April

Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)

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Family: Colubridae.

Size: 1.2-1.5m.

Distribution: Widespread African species that has been found in every province in South Africa. The snake is particularly abundant along the southern coast from the tip of the Western Cape through the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal and  into Mpumalanga, where it spreads northwards and westwards into Limpopo, Gauteng and the North West. Although present in every province, the snake is absent from the drier , treeless regions and is thus much rarer in the Free State and the Northern Cape.

Description: Back-fanged snake with a short stubby head and large eyes. The under-belly is strongly keeled to aid the snake in climbing. In terms of colouration, the species is exceptionally variable. Irrespective of this, females tend to be olive/brown throughout their range and males tend to be grass green above Eastern Cape and fluorescent green/yellow with black bars below Kwazulu Natal. It must however be stressed that colouration is incredibly variable with brick red specimens and other variants sometimes being found. In addition, juveniles look different to adults, and carry large emerald eyes which only change colour when they transition into adulthood.

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Habits: Diurnal snakes which are found in a large variety of habitats, most commonly in trees and shrubs, but may descend to the floor to bask or find food.

Reproduction: Oviparous, lays 10-15 eggs in soft soil or in the hollow of a tree trunk.

Subspecies: Although not formally recognised, subspecies have been proposed which would split the species somewhere near the top of the Eastern Cape. The informal classification recognises the boomslangs north of this mark as Dispholidus typus viridis and boomslangs below this mark as Dispholidus typus typus. Males of Dispholidus typus viridis are thought to be solid green while males of  Dispholidus typus typus are believed to be more of a fluorescent green/yellow with black bars. Females tend to be olive/brown irrespective of the proposed subspecies.

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Conservation concern: Least concern, common.

Diet: Chameleons, frogs, tree-living lizards, birds and occasionally rodents.

Danger to man: The boomslang possesses a very dangerous haemotoxic venom capable of killing people. Monovalent antivenom is however available and has been found to be very effective in counteracting the venom. Although dangerous, the snake rarely bites, with most bites being received from snake handlers. There is a big misconception that boomslangs cannot inject venom on larger body parts because they are back-fanged. This is however untrue as boomslangs can open their mouth’s 170 degrees and can thus easily inject venom into a leg or an arm. Due to the placid and shy nature of this snake, there is virtually no chance of simply walking past a tree and being bitten.

Predators: Predatory birds and other snakes.

Similar species: Boomslangs are easily confused with green mambas and members of the genus Philothamnus (green snakes) north of the Transkei because of the uniform green colour.

Interesting Facts: The boomslang has the largest eyes of any African snake and it inflates its throat when threatened.

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Sources:

Branch, B. 20016. 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.

March

Dusky-bellied Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus laevissimus)

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Family: Lamprophiidae.

Length: 70-120cm.

Description: This snake has an olive to brown-black body with a cream underbelly. The upper lip is usually spotted and the snake has small eyes with round pupils.

Distribution: Endemic to South Africa. It occurs in the Eastern cape where its range extends up through Kwazulu Natal and into Mpumulanaga and Swaziland.

Habitat: Closely associated with water sources such as dams, streams and rivers where it is often found beneath rocks either on the banks of water sources or in the water itself.

Reproduction: Oviparous, lays 17 eggs in summer.

Diet: Frogs, tadpoles and fish. Diurnal hunter.

Conservation concern: Least concern, common.

Threat to humans: None

Interesting facts: The largest water snake in the region. During the day, the snake takes refuge under submerged rocks in the water column where it ambushes fish and frogs.

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References:

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

Branch, B. 2016. 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. 2014. Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

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February

Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis)

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Family: Varanidae.

Length: 100-150cm.

Description: The rock monitor is smaller than the nile monitor. It has strong, stocky limbs and an large swollen snout. The tail is longer than the body and the body is dark brown/grey with dark blotches spread across the back. the juveniles are more vividly coloured than adults with a less pronounced snout.

Distribution: It is found throughout the savannah and semi-arid regions of the southern and eastern parts of Southern Africa. It is absent from western Western Cape and the southern Northern Cape.

