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How to Identify Signs of Snakes

If you do spot a snake, it will usually be in the warmer season when they are at their most active.

Only gardens with extensive secluded wildlife areas will have snakes. In most garden areas if snakes are seen, they are most likely just passing through.

There are a few 'hard to spot' signs that you can look out for if you have concerns about snakes. These include:

  • Shed skins – Snakes tend to shed their skins soon after emerging from hibernation
  • Winding trails on light dirt or sandy surfaces.

Where You Might Find Snakes

There are certain places where snakes are more commonly found.

  • Reptile Habitats - Nature reserves of rough grassland, disused quarries, large allotments, large derelict urban sites or sunny road and railway embankments with scrub cover.

  • Garden Features - Wood, rock or rubble piles, rockeries, ponds, long grass areas and shrubs.

  • Sunny Areas - Sun trap areas with lots of vegetation cover and places to shelter.

  • Gardens, parks or other grassed areas - Be prepared to find reptiles if you lift up debris or are near features such as hedges, ponds, compost heaps and areas of long grass.

Know if you are at Risk

  • Snakes are not aggressive by nature and will attack in most cases if threatened or provoked.
  • Puff Adders, Black Adders and Gaboon Adders all have cytotoxic venom which destroys tissue. The Night Adder also has cytotoxic venom, although this is relative low in toxicity.
  • Adders are rarely found in gardens and only occur if you live close to their preferred habitats.
  • Bites from adders are very rare, and most occur when a snake is picked up or provoked.
  • The venomous Cape Cobra, Snouted Cobra and Green Mamba snakes have neurotoxic effects – attacking the central nervous system and affecting cardio pulmonary action.
  • The Boomslang and the Vine snake’s venom are haemotoxic, meaning that it disables the clotting process, causing internal and external bleeding. Unfortunately, no anti-venom exists for a bite from the vine snake.

Deter Snakes from Entering Your Property

To deter snakes there are a few things you can do:

  • Mow grass regularly to keep it short.

  • Clear low growing plants and shrubs that provide cover.

  • Remove rockeries, debris, wood or log piles. Keep compost heaps in a sealed bin.

  • Fill holes that they can hide in; under sheds, patios and walls.

  • Putting close fitting fences or walls around ponds can be a deterrent.

Snake bites

There are hundreds of species of snakes around the world but only a low percentage of these are venomous. In South Africa there are a few venomous native snakes, some of which include some Adder and Cobra species. 

Snake awareness is important in protecting yourself and your family from snake bites.

  • Be aware of the dangers, know the signs of snakes and take steps to avoid them.
  • ‘Proof’ your home and garden.
  • Know the symptoms and appropriate treatment.

Types of Venomous Snake Bites

The recommended first aid for snake bites will also vary according to species.

Treatment for a snake bite is defined according to whether the venom is cytotoxic, haemotoxic or neurotoxic and the wrong treatment will not only be of little or no help but could even be dangerous.

  • CYTOTOXIC - An agent or process that is toxic to cells and suppresses cell function or causes cell death.

  • HAEMOTOXIC - An agent or process that kills red blood cells and prevents clotting resulting in internal and external bleeding.

  • NEUROTOXIC - An agent or process that is destructive or deadly to nerves or nervous tissue.

The Venom from Adders and Vipers is Cytotoxic

  • Generally two puncture marks at the site of the bite.
  • Bite causes instant pain, immediate swelling, bruising and blistering.
  • Symptoms include nausea and dizziness.
  • Immobilises the limb but does not restrict the blood flow.

The Venom from Mambas and Cobras is Neurotoxic

  • Generally two puncture wounds at the site of the bite.
  • Bite can feel more like a sting with little or no bruising and swelling.
  • Symptoms include feeling confused, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and breathing.
  • Immobilise the limb and restrict blood flow between the bite and the heart.
  • Administer CPR until Medical help is available.

The Venom from Boomslang and Vine snakes is Haemotoxic

  • Sometimes puncture wounds can be seen at site of the bite.
  • Bite is generally not very painful but within one hour copious bleeding is likely from the bite wound and any other wounds cuts or scratches the victim may have.
  • Symptoms include a severe headache, nausea and vomiting.
  • It’s helpful to restrict the blood and lymphatic flow, but it’s important not to cause bruising which can lead to bleeding under the skin.
  • If Venom is spat in to a person’s eyes use any liquid available, preferably a neutral one such as water or milk – but anything at all will do, to flush out the eye.

Treating snake bites

Symptoms usually manifest soon after a snake bite, so observing the victim is extremely important.

If no symptoms have occurred within half an hour of the bite then indications would be that it was not a venomous snake, it failed to inject any venom or the snake was very old and had little or no venom left.


  • Try to identify the snake; colour, size, shape of head and attacking method are useful.
  • Loosen the Victim’s clothing and move them in to the shade.
  • Keep the victim calm and still; movement will increase blood flow and transport the venom to the heart much faster.
  • Immobilise the limb but do NOT restrict blood flow unless you are certain the bite was from a snake that delivers neurotoxic venom.
  • Clean and dress the wound being careful not to apply pressure and cause bruising.
  • Be prepared to administer CPR if necessary.
  • Get the victim to a hospital quickly.

Do Not

While there can be differences of opinion as to what we should do for snake bites the consensus of opinion as to what not to do is reasonably consistent:

  • Allow the victim to exercise or stress themselves.
  • Cut the bite or attempt to suck the venom out.
  • Give the victim anything to eat or drink especially alcohol.
  • Use potassium permanganate crystals or solution near or on the bite wound.
  • Use soapy water round the bite wound.
  • Leave pressure bandages on too long.
  • Leave the victim alone.
  • Apply ice to the wound.
  • Soak the affected limb in any solutions.

The contents of this page are for information only. Rentokil Pest Control South Africa does not treat reptiles.


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