BROWN HOUSE SNAKE
Bruin huisslang (Lamprophis fuliginosus)
Size: Length 0,45m-lm.
Colour: Light brown to reddish brown above, or dark brown in old specimens. Underparts off-white. On each side of the head is a prominent, horizontal, silvery line running from the tip of the snout through the eye. These lines may rarely extend along the front half of the body, especially in young snakes.
Habitat: Under debris near human habitation; under stones in rocky areas.
Brown house snakes are among the commonest, and perhaps the most useful, snakes in southern Africa: attracted to areas of human habitation, they readily consume Widespread and commonly found throughout the entire southern African subregion. Frequently spotted in urban areas. those other, less desirable, cohabitants of man, mice and rats. They are nonpoisonous and quite harmless to man.
House snakes are powerful constrictors. Large specimens have no trouble killing a rat, which is first seized in the jaws before coils are thrown around it. When the rat is dead, the snake’s asphyxiating grip is relaxed and the prey eaten head-first. If the snake’s favoured diet is unavailable it will eat frogs, lizards, birds and eggs. The young feed on lizards.
Because of their useful role in eliminating vermin, brown house snakes deserve to be spared, not slaughtered. Their own predators include larger snakes and birds of prey, particularly owls, which hunt them when they’re out and about at night.
The female lays her eggs in early summer among vegetable debris, compost or similar decaying matter, and the hatchlings emerge two to three months later.
Kaapse kobra (Naja nivea)
Size: Length 1-2m.
Colour: A wide range, from various shades of yellow and brown (sometimes with speckles) to purplish black. Whatever the colour, the snake has a glossy appearance. The young usually have a dark band at the neck.
Habitat: Usually arid, sandy areas where there is a good rodent population.
The Cape cobra has a curiously disconcerting habit that could quite literally scare the pants off you: it slithers indoors in search of water, sometimes seeking refuge under the rim of a toilet seat! This has been known to happen within the environs of Cape Town, where the snakes come down into gardens on the slopes of the Twelve Apostles. Their quest for water often ends at a fish pond or dripping tap; but in the absence of these, the snakes sometimes find their way into a house where they may slake their thirst in a toilet bowl.
Always treat a Cape cobra with the greatest respect. Not only is it very common, but its venom is also the most potent of all the African cobras. If no easy escape route is available it will rear up and may charge its molester. The venom is rapidly absorbed by the body, paralysing the motor nerves. Without immediate treatment, death may follow within six to eight hours.
The numerous colour varieties of this species have given rise to an array of common names. Although it is known also as the yellow cobra and the speckled cobra, Cape cobra remains the most suitable name because it is essentially a Cape species; it does, however, also occur in southern Namibia and Botswana, and the southwestern Transvaal.
These cobras eat rodents, lizards, toads and other snakes. They shelter in rodent or other burrows, and also under discarded rubble in the vicinity of built-up areas.
Molslang (Pseudaspis cana)
Size: Length 1-2m.
Colour: Black in the western parts of the Cape, but usually brown or reddish brown in the Eastern Cape, Natal and other parts of this snake’s wide distribution area. Young specimens are light or dark brown, with a regular series of darker blotches along the back.
Habitat: Sandy areas where rodents such as molerats, striped mice and gerbils are common.
This large, thick, glossy snake is often bludgeoned to death in the mistaken belief that it is a Cape cobra – yet it is not poisonous, does not rear up and does not spread a hood in cobra fashion. Likewise, the mole snake’s spotted young are confused with the rhombic skaapsteker or the African egg-eater (the former mildly venomous, the latter not). Although the mole snake itself is non-poisonous, catching a large specimen is risky, for it puts up a show of ferocity, can inflict a lacerating bite – and will do so with little provocation.
Mole snakes burrow into sandy soil waiting to pounce on mammals with similar habits, especially molerats and golden moles. Even a large mole snake has a relatively small, pointed head, about 3 cm across; and the fact that it can swallow a Cape dune mole (sometimes as large as a rabbit) is eloquent testimony to the stretching powers of its lower jaw.
Young mole snakes feed on small rodents and lizards, but the adults take only warm-blooded prey which they kill by constriction.For shelter, mole snakes often retreat into the burrows of molerats or gerbils.
Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus)
Size: Length 0,9m-1,2m.
Colour: Black or brown, either uniform or with spots or variegations. A banded form has a black head and alternate bands of brownish black and yellow or orange along the back. Underparts dark brown or black with one or two (occasionally three) broad white bands across the throat, visible when the rinkhals rears up and spreads its hood.
Habitat: Grassland, where it lives in rodent burrows or old termite mounds when not out sunning itself.
The rinkhals, the Mozambique spitting cobra and the black-necked spitting cobra are the only snake species in southern Africa that ‘spit’ venom. The rinkhals is the least effective of the three, even though it seems to hurl the poison forwards, the reared part of its body often hitting the ground with an audible thud during the exercise. Its range is up to 2,5 m. Venom that enters the eye should be washed out immediately to prevent damage to the eye.
The rinkhals may also bite. Its venom is neurotoxic (causing nervous dysfunction), and death – although rare � can result from respiratory paralysis. Antivenom is effective against the toxin. As a last resort when cornered, a rinkhals will feign death and go completely limp � but with one wary eye open. The ‘revived’ snake may suddenly make a getaway, or give a nasty bite.
Mainly nocturnal, though sometimes seen on cloudy days, the rinkhals feeds mostly on small vertebrates, and is particularly partial to toads. The rinkhals is closely related to the cobras but its scales have a prominent central ridge or keel and are not smooth.
SPOTTED HARLEQUIN SNAKE
Gevlekte kousbandjie (Homoroselaps lacteus)
Size: Length 30-50cm.
Colour: Black head, with alternate black and yellow bands or blotches all down the body, and a bright orange or red vertebral stripe running from the top of the head to the tail.
Habitat: In disused termite mounds, or under stones or debris in sandy areas in coastal bush.
The name ‘harlequin’ aptly describes this snake’s bright, multi-coloured appearance. If disturbed, it does not strike but is quick to wriggle away, giving an impression of flashing colours on the move. It objects to being handled and will wriggle strenuously when caught. Although it is inoffensive and does not often bite, it may do so quite unexpectedly. Fortunately its small mouth normally prevents it from taking a full bite, and its venom is comparatively mild; but that is no reason to be careless when dealing with this snake.
The species, known also as the spotted dwarf garter snake, is nocturnal and given to prowling in and out of grass tufts, where its favourite prey, legless lizards of the genus Scelotes, reside. It also preys on small snakes, including burrowing snakes such as blind snakes and thread snakes. In pursuit of these last two, it spends much time underground.
The female lays her small eggs, usually some six at a time, during the middle of summer.
SUNDEVALL'S SHOVEL SNAKE
Sundevall se graafneusslang (Prosymna sundevaltii)
Size: Length 25cm
Colour: Ranges from yellowish to reddish or greyish brown, with two (sometimes four) rows of dark spots down the back and tail. Usually a yellow patch on top of the head. Underparts yellowish white.
Habitat: Under stones or in old termite mounds, in dry, sandy soils.
The favourite dish of Sundevall’s shovel-snout consists of the eggs of other reptiles, whether lizards or snakes. With the strangely flattened, rather blade-like teeth at the back of its upper jaw it slits open soft-shelled eggs before swallowing them. But it will swallow a hard-shelled gecko egg whole; the digestive juices then break down the shell, and the contents are absorbed. You have to examine this snake in profile to notice the distinctive shape of the snout, with its sharp and slightly upturned cutting edge.
You will very rarely encounter Sundevall’s shovel-snout in the open; on the few occasions that it does venture out, the night must be warm and humid. Although it lives underground, using its sharp snout to facilitate burrowing in soft soil, it does not have the poor eyesight associated with specialised burrowers such as worm snakes. Its eyes are, in fact, quite large and well developed to assist it in its nocturnal above-ground forays.
Although harmless to man, the shovel-snout puts up an intimidating display when threatened. First it coils its body from head to tail in a wide circle; then it straightens out in a flash and forms a circle on the other side. The action is repeated rapidly and certainly such erratic coiling and uncoiling movements could deter – and frighten anyone who doesn’t know the defence mechanism of these snakes very well.