Snakes of Durban- a photographic guide
The Greater Durban Area is home to a wide range of snake species. Some highly venomous, some completely harmless. Here are a series of photos of the commonly seen species around Durban, along with some information and ID pointers, which may help you in learning about your local species (below the poster).
Remember! If you see a snake in your garden, or in the wild, appreciate the lucky sighting and enjoy it! But never approach the snake, to kill or catch it. Leave them alone to play their part in the food chain. Treat them with respect.
For snake removals in the Greater Durban Area, you can contact me, Nick Evans, on 072 809 5806.
If you want such info up on your classroom wall, or in your work place, or even just on your fridge, then here’s something which will be of great use to you- a common snakes of Durban poster! This beautiful poster was designed by Jonathan Leeming, (Scorpion man, speaker and author). This is now the second poster we’ve sent out, the first one going out to schools (especially in rural areas). Please feel free to print and share it! Download link: http://www.scorpions.co.za/snakes-of-durban/
Highly Venomous Species
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)- Highly venomous. A large snake, averaging 2,2m-2,5m in length. Grey/brown in colour, with a matt appearance (not shiny). They’re not the aggressive killers that they’re made out to be. They’re very shy and nervous, and will always flee if given half a chance. Attempting to kill or capture it could end you up in hospital, so treat with great respect and keep your distance. Common in and around valley areas. Mainly feeds on rodents and dassies (hyrax), but also takes birds and bats. Awesome animal!
This is where the Black Mamba gets its name from, not the colour of its body. If you provoke one, this is what you’ll see. It serves as a warning to leave it alone, a warning which should be heeded. I suppose you could mistake it for a smile or laugh though…
Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)- Highly venomous. Restricted to the coastal forests in KZN. The largest green snake around, with adults averaging in lengths of 1,5m-2m+. It is much thicker than the average garden snake. It is the most beautiful emerald green colour, with no black markings. Not often seen, due to their shy nature and the fact they spend most of their time in trees. Feeds on birds, rodents, bats and lizards.
Mozambique Spitting Cobra
Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica), aka ‘Mfezi’ (Zulu name) – Highly venomous. Adults grow to be 1,2m-1,5m in length, although I have recorded specimens slightly longer than that. Plain brown on top, with orange and black bands underneath the neck region. This is much more visible when the snake hoods up- but then you’re way too close! Usually a salmon-pink colour underneath. Can spray its venom 2-3m, so don’t keep well away from it, and it will do the same. Feeds on toads, rats and sometimes other snakes. NOTE: Should you or your pet receive a dose of venom in the eyes, please rinse it out immediately with water. Getting a check up at the doctor/vet is advised, just to be safe.
A pose people are more familiar with when it comes to cobras! I find the juveniles are a lot more cheeky, and quicker to raise up, than the adults. They do have brighter and bolder markings too. I also find they are more of a grey/brown colour, whereas larger specimens are usually plan brown
Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)- Highly venomous. This is an outstandingly beautiful male from the Hillcrest area. They have a thicker body than the common green snakes (Spotted Bush & Natal Green), with a rugby-ball shaped head. Adults grow over 1,5m. Colours vary drastically in this species, as you’ll see below. ‘Boomslang’ is Afrikaans, and in English it translates to ‘Tree Snake’, so there’s no guessing where they spend most of their time. In Durban, they’re more common in the outer West areas of the city and northern. But they pop up in areas such as Cowies Hill, Reservoir Hills etc. Not too commonly seen. Feeds on nestling birds, chameleons, other lizards and occasionally rodents.
Male Boomslang are a beautiful green colour with black bands.
Female Boomslang are light to olive brown colour. Can resemble a Black Mamba, but has a more rounded head.
Juvenile Boomslang- That big green eye is very distinctive! All juveniles look like this upon hatching, males and females and change colour as they grow (usually close to the meter mark).
Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)- Highly venomous. In the Greater Durban Area, it is mostly seen in the Outer West parts (Assagay etc). The Night Adder is much more common around the city. Puff Adders here are generally yellow and black. Their large, distinctive head and chevron markings on the back are other ID pointers. Common in the Midlands, Drakensberg and Zululand. Feeds mainly on rodents, but also eats toads and lizards.
Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii)- Venomous. A small, innocent-looking snake which people often pick up, and soon regret doing so! It has a destructive cytotoxic venom which causes intense pain, swelling and tissue damage. This is snake you do not want to get bitten by! Often confused for Mole Snakes (which don’t occur in Durban), or other non-venomous species. When threatened, it twitches and thrashes around, arching its neck at the same time- something to look out for. Has a sharp spine on the end of the tail, used for digging into attackers (does not penetrate the skin, but don’t try). Feeds on other fossorial (ground dwelling) reptiles
Rhombic or Common Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)- Venomous. The most commonly encountered venomous snake in Durban. Quite easy to identify with it’s brown (sometimes grey) colour and dark diamond-shaped markings on the back. Much smaller body and head than Puff Adders, which are a lot less common. Often seen feasting on their favourite food- toads! Despite their name, I personally cannot recall seeing one at night, and are definitely more active during the day.
