provinces it is found in:

Common in Eastern half of SA

  • KwaZulu-Natal

  • Mpumalanga

  • Limpopo

  • Gauteng

  • North West

Favours bushveld, grassland and savannah habitats

7. Brown House Snake

One of the most common and widespread snakes in South Africa. Often found in a variety of environments commonly occupied by humans such as gardens and forests. They are effective pest controllers as they feed mostly on rats, mice and lizards. Commonly kept as pets.

Level of danger: HARMLESS

How to Identify:

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE

  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL

  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY

  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten:

Their bites are non-venomous and are therefore not fatal. Their bite will likely draw blood but it is nothing to be concerned about. It is always better to be safe, so if possible, seek medical help for reassurance.

Provinces it is found in:

Spans the African continent

8. Common Slug Eater

Level of danger: HARMLESS

How to Identify:

Small snake, averages 30-35cm and feeds exclusively on snails and slugs. Favours damp localities in the Eastern half of South Africa and seeks shelter under rocks, logs and grass and emerges in the evening to hunt.

What NOT to do:

Although not dangerous, it is important to respect snakes for both their and your safety

  • DO NOT STRIKE
  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL
  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY – if threatened, the snake will most likely secrete a foul smelling substance and has the peculiar habit of rolling up into a tight spiral
  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten:

This small snake is non-venomous and poses no threat to humans.

9. Herald Snake 

Level of danger: MIDLY VENOMOUS BUT NOT DANGEROUS

How to Identify:

Has a bright orange/red, white, yellow or black colouration on upper lip as seen in image. Has white specks down its body and its underbelly is usually a lighter, pearl color.

This snake mostly feeds on frogs, geckos and small lizards.

It favours damp areas but sometimes will also make an appearance in suburban gardens in ponds and water features.

What NOT to do:

  • DO NOT STRIKE
  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL
  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY – when threatened, the snake will draw its head back into a striking position with its mouth open, displaying its brightly coloured lips.
  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

What TO DO if bitten:

Poses no threat to humans or domestic animals

Provinces it is found in:

Found in all 9 provinces

10. Mole Snake

Level of danger: HARMLESS (although adult bites can be very painful)

How to Identify:

Reddish brown, grey, light orange in color. Patterns typically fade with age.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

  • DO NOT STRIKE
  • DO NOT TRY TO MOVE/KILL
  • DO NOT CORNER SNAKE OR THREATEN IT IN ANY WAY
  • MAINTAIN AT LEAST 5M AWAY

These types can be very aggressive and do not hesitate to bite when handled or threatened

What TO DO if bitten:

Although not venomous, bites can be large enough to require stiches so seek medical attention if bitten.

Provinces it is found in:

  • Western Cape
  • Free State
  • Mpumalanga

SNAKEBITE INSTITUTE PHONE NUMBER: 082 494 2039 / 083 448 8854

CAPE NATURE REGIONAL OFFICES EMERGENCY NUMBERS:

George: 044 802 5300

Porterville: 022 931 2900

Oudtshoorn: 044 203 6300

Hermanus: 028 314 0062

Driftsands: 021 955 5940

TYGERBERG EMERGENCY HOTLINE: 021 913 2010

References:

https://www.tyroneping.co.za/snakes-south-africa/

https://theconversation.com/why-knowing-what-black-mamba-venom-does-to-the-human-body-is-crucial-121386

http://toxicology.ucsd.edu/Snakebite%20Protocols/Arietans.htm

https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/snake/herald-or-red-lipped-snake/

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