Snakes Species Found in South Africa

Rentokil South Africa does not cover snakes as part of our service package; however you may find the information and advice below regarding snakes useful.

It would be impossible to feature all South Africa’s snakes in this guide as there are said to be 171 snake species found here; and luckily only a small percentage of these are venomous.

If you do spot a snake, it will usually be one of the following:

African Rock Python

(Python sebae)

Appearance

  • African rock pythons are generally brown with lighter brown and olive green markings.
  • Belly is creamy white in colour.
  • The African rock python is one of the world’s largest snakes; reaching lengths 6 metres or more.
  • Upper and lower jaw bones are not attached so they are able to open these incredibly wide.
  • They have no breastbone so can expand their ribs allowing them to swallow food sources much larger than themselves.
  • Pythons are ‘constrictors’ which mean they hold their prey with their teeth and then constrict them until they are unable to breathe and their heart then stops. They then proceed to swallow the prey head-first, whole.

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; female African rock pythons lay up to 100 eggs.
  • Incubation period is between 2 and 3 months.
  • Hatchlings between 50 and 60cms in length.
  • Hatchlings have the same colour as adults, although they are more vibrant.

Habits

  • Non-venomous.

Black Mamba

(Dendroaspis polylepis)

Appearance

  • Black mambas have two enlarged venom fangs fixed to the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Adult Black mambas reach an average of 2.5 meters and a maximum of 4.5 meters in length.
  • These snakes are grey to olive in colour with lighter scales round their head.
  • They take their name from the black colouring inside their mouths.
  • Black mambas are thin and extremely agile.

Lifecycle

  • Mating takes place in late spring or early summer (October to December).
  • After mating the male returns to its own nest.
  • Female lays between 10 and 20 Eggs.
  • Young Black mambas are self-sufficient from birth and capable of catching prey as big as a rat.

Habits

  • Black mambas tend to live in scrubland but can sometimes be found in bushes and small trees.
  • They will continue to occupy the same nest for many years if left undisturbed.
  • Their diet consists mainly of birds and rodents and they actively hunt during the day or night.
  • Black mambas are capable of rearing up to a third of their length in the air.
  • Extremely venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.

Boomslang

(Dispholidus typus)

Appearance

  • Solid teeth in both jaws with venom fangs in rear part of upper jaw.
  • Average length is 1.2 metres but can exceed 1.8 meters.
  • Has a short, blunt nose & large prominent eyes with a pear shaped pupil.
  • Boomslang have keeled scales.
  • Females usually retain a brown colour.
  • Males colouring is highly variable ranging from black to bright green.
  • Belly is light green.
  • Often confused with the Green mamba (Dendroaspis augusticeps)

Lifecycle

  • Female lays between 8 and 25 eggs in hollows of trees or piles of leaves.
  • Young Boomslang hatch between 70 and 100 days later.
  • Newly hatched Boomslang are grey with blue patches and do not achieve their full colouring until several years old.

Habits

  • Generally found in trees and shrubs.
  • The Boomslang moves with great speed and agility.
  • Diet is mainly chameleons but will also eat birds & their eggs, frogs and lizards all of which are swallowed whole.
  • In cooler months they may hibernate for short periods – often taking over birds nests.
  • Timid and will rarely bite unless caught or cornered.

Egg Eating Snake

(Dasypelits scabra)

Appearance

  • The few teeth the egg-eating snake has are solid and harmless.
  • No fangs.
  • Wide variation in pattern and colour; ranging from browns and greens to solid dark grey.
  • V-shaped dark mark on neck; the top of which points to the snout.
  • Fairly slender snake with small head that is rounded at the snout.
  • The belly of the egg-eating snake is usually cream in brown coloured snakes and white in grey ones.
  • Size ranges from 0.5metres to 1.5metres in length.
  • Often confused with the Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus).