Habitat: Closely associated with rocky outcrops where it tunnels underneath rock overhangs to create burrows. Also known to use abandoned animal burrows and climb trees.

Reproduction: Lays 8-50 eggs in soft soil.

Diet:  Mainly invertebrates but will hunt and eat animals small enough to swallow. Also eats carrion and baby tortoises.

Predators: The martial eagle is the main predator of adults.

Conservation concern: Common and widespread, no concern.

Threat to humans: Non-venomous, but an adult may bite or thrash their powerful tail if they feel threatened.

Interesting facts: If threatened, the rock monitor may eject its cloacal contents or sham death.

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Resources:

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.

Branch, B. 1994. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.

Branch, B. 2016. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

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January

Nile Monitor (Varanus niloticus)

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Family: Varanidae.

Length: 120-220cm.

Description: The lizard is black and yellow with an elongated head and a flat tail to aid in swimming. Juveniles are usually more vividly coloured than adults.

Distribution: The species is present in the eastern part of Southern Africa but it is also present along the Orange river all the way to the Atlantic ocean. The species reaches is southern-most  limit at Seekoei river, Eastern Cape and is thus not present in the Western Cape.

Habitat: Closely associated with water sources such as dams, pans and rivers where it can be found from 0-1600m above sea level.

Reproduction: Oviparous, a female can lay up to 60 eggs. females lay their eggs in live termite mounds and juveniles emerge from the termite mound 4-6 months later.

Diet:  Freshwater Crabs and  mussels, frogs, fish, birds and their eggs. Nile monitors are also known to eat the eggs of terrapins, sea turtles and crocodiles. Juveniles tend to stick to reed beds in shallow water where they hunt frogs and insects

Predators: Crocodiles and southern African pythons are among the main predators of the nile monitor.

Conservation concern: Common and widespread, no concern

Threat to humans: Non-venomous, but an adult may bite or thrash their powerful tail if they feel threatened.

Interesting facts: Africa’s largest lizard.

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Resources:

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.

Branch, B. 1994. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.

Branch, B. 2016. Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

December

Red-lipped herald (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia)img_1895

Family: Colubridae.

Length: 60-75cm.

Description: The snakes has an olive body with white flecks. The snake is most easily recognized by its red lip which is absent from some individuals. It has large eyes and vertical pupils.

Distribution:  The species is present in every province except the Northern cape where it is only found along the outskirts of the province.

Habitat:Found in damp areas where it can be found under rocks and logs. It can also be found in termite mounds.

Reproduction: Oviparous, lays 6-19 eggs in early summer.

Diet: Mainly frogs and toads but can take lizards. Nocturnal hunter.

Conservation concern: Least concern, common.

Threat to humans: None, venom is incredibly mild.

Interesting facts: Along with the brown house snake, the red-lipped herald is the most commonly encountered snake in South Africa. The snake also flattens its head and flairs its red lips when threatened.

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Resources

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

Branch, B. 2016. 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. 2014. Snakes and Snakebite in Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK Nature.

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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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October

Cape Girdled Lizard (Cordylus cordylus) 

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Family: Cordylidae

Size: 13-19cm

Life span: Up to 15 years in captivity

Diet: Most insects, snails, millipedes and occasionally small amounts of vegetation

Description: Mottled brown, often with pale dorsal stripe, they also have a spiny tail, are strongly keeled and have a yellow to dull red-brown belly

Number of young: 1-3 per year

Conservation status: Least concern

Enemies: Many small carnivores, including: Snakes and  birds of prey (especially owls)

Distribution: Endemic, Southern Cape. Found from Cederberg along coast to South of Kwazulu Natal and up into South Eastern Free State

Habitat: Can be found under dead aloes and trees but predominantly on mountain tops and rocky areas in the cracks of limestone and sandstone

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Additional information:

The Cape girdled lizard spends most of its time on the rocks where it forms large social hierarchies which can be as large as 300 individuals per hectare. The adults are also aggressive and fight to form social hierarchies. Disputes are settled when two males circle each other while bobbing their heads and arching their backs. The weaker male usually lifts his tail to signal defeat but if this doesn’t happen a fight can ensue and will be settled through physical confrontation (Branch 1998, 2016).

