Puff Adder bites as last resort - Prof

2012-10-05 13:31

Cape Town - The notorious Puff Adder may be more puff than bite if a scientist is to be believed.

According to Wits University professor Graham Alexander in the Cape Times newspaper, the reptiles have got a bad rap in Africa for biting anything that steps on it.

But he believes many people have trodden on a Puff Adder while walking in the bush and never even noticed, because they were not bitten.

He put this theory to the test in a game reserve just north of Pretoria and fitted a radio transmitter to a snake before letting it loose in the bush. He attached a gumboot to the end of a broomstick, and went looking for the snake to test its patience.

"I first placed the boot five centimetres from its nose and recorded what the snake did. I then dumped the boot on its back," he said.

He waited five seconds for a response and the snake "usually" just lay in the same spot. Alexander said after numerous attempts he got one snake to strike. However, this one was moving when provoked and the scientist believed it was a mock strike.

He said snakes bit as a last resort.

The Puff Adder is responsible for many bites in SA, releasing cytotoxic venom that destroys tissue.

  • mphotant.thelejane - 2012-10-05 13:47

    Becoz its just a book not human flesh therefore, in absence of energy transmission it couldn't strike. Rules of dependent vs independent variable must be explored n clarified. Lol

  • leroy.reynolds.353 - 2012-10-05 13:48

    Like we are unique in our traits and behaviours, so are all animals. I have tarantulas that are from the same species but yet one is aggressive, while the other is as docile as a bunny. There are very few animals on earth that will chase after preditors, and to be honest i never thought the puff adder to be one of them.

  • thabob.zumagabe - 2012-10-05 13:49

    Professor why don't you prove your theory by walking barefoot on the puffies !!! Lose the gumboot !!!

  • deon.louwrens - 2012-10-05 13:51

    Dear Prof... you must have had a very sick snake! As an avid snake catcher in my youth, I can tell you that I have yet to meet a lazy puffy that will not strike if you come too near it

  • heiku.staude - 2012-10-05 13:59

    So uh.. waste of tax payers money? :P

  • gngaleka - 2012-10-05 14:06

    Prof did you expect the snake to bite an empty gumboot, if you really believe what you are saying why don't you use your foot to experiment.

  • gerry.gee.39 - 2012-10-05 14:16

    Gumboot broomstick about a kilo on snake the snakes body. Human in gumboot, about 7okg plus, add to that body heat, vibrations as human approaches snake. I've caught many puffies, docile ones are a minority.\r\n\r\nYou should try and experiment with humans wearing gumboots - at the moment there a several thousand bored gumboot-wearing individuals sitting on a koppie. Ask them to volunteer...

  • lynette.mufaro - 2012-10-05 14:23

    No thank you,Im not willing to test this theory on my foot.

  • sharron.forsyth - 2012-10-05 14:32

    One gumboot on a stick versus a normal weighted person. I'm sure as hell don't want to actually test that theory out!

  • Windlass - 2012-10-05 14:38

    I fail to see how this is different to any other snake. They all bite as a last resort. I have even seen BM hang onto its venom as long as it could. Venom to snakes is like money to humans. If you spend it all at once you have to wait a while before you can again. Snakes will only ever bite if you piss them off badly.

  • jody.beggs - 2012-10-05 14:44

    Only religious fools have a uncontrollable fear of snakes thanks to the buy bull stories , serpents were punished and had there legs removed to slither on the floor ... If you believe in that sort of thing...

      dale.simmons.7921 - 2012-10-06 09:11

      I wonder if the puff adder spoke to the professor? LOL.

  • hendrypeterm - 2012-10-05 14:47

    African leaders like to cling on power for as long as they live. I do'nt know why? is it culture or tradition just like kingship? democracy is just a scapegoat, but they know what they want, just hide!

      gerry.gee.39 - 2012-10-05 16:39


      fanie.gerber1972 - 2012-10-06 08:24

      waar val jy uit???