Lifecycle

  • Female egg-eating snakes lay between 6 and 12 eggs.
  • Eggs are incubated for approximately three months.
  • Hatchlings are between 14cms and 21cms in length.
  • Egg eating snakes (Dasypelits scabra) reach sexual maturity after about two years.

Habits

  • Generally live in forests or anywhere that is also the habitat of large numbers of nesting birds.
  • Extremely strong climbers.
  • Keenly developed sense of smell – they will not eat rotten eggs or ones that are too far developed for their taste.
  • Swallows eggs whole but crushes and regurgitates the shell.
  • Extremely nervous species and non-confrontational.
  • Non-venomous.

Cape Cobra

(Naja nivea)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged venom fangs fixed in the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Egyption cobras are dark grey-brown in colour, developing to almost black as they get older.
  • Across the neck is a broad black band.
  • Young snakes are a sandy-yellow colour with a black band on the neck.
  • The main physical characteristic of the black mamba is the head and the hood. Their head is large and depressed with a broad snout. Necks can be as much as 18cms wide.
  • Eyes are large with a round pupil.
  • Males larger than females; average size 1.5 to 2 metres in length.

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; female egyptian cobras lay between 8 & 20 eggs, usually in termite mounds.
  • Incubation period is about 60 days.
  • Hatchlings between 20 and 35cms in length.
  • Hatchlings shed their skin after 7 to 12 days.
  • Hatchlings feed after their first shedding.

Habits

  • Favourite ‘homes’ of Egyptian cobras are termite mounds but they can also be found in grasslands.
  • Active at night; foraging from early evening – often found in poultry runs.
  • Very timid; always basks in the sun near home to enable ‘a quick retreat’.
  • Generally only attacks if cornered or provoked.
  • The diet of Egyptian cobras consist of amphibians, rodents, birds & their eggs, lizards and other snakes – particularly Puff adders (Bitis arietans).
  • Extremely venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.
  • Wound shows two punctures and is extremely painful and swollen round the snake bite.
  • Does not show severe Oedema or bleeding.

Gaboon Viper

(Bitis gabonica)

Appearance

  • The Gaboon Viper is the largest viper in Africa, reaching lengths of up to 1.8 metres and weighing more than 20kgs in some instances.
  • Large triangular head tapers into a narrow neck.
  • A pair of ‘horns’ are located between their raised nostrils.
  • The gaboon viper has a distinctive brown stripe on its pale head.
  • Body colour is pale with brown, beige and yellow markings allowing for easy camouflage.

Lifecycle

  • Viviparous – the gaboon viper gives birth to live young and up to 30 at a time.
  • Gestation period is about 7 months.
  • Newly born gaboon vipers are about 30cms in length.

Habits

  • Favoured habitat is rain forests and woodlands on the edge of the rainforests.
  • They are largely nocturnal.
  • The gaboon viper is an extremely docile, solitary snake.
  • Their diet consists mainly of birds and mammals but will also eat insects and rodents.
  • Generally ambushes its prey rather than actively hunts it.
  • Unlikely to attack unless seriously provoked.

Green Mamba

(Dendroaspis angusticeps)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged venom fangs fixed to the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Green mambas are the smallest of the species reaching an average of 1.5 metres in length.
  • They are glossy green in colour with a lighter, bright greenish-yellow belly.
  • Green mambas are thin, elegant snakes with a very distinctive head and long thin tail.
  • They have small eyes, smooth scales and a long rectangular head.
  • Often confused with the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus).

Lifecycle

  • The Green mamba is oviparous (egg laying).
  • The female lays between 6 and 18 eggs in the summer usually in rotting vegetation.
  • Hatchlings are venomous from birth and up to 18 inches in length.

Habits

  • Green mambas are mainly arboreal (live in trees), but are also known to inhabit bamboo thickets, mango groves and coastal shrub land.
  • Green mambas are shy, non-aggressive and only likely to attack if provoked or cornered.
  • Their diet consists mainly of birds, bird eggs and small mammals.
  • Green mambas are active during the day (diurnal), but are seldom seen on the ground, unless after their prey or basking in the sun.
  • Extremely venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.
  • Little or no swelling at the bite wound.
  • The wound will show two puncture marks.

