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South Africa Snake Check List & Species Guide

The Snakes of South Africa
Travel Writer: EcoTravel Africa  

Although only 8 of South Africa's snake species are highly venomous, visitors to South Africa should never attempt to handle or pick up any snake, unless they have been positively identified as being harmless. South Africa has many reptile / snake parks which allow one to handle non-venomous snakes!

Photographer: EcoTravel Africa 

Identifying snakes

More than 2 500 snake species of have been recorded worldwide, with some 138 of these found in Southern Africa. About a third of these snake species are not found any where else in the world.

As many as 35 of the species found in southern Africa are venomous with 8 being highly venomous, including: the puff adder; the Egyptian cobra; the Cape cobra; and the black mamba and green mamba. There are many harmless species that can be mistaken for a venomous one, and all snakes should be treated with caution.

When you see a snake, observe its colour, length, the shape of its head, and its posture. If it rears up like a rinkhals, cobra and coral snake, flattens its neck to form hood, it will be more inclined to strike than slink away. Pythons and adders move forwards in a straight line, other snakes move in a series of side-to-side undulations. Although man, like other primates, have an inbuilt horror of snakes in general, killing every snake on sight should be avoided.

Adders: South Africa is home to numerous species of adder.

Puff Adder - Bitis arietans -- (VERY DANGEROUS!) -- the puff adder is probably the most widespread snake in South Africa. Adults are thick and heavy bodied snakes which rarely exceed 1 m in maximum head-body length in this South African region.

Horned Adder - Bitis caudalis -- (DANGEROUS) -- this adder is distinguished by the presence if a single hornlike scale above each eye. The head is triangular and distinct from the body which ends in a short thin tail.

Many-horned Adder - Bitis cornuta -- (DANGEROUS) -- a small adder, with an average length of about 30 cm, is rather distinct because of the tufts of 2 - 4 hornlike scales above each eye, hence the name many-horned adder!

Black Mamba - Dendroaspis polylepis -- (Very Dangerous) -- Of all the South African snakes the Black Mamba is the most feared and is known for being aggressive when agitated or confronted and will strike with deadly precision.

Green Mamba - Dendroaspis angusticeps -- (Very Dangerous) -- Being a arboreal snake they are restricted to the more thickly forested and bush-covered areas of South Africa, this making there distribution range quite small.

Snouted Cobra

Mozambique Spitting Cobra


African Rock Python

Eastern Tiger Snake


Southern Vine or Twig Snake


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South Africa has many top Game / Nature Reserves, and is home to many of the mammals of southern Africa. Numerous wildlife safari and tour companies operate guided tours to South Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in South Africa include: horse riding safaris, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding, wilderness walking trails, science safaris and volunteering especially for GAP year students.
South Africa Wildlife - Fauna & Flora
Amphibians Ecology
Birds Trees
Fishes Shrubs
Mammals Grasses
Reptiles : Snakes Herbaceous Plants
Invertebrates Fungi : Mushrooms
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