Natal Black Snake (Macrelaps microlepidotus) – Venomous. Although it does possess a venom, which little is known about (other than it’s not life-threatening), it is very, very reluctant to bite. A slow-moving, placid snake. However, it could be mistaken for the more venomous Stiletto Snake, so don’t touch it. Feeds on frogs, lizards and rodents.
Short-snouted Grass Snake (Psammophis brevirostris)- Mildly venomous. To me, this is the fastest-moving snake around! it has a mild venom, which mostly has no effect on humans (may cause a slight burning sensation and/or very mild swelling, but generally nothing). Light brown in colour, yellow underbelly, with a dark dorsal band, and a thin pale stripe in the middle. Feeds on rodents and lizards.
Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus)- Non-venomous. By far the most common snake in the Greater Durban Area!!! Adults are usually around the one meter mark. They’re thin, green, have a pale yellow underbelly, and black spots which go half-way down the body. Often seen on walls, burglar guards, rafters, curtain rails, washing lines, in post-boxes and occasionally in homes. You can just leave them to hunt lizards around your property, there’s no need to have them removed.
Eastern Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis)- Non-venomous. Very similar to Spotted Bush Snake in appearance and behaviour, but usually has a lot less black markings and a brighter yellow belly. Feeds on lizards and frogs.
Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster)- Non-venomous. Similar to Natal Green & Spotted Bush Snake, but the Green Water Snake is plain green with a white belly. Feeds on lizards and frogs.
Brown House Snake (Boaedon capensis)- Non-venomous. Brown snake with cream-coloured stripes running down the body, and a white belly. Nature’s free solution to your rat problems! A great little snake to have in the garden or even in the garage.
Spotted Rock/House Snake (Lamprophis guttatus) – Non-venomous. Relatively common in the Highway Area, especially around Kloof gorge, where it lives in rocky cliff areas. It does often venture into suburban homes looking for lizards. Feeds mainly on lizards, but may also take small rodents and nestling birds. A very pretty snake.
Olive House/Ground Snake (Lycodonomorphus inornatus) – Non-venomous. Not commonly seen, but they are around. Usually spotted in the Upper Highway Area. No patterns or markings. Feeds on rodents and lizards.
Brown Water Snake (Lyconomorphus rufulus)- Non-venomous. In the Zulu culture it is known as iVusamanzi, and it is believed to be dangerous. It is said that if bitten, you need to go and drink from the river before the snake does. PLEASE DON’T DO THAT! It’s a harmless and inoffensive species. Very common around ponds, dams, streams and rivers where they hunt frogs. They also feed on small rodents, lizards and even fish. Dark to light brown in colour on top, with a pinky/yellow belly.
Southern African Python (Python natalensis), also known as the Rock Python- Non venomous. Whilst it has no venom, it can give a very painful bite so please leave it alone. This snake is becoming increasingly rare in the Greater Durban Area due to poaching, despite it being a protected species. It has been wiped out in many historical areas. Feeds on numerous species of small mammals, and often take livestock (chickens, goats). They don’t hunt humans! Your best chance of seeing SA’s largest snake, a beautiful one at that, is in wild areas such as game reserves. Treasure any sighting you may get of this species.
Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia)- Mildy venomous but harmless to humans. Despite popular belief, the weak venom of this snake DOES NOT cause a headache. An easy way to identify this snake is its behaviour. If approached/threatened, it curls back, flattens its head out, hisses and strikes repeatedly. It tries to be as intimidating as possible! Other ID features: head is darker than the body, white speckles, and some specimens have orange/red lips, although usually its so pale or white you don’t notice that.
Common Centipede-eater (Aparallactus capensis)- Harmless, but does possess a mild venom. Very small, thin, brown snakes. Their black head is very distinctive. I don’t need to tell you what this little snake feeds on! Quite commonly seen.
Common Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense)- Non-venomous. The white speckling underneath and on its sides is quite distinctive. Usually smaller than half-a-meter in length. Feeds on skinks.
Southern Brown Egg-eater (Dasypeltis inornata) – Non-venomous. Bird breeders won’t like these snakes! It feeds only on bird eggs, not reptile eggs. They grow to around a meter long, and the belly is a pale/mustard yellow colour. They don’t even have teeth to bite you with!
Bibron’s Blind Snake (Typhlops bibronii) – Non-venomous. Looks a bit like a giant earthworm! It is not capable of biting us. It spends most of its time underground, where it feeds on termite and ant larvae.
Thread or Worm Snake (Leptotyphlops spp) – Non-venomous. As a friend once said, it looks like pencil lead that wriggles. Often mistaken for a worm. Surprisingly, causes a lot of fear and panic amongst people! A big one would be around 20cm or so- they really are nothing to worry about. Feeds on small invertebrates, such as termites. Spends most of its time underground, usually emerging after rains. Strangely, it is often seen in homes. How it gets in many of these homes, I don’t know.