Puff Adder

(Bitis arietans)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged hinged venom fangs in the front of the upper jaw.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • The average size of a puff adder is approximately 1m in length, and fairly thick in width.
  • Head is blunt & rounded and much wider than neck and body; almost triangular in shape.
  • Colours  of puff adders vary according to geography, but their head usually has two dark bands; one on the crown and one between the eyes.
  • Colours range from dull yellow to light brown and even orange or reddish brown. Male puff adders can have striking yellow and gold colour patterns.
  • Chevron markings are present all the way down their back and getting lighter towards the tail.
  • Iris’ range from gold to silver grey.
  • The stomach of puff adders are yellow or white with some darker spots.

Lifecycle

  • Females puff adders produce a pheromone to attract males.
  • Gives live birth to high numbers of young.
  • Newborns are between 12 and 18cms in length.
  • Newborns have golden head markings.

Habits

  • Puff adders are generally found in rocky grasslands as they are a sluggish species that rely on camouflage for protection.
  • Mainly terrestrial but good swimmers that can also climb.
  • Often found basking by footpaths and tend to remain still in the presence of an intruder.
  • Extremely willing to bite and able to strike at very high speed and from a distance of about one third of their body length.
  • Puff adders are mostly nocturnal.
  • Reluctant to forage and hunt; more likely to ambush prey ‘as it passes’.
  • Diet consists of mammals, birds, lizards and amphibians.
  • The puff adder is extremely venomous. 
  • Cytotoxic – tissue destroying.
  • Wound shows two teeth marks and is painful.
  • Swelling develops within 10 to 30 minutes.

Snouted Cobra

(Naja annulifera)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged venom fangs fixed in the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Typically yellowish to olive brown but can be brown or dark brown.
  • The belly of the snouted cobra usually yellowish.
  • Normally has a darker band of colour round the neck.
  • Average length of adults between 1.5 and 2 metres but can reach lengths of 3 metres!
  • Body is cylindrical and stout with a long tail.
  • Male snouted cobras are larger than females.
  • Often confused with the Eqyptian Cobra (Naja haje).

Lifecycle

  • Snouted cobras are oviparous snakes; females lay between 8 and 20 eggs.
  • Incubation period is between 65 and 90 days.
  • Hatchlings between 20 and 35cms in length.
  • Hatchlings shed their skin after 7 to 12 days.
  • Hatchlings feed after their first shedding.

Habits

  • Favourite ‘homes’ of snouted cobras are termite mounds but can also be found in arid or moist savannah.
  • Active at night; foraging from early evening and are often found in poultry runs.
  • Snouted cobras are not naturally aggressive and will bask in the sun near it’s home to enable ‘a quick retreat’ if disturbed.
  • Generally only attacks if cornered or provoked.
  • Diet consists of amphibians, rodents, birds & their eggs, lizards and other snakes – particularly Puff adders (Bitris arietans).
  • Highly venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.

Night Adder

(Causus rhombeatus)

"Causus rhombeatus00" by Paul venter - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Causus_rhombeatus00.jpg#/media/File:Causus_rhombeatus00.jpg

Appearance

  • Head has a dark brown or black V-shaped mark, the top of which points forward and finishes between the eyes.
  • The colouring of the night adder varies from light browny-pink to light grey.
  • Diamond shaped darker markings are found on the back and tail – these are sometimes bordered with white.
  • Adults average about 0.5metres in length and seldom exceed 1 metre.
  • Body is cylindrical and reasonably slender.
  • Venom glands are extremely long – up to 10cms – and found on either side of the spine connecting up to the fangs.
  • The night adder has poor eye sight and a keen sense of smell.
  • Night adders are often confused with egg eating snakes (Dasypeltis).

