November

Western Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natelensis occidentalis)

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Family: Colubridae.

Scientific name: Philothamnus natalensis occidentalis (Broadley, 1966).

Other name: Natal green snake.

Size: 60-90cm, but can be as long as 130cm.

Diet: Frogs, lizards and especially geckos.

Description: Slender snake with a well-defined head, black eyes and round pupils. The body is Bright green to turquoise on top with a yellowish-white belly. The head and tail are usually turquoise green.

Number of young: oviparous, 4-6 eggs in summer.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Distribution: Endemic to Southern Africa and found from the east of the Western Cape along the coast through the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal up into Mpumalanga, the North West and Limpopo.

Habitat: Prefers lowland forest, wooded grassland and forest edge and is often found in dense trees and shrubs near water.

Threat to humans: Harmless

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Additional information:

The Western Natal green snake is a subspecies and is thus closely related to the Eastern Natal green snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis) which has a highly concentrated distribution on the east coast of Kwazulu Natal (Bates et al. 2014). Recent work by Alexander (1987) however suggests the Western Natal green snake may warrant a species classification because of morphological and behavioural differences between the two sub-species.

Both sub-species are however very easily confused with one another and with both green mambas (Dendroaspis angusticeps) and boomslangs (Dispholidus typus) (Alexander & Marais 2007, Marais 2004, Marais 2014). This is not ideal for the natal green snakes because they are often falsely persecuted as a result of their misidentification as highly venomous snakes. Natal green snakes have neither fangs nor venom at their disposal and thus are completely harmless to people, even though they are known to inflate their throats and bite readily when threatened (Branch 2001, Marais 2004).

Natal green snakes are diurnal hunters that share much of their habitat preferences with green water snakes (Philothamnus hoplogaster) but unlike P. hoplogaster, Natal green snakes are more arboreal and use their keeled ventral scales to aid in their swift movement between branches (Marais 2004, Marais 2014). The main predators of Western Natal green snakes include predatory birds, small carnivores, snakes and more especially, the vine snake (Marais 2014).

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References:

ALEXANDER, G.J. 1987. The Herpetofauna of Municipal Durban: A Biogeographical Review. M.Sc. thesis, University of Natal, Durban.

Alexander, G. & Marais, J. 2007. A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

Branch, B. 2001. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

Bates, M.F., Branch, W.R., Bauer, A.M., Burger, M., Marais, J., Alexander, G.J. & de Villiers, M.S. (eds). 2014. (CD set). Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Suricata 1. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.

Marais, J. 2014. Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

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