The lizards are mostly active during the early morning and evening and forage in the veld for food. When danger arises the lizard is quick to return to rocky crevices where it inflates its body within a crack and uses its tail as a shield (Branch 1998).

Unlike other sociable lizards, Cape girdled lizards are cryptically coloured and thus do not possess bright coloration. They also have not been shown to call or change colour and thus they increase their body surface area laterally and bob their heads to communicate during social interactions. They also utilize these movements to signal dominance from high-points and during courtship (Olaf Wirminghaus 1990).

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References:

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

Branch, B. 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.

Branch, B. 2016. 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.

Olaf Wirminghaus 1990. Observations on the behaviour of the Cape girdled lizard Cordylus cordylus (Reptilia: Cordylidae). JOURNAL OF NATURAL HISTORY 24: 1617-1627.

July

Short-legged Seps

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Family: Gerrhosauridae

Scientific name: Tetradactylus seps (Linnaeus, 1758)

Size: 13-18cm

Diet: Mainly bees and grasshoppers

Description: Possesses a dark bronze head, body and tail with slightly fainter flanks. The belly is olive to bluish grey with irregular bands on the neck. There are whitish spots on the lip and the lower eyelids are scaly. The tail is twice the length of the body and the limbs are vastly reduced but still fully formed

Number of young: 2-3 oval shaped eggs once a year

Conservation status: Least concern

Distribution: Endemic to Southern Africa. Found in Eastern and Western cape from Cederberg through Cape Fold mountains and Amatola mountains. Also found in the Drakensburg, in Kwazulu Natal

Habitat: Found mainly in montane grassy plateaus and coastal forests. The species is particularly fond of moist conditions such as in damp and rotting logs at the base’s of mountains or next to water bodies. Has also been found in dense coastal and mountain fynbos

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Additional information:

Regardless of the fact that short-legged seps have a tail twice the length of their body, the species is still considered to have short tails compared to other members in the Tetradactylus genus. The short legged seps also has well developed limbs, a characteristic that is not shared by the other four species in the genus (Alexander & Marais 2007).

Short-legged seps are active foragers that are highly dependent on their tails to help them propel themselves towards their prey when the moment arises. Although important, the seps can still shed its tail when faced with predators but once shed, tail regeneration is rapid (Alexander & Marais 2007).

Short-legged seps exist in two allopatric populations, one population exists in the Kwazulu Natal midlands and the other population occurs in the Eastern and Western Cape. Given the large expanse of space between both populations, a study has been undertaken by Bates, M. F to determine whether the Kwazulu Natal population of short legged seps can be made into a new viable sub-species called Tetradactylus laevicauda (Bates et al. 2014).  

References:

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

Branch, B. 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town. STRUIK.

Branch, B. 2016. 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.

September

Puff Adder

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Family: Viperidae.

Scientific name: Bitis arietans arietans (Merrem, 1820).

Size: 70-100cm (can exceed 150cm).

Diet: Mainly rodents (Vlei arts, Striped field mice, Multimamate mice) but will readily take toads, lizard, birds and small tortoises.

Description: Large, thick bodied snake with a triangular head covered in small scales. It has relatively small eyes with vertical pupils. Body colour varies depending on locality with most snakes taking on a yellow-brown to light brown skin colour. The dorsal scales are strongly keeled and most individuals have chevrons on the back.

Number of young: 20-40 young in late summer (can exceed 80 hatchlings).

Conservation status: Least concern.

Distribution: Common throughout Southern Africa.

Habitat: Found almost everywhere except in alpine areas, dense forests and true deserts. Particularly common in areas with high bush cover.

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Additional information:

The puff adder is arguably one of the most widespread and common snakes in Southern Africa (FitzSimons 1980). Although abundant in most areas, the snake avoids detection through cryptic camouflage and immobility. When found, the snakes tend to inflate their bodies and hiss to ward off potential threats (Patterson 1986).

Puff adder venom is cytotoxic and very dangerous to humans with puff adder bites’ being the most common venomous snake bites in South Africa. The venom is haemolytic in action and causes the breakdown of red blood cells and capillaries. The venom can result in organ failure and secondary infections as a result of necrosis if immediate medical attention is not sought (Alexander & Marais 2007).

