ASI Newsletter - December 2018 

Bites from mildly venomous and non-venomous Snakes

A lot of our snakes in Southern Africa are considered non-venomous or only mildly venomous and many snake handlers often free-handle these snakes without concern. Free handling refers to the practice of holding a snake without restriction (not holding it behind the head) and can easily result in the handler being bitten if the snake feels threatened. One needs to bear in mind that this practise can influence the general public, especially young snake enthusiasts who see such images posted on social media.

This article is not condemning such handling by experienced snake handlers, it is simply a word of caution to people with less experience.

Social media these days is openly accessible to anyone with a smartphone or internet connection and many experienced snake handlers are unknowingly very influential to youngsters and enthusiasts with far less experience and knowledge.

Bites from some non-venomous and mildly venomous snakes can cause a lot of discomfort and in some cases medical attention may be required. It is important to know the consequences of what can happen when free handling such snakes.


Mole Snakes (Pseudaspis cana)

Mole Snakes are one of our largest non-venomous snakes, often exceeding 2 meters in length on the West Coast and over 1.5 meters in length on the inland grasslands of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and surrounding areas. They are generally placid snakes, usually choosing to slide down the nearest rodent or mole-rat burrow when encountered. However, if cornered, large Mole Snakes will hiss and lunge and if they do manage to get hold of you, the bite can cause quite a bit of damage. Each tooth is edged like a blade and once the snake grabs prey or a person, they often bite down in a “tin-opener” motion, allowing the teeth to slice through flesh, causing deep lacerations. Down a rodent burrow, this technique is useful to quickly kill prey as there is not enough space in a burrow to constrict the prey animal. A large Mole Snake can cause serious gashes and oftentimes bites require medical attention and stitches. On social media we see a lot of Mole Snakes being free-handled by experienced snake handlers, often held up for the camera and sometimes held very close to the face. This is not advisable for the inexperienced snake enthusiast, and it’s vital for young kids interested in snakes to know that this snake can inflict a serious bite, and that they must exercise caution when handling them.


Southern African Python (Python natalensis)

Being the largest snake species in Africa, Southern African Pythons frequently exceed 4 meters in length. They are often removed from farms as they may hunt livestock and pets – and are usually not welcome. Many people are scared of them due to their size. There are numerous images circling on social media of multiple strong men supporting a four-meter Python that has been caught and the poor snake is posed for photos, manhandled and unnecessarily stressed. If you find a Python that is not welcome on your property, please call a professional snake remover. A bite from a 4 meter Python will require medical attention and more than likely numerous stitches. They strike incredibly fast and the natural reaction for people, when bitten, is to pull away – causing the teeth to rip and tear the skin. Even juvenile snakes, which hatch at around 50 cm, are quick to bite and have over 80 sharp recurved teeth in their mouth. Young pythons don’t tame down easily and will lunge and bite when free-handled. Python bites can be serious, especially if you panic and pull the limb away quickly. Be cautious of trying to remove large pythons without any experience, they are a handful!


Herald or Red-lipped Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia)

A very common species around most of South Africa (except the north-western regions) and is often found in suburban gardens. Many are brought into houses by cats or are attracted to toads, which live around the house or water features including fish ponds in gardens. When being captured or cornered, the Herald will flatten the head and strike repetitively and if grabbed, will bite. They often tame down after a while, but are initially feisty snakes. An old wives’ tale is that a bite causes a headache. Of the numerous bite accounts from snake handlers, we have yet to hear of someone reporting a headache and there is nothing in the venom of this snake that should cause such symptoms, so it remains a tale. However, larger individuals may cause bleeding and a bit of bruising and light swelling if allowed to chew for a few seconds. It is not advisable for the layman to pick this snake up and if you do encounter one in the house, use a broom and sweep it into a box and drop it off in a nearby field or call a snake remover to relocate it for you.



Spotted Skaapsteker (Psammophylax rhombeatus)

Another very common snake found in South Africa, especially common in the grasslands of Mpumalanga, the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and parts of the Cape. This snake is quick and tricky to catch. When grabbed they often give a quick bite that hardly breaks the skin, however, they can latch on and chew. Being a back-fanged snake, when allowed to chew, the Spotted Skaapsteker can deliver a decent amount of venom. This causes redness and itching initially, but after a while the bite site will start swelling and, depending on how long the snake was allowed to chew, the bitten limb can swell significantly. The swelling is tender and uncomfortable and restricts your activities for the next day and sometimes longer. Be cautious in letting this species bite you and if they do, don’t let them chew for an extended period of time.


Tiger Snakes (Telescopus sp.)

There are four common species of Tiger Snakes in Southern Africa, most occurring in Namibia and the Northern Cape. In the east, the Eastern Tiger Snake is the only species and is common in lowland bushveld from northern Kwa-Zulu Natal all the way up to Limpopo. The Tiger snakes can often be quite feisty and frequently bites if picked up. Usually the bite does very little, but if the snake is allowed to chew a bit and work some venom into the skin, there may be severe swelling and itching very similar to a severe Skaapsteker bite. The swelling lasts a day or two and is very uncomfortable. Most species of Tiger Snakes can exceed 50 cm and a large snake can deliver a good bite.

Spotted Harlequin (Homoroselaps lacteus)

A beautifully marked small snake often encountered on the West Coast and around the Cape, but less frequently seen on the eastern side of the country. The Spotted Harlequin is a slow moving snake probably due to its more fossorial (underground-living) lifestyle. When handled they are usually calm, however, occasionally they open their mouths and very gently bite a finger, almost in slow-motion. Many snake handlers free handle them, especially the small ones. In the last couple of years, we have seen three bites to snake handlers from around the country, all by small snakes. All three bites resulted in swelling and bruising. Two of the bites caused severe swelling up the whole arm and inflammation of the glands under the arm. The recent bite on the west coast (check it out here) resulted in serious swelling and bruising up the whole arm and severe pain. This little snake, although generally docile, should not be handled as bites can cause great discomfort.


Often snake handlers who have been bitten a few times by a single species start becoming sensitive to the venom of the species. The first few bites may have zero results, but then one day the sensitivity will kick in and the reaction may be far more severe than previously experienced. Snake bites are not pleasant and you should try avoid them, even if it is only a mildly venomous or even harmless species. Don’t pick up snakes when you are not 100% sure of their identity, and always bear in mind the influence you may have on youngsters and less experienced people when posting images to social media.

We've had phenomenal response to the ASI Snakes App, if you haven't seenit yet, check it out here. It's available as a free download for both Apple and Android.



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Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling Course

Venue: Butterfly World, Klapmuts, Western Cape

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Venue: Cradle Moon Lakeside Lodge, Muldersdrift

Date: Wednesday 23 January 2019


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Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling Course

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Date: Saturday 02 February 2019

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Please note that we will close for the December holidays next Friday - the 14th of December and will open again on Monday the 7th of January 2019.

ALL last minute orders for equipment will need to be placed by next Wednesday the 12th of December 2018 to ensure delivery.


We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the support during 2018.

It’s been an incredibly busy year for our courses, both public and corporate, for the equipment sales, and for the development and constant upgrading of the ASI Snakes app.

We have a few new developments in the pipeline and are looking forward to a busy 2019!


















Johan Marais is the author of various books on reptiles including the best-seller A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He is a popular public speaker and offers a variety of courses including Snake AwarenessScorpion Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling. Johan is accredited by the International Society of Zoological Sciences (ISZS) and is a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) and Travel Doctor-approved service provider. His courses are also accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Johan is a qualified instructor for the Emergency Care & Safety Institute, in Oxygen Administration and Wilderness First Aid.












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