Lets debunk some common myths first
There are numerous myths about snakes and their actions out there, but we are only concentrating on the following few;
"If you kill a snake, others will come after you"
Snakes do not have any sort of social bond, nor the intellect nor memory to recognise and remember an assailant. The movies may be partially responsible for this myth.
There are also the believe that dead snakes attract others, this is partially true. Snakes do not have any form of social bond, but during breeding season, male snakes have been known to attempt to mate with dead females. Female snakes have chemical cues which attract male snakes, these male snakes do not understand death and are merely attracted by the "scent" of a female snake. For the general public, it is difficult to make a clear distinction between the sexes of snakes, therefore the advice is usually given to burn the killed snake in order to remove the chemical signatures. This is pure advice to avoid the scenario.
"Snakes are poisonous"
Technically, snakes are venomous and not poisonous. But not all of them are venomous by any means.
South Africa have a large group of venomous snakes, although only a few can give a fatal bite to humans.
We also have a large group of non-venomous snakes which includes constrictors such as Boa's or Pythons.
Poisons must be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, whilst venom must be injected into the bloodstream.
"Snakes are out to get you"
Humans are larger, generally faster and stronger than most South African snakes. Snakes have a number of predators, of which humans well and truly qualify.
When you encounter a snake it is usually caught off guard (as you are), but the vast majority of encounters are avoided by a snake vanishing as soon as it hears you coming.
A surprised snake will pick the nearest escape route and aim to disappear as quickly as possible, particularly when faced with a potential predator many times its own size. However, snakes in general have poor eyesight and don’t always pick the best route out of trouble. Therefore if you encounter a snake and you remain still, the snake will slither by without giving you any attention.
If a snake feels cornered, it will often stand and defend itself as a last resort.
Snake behaviour can also become more erratic in spring during the breeding season, and some females become more defensive if eggs or if young are nearby.
The only snake that are faster than what a human can run are the Black Mamba, but it will only persue when threatened, but more information will be given under the topics of various snakes within the list below.
However, the vast majority of bites to humans in South Africa occur because someone decided not to leave a snake alone.
For the record, here’s what you can do to keep snakes out of your yard.
- Remove potential food sources, in this case usually rodents. Keep your property rodent-free and snakes will have less to eat.
- Remove open water sources. Snakes do find water attractive, and need to drink water regularly to survive.
- Remove shelters, such as sheets of tin on the ground and piles of rocks or firewood.
- Keep a clear area around your house. Make sure grass is cut low, remove fallen branches, and prune overgrown bushes. Most snakes prefer not to move across long stretches of open ground.
- Patch up holes in buildings. Snakes will live under houses or outbuildings where the conditions are warm and dry, and can get through any gap larger than your thumb. Place wire mesh with holes no larger than 1cm square over all potential entry points.
Unlike the common believes, which will be explained under the Do Not's some actions actually makes it more dangerous to the patient suffering from a snake bite.
The following are recommendations on what can be done where envenomed bites did occur;
- Get the patient to safety - There are no code of ethics among snakes, if the snake remains in danger, it can strike more than once.
- Calm and re-assure the patient - The pain are excrutiating, the venom does not work that fast, but more than one victim died of freight rather than the bite itself
- Remove constricting items - remove jewelry such as rings or bracelets from the extremity (limb) that received the bite, to avoid distal circulation restrictions in the event of swelling.
- Keep the patient recumbent (lying down) and at rest to minimize his metabolic needs, and the spread of the venom.
- Splint the bitten extremity in a dependent position, below the level of the heart.
- You can dress the wound with a bandage and keep it cool, such as in a shaded area.
- If in rural areas or if there are indications that the emergency Medical Services may delay in arriving, do not delay transporting the patient to the nearest trauma emergency centre, not any hospital, so that emergency medical intervention can be given at the soonest possible point. Not all hospitals stock antivenom, however most of the major hospitals with trauma centres have a "general" one that helps with most common snakebites. Netcare and ER24 can assist in the proper treatment and transportation of snakebite victims to the closest trauma centre that will be able to assist.
- Where possible, try and identify the snake or get a picture, do not try and catch the snake, this information can assist the Trauma centre in the fastest effective treatment to be initiated.
Please visit the ASI official website by clicking on the ASI Badge above.
Their website was used as reference for some of the information given here.
There are more interresting information on there and also a few awesome posters that can be downloaded.
Select the snake name and the data sheet will load in the frame below.
Important Info from the ASI
During January we saw a large number of baby Rinkals (Hemachatus haemachatus) sightings, especially in the Highveld. Female Rinkhals give birth to live young and bear around 20-30 babies in late summer. These babies are tiny and measure around 16 - 20 cm at birth. The young snakes are independent as soon as they are born and disperse in all directions to find food and shelter. These babies are venomous and can spit their venom from the moment they are born
More info are available from ASI on their monthly newsletters. Please follow the newsletter link, courtesy from the ASI.
African Snakebite Institution Newsletters
List of common snakes around the Victor Khanye Municipal area (Delmas)