Unlike other snakes which seek out their prey such as cobras, puff adders utilize sit-and-wait tactics to ambush unsuspecting prey. Once prey is in range, puff adders strike with lightning-fast precision and insert their relatively long fangs into the prey item and immediately let go. Puff adders do not risk injury but rather wait for the venom to take effect and then follow the scent trail using their tongue (Patterson 1986, Alexander & Marais 2007).

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Although effective, the sit-and-wait strategy employed by puff adders places them at risk of discovery by passing predators. According to a study done by Miller et al. (2015) puff adders may avoid detection through the use of chemical crypsis. In the study meerkats and dogs were exposed to a large range of snakes and the only scent that both the meerkats and the dogs were unable to repeatedly and accurately detect was that of the puff adders (Miller et al. 2015).

Puff adders also differ in their manner of locomotion because unlike most snakes, puff adders utilize rectilinear locomotion which involves movement in a straight line. This is opposed to the conventional serpentine locomotion which is only used when the animal is in severe distress (Alexander & Marais 2007).

Although sluggish on land, puff adders are relatively good swimmers and have been found to spend hours in the water with just the head breaking the surface (FitzSimons 1980). Puff adders are most commonly seen in breeding season when males can be observed cruising the veld in search of females. Once found, males will compete for females. The males wrap themselves’ around their competitor and attempt to get their head on top while forcing the body of the other male to the ground (Alexander & Marais 2007).

Puff adders are an incredibly fascinating species of snake which are particularly beautiful in the Eastern cape because of their bright and contrasting colours. Although dangerous, with knowledge and respect, these snakes pose little threat to people in the context of everyday life.

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References:

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

Branch, B. 2016. 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.

FitzSimons, V. F. M. 1980. A Field Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. Cape Town. Nature Lover’s Library.

Jacobsen, N. 2005. Remarkable Reptiles of South Africa. Pretoria. BRIZA Publications.

Miller, A. K., Maritz, B., McKay S, Glaudas, X. & Alexander, G. J. 2015. An ambusher’s arsenal: chemical crypsis in the puff adder (Bitis arietans). Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20152182. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2015.2182.

Patterson, R. & Meakin, P. 1986. Snakes. Cape Town. STRUIK Publishers.

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August

Common Brown Water Snake

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Family: Colubridae.

Scientific name: Lycodonomorphus rufulus (Lichtenstein, 1823).

Other name: Common water snake, brown water snake.

Size: 45-60cm, but can grow as long as 85cm.

Diet: mainly frogs, tadpoles and small fish but may eat nestlings and small rodents.

Description: The snake is relatively small with smooth scales and elliptical pupils. It is dark brown to olive or light brown on top and its belly is pale to yellow-pink.

Number of young: oviparous, 6-23 eggs in midsummer.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Distribution: Endemic to Southern Africa and found more commonly in the temperate regions of the country. The snake is common throughout the well-watered eastern and southern reaches of South Africa but is largely absent from the dry, Northern Cape.

Habitat: Found in close proximity to water bodies such as vleis, streams, rivers and dams but can also be found under rocks, logs and other debris.

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Additional information:

The common brown water snake is the most common water snake in Southern Africa and although non-venomous and shy, the snake is seen as dangerous in the Zulu culture (Marais 2004, Branch 2001)

As the name suggests, the common brown water snake is a terrific swimmer which is most active at night where it patrols the water bank either in or out the water in search of unsuspecting frogs (Marais 2004). Once found the snake raps itself around its prey and constricts it until it is lifeless and this has been known to happen underwater. Unlike the dusky bellied water snake which devours its prey under water, the common brown water snake tends to bring its prey to the water-side before it is consumed (Alexander & Marais 2007, Marais 2004).

Although fast in the water, the snake still runs the risk of predation at the claws of the monitors, the talons of the predatory birds and the pedipalps of the hunting spiders (P.s pedipalps are sensory organs in spiders). Females of this species also tend to be longer than the males and although diagnostic to the trained eye, common brown water snakes are mixed up with a variety of other harmless snakes such as the brown house snake (Marais 2004).

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References:

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.

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