  • richard.young.1253236 - 2012-10-05 14:55

    It certainly is true that the puff adder is not aggressive (such as the cape cobra) and only really strikes as last resort. But it is also true that it is the most common dangerous snake in these parts and and responsible for the most snake bites. Being bitten by a puff adder is a thing to be very much avoided by a human and moreso for a dog. Not many dogs survive a puff adder bite. But puff adders are very easy to capture, even for a lay person, and transport to a place out of the way of humans and dogs. Don't kill them.

      james.eayrs - 2012-10-05 15:27

      Thanks Richard. Valued comment. The reason there are more PA bites is because most other snakes flee well in advance of being threatened/detected. PA's habbit of depending on its camouflage and remaining motionless to remain undetected and then inadvertently sometimes get stepped on.

      dale.simmons.7921 - 2012-10-06 21:40

      Absolutely agree!

  • richard.young.1253236 - 2012-10-05 16:00

    Yes, James. A puff adder is actually rather a lethargic beast, except for its lightning fast strike. But in general, they are not evil and don't intend harm. Like the rest of us they are God's own creatures and have a place on this earth and within its bio-diversity. Only in circumstances where any snake poses a real and continuing risk and capture is impossible should it be taken out. Except if a clearly poisonous snake does bite a person or a pet, capture or kill it if possible and show it to the people treating the bite for their accurate identification for proper treatment. This comes from someone who is not a snake lover.

  • Khetha Hlophe - 2012-10-05 16:05

    We have known this since our young age when we heard cattle in the veld including when u hear a hissing sound just leave immediately don't look back.

  • gary.lyon.509 - 2012-10-05 16:18

    I am glad Professor Graham Alexander has highlighted these study results. It is my experience in Africa with Puff Adders and in the USA with Rattle Snakes (Timber Rattle Snakes) that these snakes always give a warning, are pretty docile even when they have been discovered and respond aggressively only when they are further molested. In fact, most of the these snakes have hissed or rattled (depending on what they were) as a warning and then simply moved off. The intensity of the rattle from a rattle snake has often been correlated with my proximity to the snake, the size of our group and the level of surprise. The same has been true with Berg Adders in the Outiniquas. Snakes are known to dry bite (in other words they do not inject venom) as a very serious warning. It is not in the snake's interest to get into an altercation with a large animal or to bite any animal larger than itself because it may still be injured or killed and because it loses venom and may damage a fang (they can be replaced), which is energy expensive for such an animal, and not in its interest as far as survival is concerned. Even supposedly more aggressive snakes, such as cobras, will move off given half the chance. I surprised a cape cobra (also in the Outiniquas) and it simply raised its head slightly looked at me and then lowered its head and sped off across the pathway.

      dale.simmons.7921 - 2012-10-06 09:17

      Thank You Gary for putting snake behaviour in the correct perspective. I run a snake rescue program in my suburb and I find the problem lies with the education of people and not the presence of the snake. They are becoming endangered all over the world.

  • helmut.smrz - 2012-10-05 21:06

    Gary you have a good argument, the rest are sensless snake haters

  • ishongwe - 2012-10-06 08:40

    Damn! A stick wearing a boot! Don't brainwash people professor, your experiment is not only unbalanced but inconclusive too if you haven't considered weight which can badly piss off the snake.

  • CombiChrist Dean - 2012-10-06 22:09

    as an owner of multiple species of snakes (venomous and non), it upsets me that the first resort when spotting a snake, is a spade.From personal experience,snakes strike when provoked.I was bitten by a puffy b'cos of of my own stupidy.respect them and when u hike, know that u are in their study was needed, just common sense

  • mimmie.k.m - 2012-10-11 16:52

    Many of the critics are forgetting that this man is actually a professor at a leading university. He knows how to follow proper scientific protocol when carrying out experiments. It's not reasonable to assume that the snake did not react because it did not detect the presence of a living (warm) threat. He was presumably moving the broom and boot close to the snake which must have been aware of a potential threat in its vicinity and this must have been further confirmed by the repeated placement of weight on its back.

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