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Southern Africa Snake Check List & Species Guide

 
The Snakes of Southern Africa
Travel Writer: EcoTravel Africa  
 

Southern Africa is well known amongst herpetologists and snake lovers for the interesting variety of species.

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New! :: South Africa Snakes :: South Africa is home to numerous snake species : Puff Adder, Horned Adder, Many-horned Adder, Black Mamba, Green Mamba, Snouted Cobra, Mozambique Spitting Cobra, Boomslang, African Rock Python, Eastern Tiger Snake, Rinkhals, Southern Vine or Twig Snake to name but a few.

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Check out the country lists for more localised information -- List below

General information about snakes and snake species found in Southern Africa

In the process of evolution snakes have acquired an impressive number of vertebrae, in some species exceeding 300, and an equally impressive number of ribs. The body surface of snakes is covered in closely fitting scales that form a complete skin.

The external streamlining is matched by an internal economy of vital organs. For instance, there is usually only one functioning lung, greatly elongated to at least a third of the snakes's body length.
The snakes's unblinking, hypnotic stare is attributable to the fact that it has no eyelids. What were once lids have fused into a transparent film over the eye, similar to a contact lens. When a snake sloughs its skin - which it does frequently in the early part of its life, when it literally 'grows out of' its existing skin - the film over each eye is also discarded and replaced.

Though snakes have no external ears, they are very sensitive to vibrations picked up from the ground. Tree snakes clearly cannot pick up such vibrations, and so it may be possible to get close to a boomslang, whose bite can be fatal, without betraying your presence.

The snake's most important sensory organ is its deeply forked tongue, which can be extruded through a groove at the front of the mouth even when the mouth is closed. The flickering tongue picks up scented particles in the air and transfers them to a specialised organ in the roof of the mouth which can identify the scents; it therefore act as a 'nose' to smell out food.

By the formation of their sharp, backward-curving teeth, snakes can be divided into three broad categories:

Harmless or non-venomous species have only solid teeth; these may be in the upper jaw only - as with blind snakes; the lower jaw - thread snakes; or both jaws - the brown house snake and common brown water snake.

A second category of snakes not only has solid teeth, but one or more pairs of grooved fangs - longer teeth for conveying venom - towards the back of the upper jaw. Most of these 'back-fanged' snakes, such as the skaapsteker, are only moderately poisonous to man, but the bite of the boomslang and the twig snake can be fatal.

The third category consists of the front-fanged snakes - cobras, mambas and adders - their long poison fangs being near, or at the front of the upper jaws, where they can be swivelled forwards for a maximum effect.

Snake Venom is of different kinds, varying in its effect:

Neurotoxic venom - most cobras, mambas and berg adders - attacks the central nervous system, and starts to affect movement, breathing, swallowing, speech and sight.

Haematoxic venom - boomslang and twig snakes - affects the blood, using up the clotting factors so that the blood no longer coagulates and there is extensive blood loss into the tissues.

Cytotoxic venom - adders, spitting cobras and rinkhals - attacks the body cells or tissues, and a bite is extremely painful, with much swelling and marked symptoms of shock.

Myotoxic venom - yellow-bellied sea snakes - attacks the muscles and in some cases can lead to death from kidney and heart failure.

Snake Bite Treatment

Snake venom acts fast and a victim must be treated without delay. Remaining calm (you and the victim) and getting to a hospital as quickly as possible is of prime importance. Basic first aid / CPR knowledge will save almost all snake bite victims -- even a serious black mamba bite where CPR will keep the patient alive. Application of a crepe pressure bandage to the entire limb (not a tourniquet) will help to slow down the venoms spread. If known, information such as the identity of the snake should be passed on to the person that ultimately treats the snake bite victim. Please note: DO NOT waste valuable time trying to identify the snake. Furthermore; it could bite you too! Hospitalised treatment of snake bites is most often based open a patients symptoms -- and most doctors would have trouble identifying the snake anyway!

Avoidence is the best cure!

Most snakes cannot identify motionless objects, so it is best to stand perfectly still if a snake is encountered. Suitable protective clothing such as boots and long trousers can prevent a serious snake bite.

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New! :: South Africa Snakes :: South Africa is home to numerous snake species : Puff Adder, Horned Adder, Many-horned Adder, Black Mamba, Green Mamba, Snouted Cobra, Mozambique Spitting Cobra, Boomslang, African Rock Python, Eastern Tiger Snake, Rinkhals, Southern Vine or Twig Snake to name but a few.

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Photographer: EcoTravel Africa 

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:: South Africa :: South Africa is home to numerous snake species : Puff Adder, Horned Adder, Many-horned Adder, Black Mamba, Green Mamba, Snouted Cobra, Mozambique Spitting Cobra, Boomslang, African Rock Python, Eastern Tiger Snake, Rinkhals, Southern Vine or Twig Snake to name but a few.

 

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Southern 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 Southern Africa. Popular adventure travel activities in Southern Africa include: horse riding safaris, elephant back safaris, mountain biking, birding, wilderness walking trails, science safaris and volunteering especially for GAP year students.
 
 
 
Southern Africa Wildlife - Fauna & Flora
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Reptiles : Snakes Herbaceous Plants
Invertebrates Fungi : Mushrooms
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