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; females laying up to 24 eggs more than once a year.
  • Eggs are incubated for about four months.
  • Hatchlings average 12.5cms in length.
  • Cytotoxic – tissue destroying.
  • The venom of a night adder has relatively low toxicity.
  • Night adder bites are extremely painful with swelling at the bite wound.

Habits

  • Night adders prefer damp or moist habitats & usually makes their home under rocks or logs and in old termite mounds; often close to rivers or lakes.
  • An extremely slow moving, non-aggressive snake.
  • Only likely to attack if cornered or provoked.
  • Basks during the day and hunts at night.
  • Diet consists almost exclusively of frogs and toads.
  • Hatchlings feed on tadpoles.
  • Cytotoxic – tissue destroying.
  • The venom of a night adder has relatively low toxicity.
  • Night adder bites are extremely painful with swelling at the bite wound.

Rinkhals

(Hemachatus hemachatus)

 "Rinkhals" by DocSean - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rinkhals.jpg#/media/File:Rinkhals.jpg

Appearance

  • Colours do vary; the Rinkhals is generally brown to browny-black on the top with irregular spotting/banding in lighter browns or creams.
  • Distinctive dark belly with two lighter stripes/bands round the neck.
  • Adults reach an average of 90cms to 120cms but have been known to reach 150cms in length.
  • The Rinkhals is not a true ‘spitter’, but can spray its venom up 2.5m by a flinging action of the head and upper body.
  • Short, pointed head with large black eyes.

Lifecycle

  • Unlike other Cobras the rinkhals is Viviparous – giving birth to live young.
  • Average size of a new born rinkhals is 15 to 18 cms in length.
  • Ringhals’ give birth to an average of 20 and 30 young at a time.
  • Young shed their skin within an hour of birth.
  • New born Rinkhals’ have the same colourings and distinct bands round their neck as adults; they are also, from birth, are able to rear up and spray venom.

Habits

  • Prefers to live in grasslands but easily adapts to conditions found at sea level and high altitudes.
  • Nocturnal – but known to bask in the sun during the day.
  • Diet is primarily consists of toads, but if food is scarce, they will also prey on small mammals, reptiles and other amphibians.
  • If cornered, the Rinkhals has the amazing ability to ‘play dead’; rolling on to its back, going completely limp, with it’s mouth open and tongue lolling out!
  • The venom is neurotoxic.
  • Rinkhals’ usually aims at the highest moving part of the obstacle in front of them. Venom causes terrible pain, and in severe cases can cause damage to the cornea of the eye.
  • Swelling around the bite wound.
  • Bruising in many cases.

Vine Snake

(Thelotornis capensis)

"Thelotornis capensis mossambicanus" by Kwamikagami - Tanzania. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thelotornis_capensis_mossambicanus.jpg#/media/File:Thelotornis_capensis_mossambicanus.jpg

Appearance

  • Colouring is similar to that of a vine; grey-brown with lighter markings.
  • The  vine snake is very long and thin, averaging 1 metre in length.
  • Their head is elongated, with large eyes and horizontal pupils.

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; female vine snakes lay between 4 and 13 eggs in summer.
  • Incubation period is between 2 and 3 months.
  • Hatchlings between 230mm and 330mm.
  • Hatchlings identical in colour to adults.
  • Females are extremely aggressive when guarding their eggs.

Habits

  • Favoured habitat is grassland, bushes and small trees.
  • The vine snake is timid and is only likely to attack if provoked.
  • Diet consists mainly of lizards, chameleons, bats, frogs and small birds.
  • Haemotoxic – disabling the clotting process and causing internal and external bleeding.
  • No anti-venom exists for a bite by the vine snake.
  • Puncture marks can be seen at the wound area.
  • The actual bite is not very painful.
  • Likely to bleed copiously as blood clotting mechanism becomes affected.