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Snake season strikes

THE head of a stiletto snake, a venomous species that is expected to be out and about during mating season from September to November. Picture: Nick Evans

THE head of a stiletto snake, a venomous species that is expected to be out and about during mating season from September to November. Picture: Nick Evans

Published Sep 11, 2021


Durban’s snake catchers are expecting to be “crazy busy” when the weather warms up, heralding the start of mating season for many species.

“This year has been perfect with the (upcountry) snow and good rains that will make nature do what nature does,” Highway-based Gareth Zimmerman told the Independent on Saturday.

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While mambas, puff adders and pythons will have generally mated over winter, species such as the Mozambique spitting cobra, Rhombic night adders as well as harmless spotted bush snakes and brown house snakes will be out and about.

A STILETTO snake ‒ something to keep an eye open for during its mating season. Picture: Nick Evans

Frogs, already out, will be an attraction as will lizards for some, said Westville-based Nick Evans.

And the stiletto snake.

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“After the rains we do see stiletto snakes,” said Evans.

“One needs to be careful of them. They don’t look like much – they don’t rear their hoods up like cobras – and people pick them up.

“It is venomous but not lethal. It has a cytotoxic venom, which causes tissue damage and someone who is bitten does need medical help.”

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Durban North-based Jason Arnold said things were already picking up and that when the humidity increases, “snakes will go wild”.

Mating season means the usually solitary creatures may be encountered in twos, as females search for food and males search for females following a scent they drop.

“They will lay eggs around November and December and the eggs will hatch around January or February,” Arnold added.

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“What’s important for people to know is that females snakes – with the exception of pythons and skaapstekers – don’t remain with their eggs.

“They lay them and continue with their lives. So, by the time the snakes hatch and people start finding them, the mother is long gone.

“People tend to associate baby snakes with a mother having to be close by. This is not the case, with the exception of the python and the skaapsteker. Baby snakes fend for themselves from birth.”

Arnold said another thing to consider is that around the same time baby snakes hatch, there is a lot of activity among blind, thread or worm snakes.

“The adult size of these snakes is generally between seven and 15cm, so these little snakes are often confused with baby snakes.”

He noted that puff adders, Gaboon vipers, adders, mole snakes , rinkhals and slug eaters are the only live-bearing snakes in SA and that they too may be close to their offspring after giving birth.

The three snake catchers said they had not seen new trends in mating seasons in recent years.

Evans, however, said human-driven habitat destruction was the force having the biggest impact on snakes. Green mambas, for example, were often driven away from their coastal forest homes by building developments and land up in homes and need to be removed “when they have nowhere else to go”.

“Climate change is a slower process.”

He debunked myths of snakes being more aggressive in mating season, saying that all snakes want is to have nothing to do with people.

“When bites do happen, in most of the cases I see, it’s because people are picking the snakes up. Usually it’s stiletto snakes and night adders, although we even had someone pick up a 2.5m black mamba!

“Bites on dogs are far more common. Cats usually seem to know which snakes to avoid. However, cats should not be seen as a snake repellent,“ said Evans.

The Independent on Saturday

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