Heavy rains bring out ground-dwelling snakes

2016-05-12 06:00
PHOTO: supplied The Southern stiletto snake.

PHOTO: supplied The Southern stiletto snake.

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WITH the recent heavy rains along the KZN coast, Croc World Conservation Centre warns residents about the increase of ground-dwelling snakes such as the Southern stiletto snake, which lives just below the ground and only emerges after heavy rains.

Martin Rodrigues of Croc World said these snakes leave their homes when the ground becomes too wet.

“These fossorial species are forced to leave their subterranean homes when the ground becomes saturated, as the oxygen levels diminish.”

He said most snakes are harmless to humans, however, there are a few exceptions to watch out for.

People should be careful when dealing with the Southern stiletto Snake, also known as the Bibron’s Burrowing Asp or Side Stabbing Adder. Although their bite is not deadly, they have a potent cytotoxic venom so the bite is very painful and causes moderate to severe swelling in most cases, and may lead to the loss of a limb or digit as the venom breaks down the tissue cells surrounding the bite,” he said.

Rodrigues said the snake is nocturnal and can only be found in the evening.

He described the snake as relatively small, 30cm to 40cm in length although it has been known to get as long as 70 centimetres.

“It can be identified by its purple-brown to black colouring with a creamy white, dark brown or black underbelly. It has a unique appearance with a characteristically small head and small, inconspicuous looking eyes. The tail ends abruptly and has a sharp asp, which is a modified scale at the tip of the tail,” said Rodrigues.

“Many people have been bitten by this snake as people mistake them for dangerous snakes. This is because of their small size and appearance.”

When handling the snake one should never hold it by the back of its head.

“The Southern stiletto snake cannot be held safely behind the head because its fangs are positioned horizontally, facing towards the back of the upper jaw. When someone attempts to hold the snake behind the head, it simply twists its head sideways, piercing a finger with its fang,

“This snake will only leave one puncture wound per bite and not two as one would usually expect from a venomous snake.”

He urged residents who encounter any snake matching the Stiletto’s appearance and behaviour not to try to touch or kill it as this is when bites are most likely to occur. Instead, he suggested, keep a watchful eye on the snake from a safe distance of three metres or more, and call for assistance on 039 976 1103.

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