6 Types of venomous snakes in the Western Cape
There's a large variety of snakes in the Western Cape. Snakes play an important role in our ecosystem by controlling rodent and other pest populations. It's important to remember that snakes are shy animals, and tend to avoid people. They only strike people when threatened or have been hurt.
The 6 venomous snakes found in the Western Cape are the Cape cobra, puff adder, berg adder, boomslang, rinkhals, and black spitting cobra.
Venomous snakes are very dangerous, and you need to be on the lookout for them, especially when you're hiking. Before visiting a recreational area, or going on a hiking trip, you should:
- find out if the area you’ll be visiting has a medical facility nearby,
- wear hiking boots, shoes or sandals and not walk barefoot, and
- wear long pants.
When a snake bites you, try to remember what it looks like or take a photo, this information is important for antivenom treatment. Seek medical help immediately. If you’re alone, keep calm and seek or phone for help. Don’t walk too fast or run as this speeds up the distribution of potential venom in your body.
Types of venomous snakes found in the Western Cape:
If you’ve been bitten by this flat-headed type of snake which has a neurotoxic bite (affects the nervous system), it’s recommended that you apply a wide crepe bandage firmly above the bitten area (as tightly as possible). This will slow the spread of the venom to vital organs like the heart and lungs. Find medical attention urgently.
The Cape cobra is fairly common in South Africa and is found throughout the Western Cape. They’re most active during the day and hide in holes and under large objects. They often come into contact with humans when they slither into homes to escape the heat.
Identified by its brown and black v-pattern, bites can lead to extensive swelling, extreme pain and tissue breakdown in the bitten limb. If left untreated, death may occur within 24 hours. They’re found across Africa, from the Southern Cape to the Sahara desert. They prefer open grassland, savannah, forests and rocky outcrops.
The puff adder has a cytotoxic and haemotoxic (toxic to living cells) bite. Comforting and reassuring the patient is a very important part of first aid treatment. Try to get a good description of the snake to make sure you’re given the correct antivenom.
Also known as the Cape Mountain Adder is often mistaken for its larger cousin, the Puff Adder. Usually measuring between 40 - 60cm, these small snakes are identified by their keeled scales and triangular heads. It’s usually found in mountainous regions and at sea level, such as the Cape coast, where they lie in thick fynbos.
Unlike most adders, the Berg Adder has a neurotoxic bite, which leaves you with localised pain, increased heart rate, loss of balance, dizziness, double vision and temporary loss of taste and smell. A single dose of this venom is not strong enough to kill an adult person, but you should still seek medical help.
The Boomslang is one of the most venomous snakes in the world, but because they’re extremely shy, bites are uncommon. They can be identified by their egg-shaped heads and large eyes, and they seldom grow larger than 1.5m in length. They're found across South Africa, usually in trees or bushes.
The Boomslang venom is dangerously haemotoxic, it destroys the thickening properties of the blood. The venom is very slow acting and it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear. Victims risk internal and external bleeding.
The Rinkhals is similar to a cobra but smaller. It seldom grows larger than 1.2m in length and tends to be a dark-grey or brownish colour with irregular spotting lighter browns and creams. They’re known to fake their own death very well to be left alone, so don’t approach them even if they look dead.
They can spit venom as far as 2.5m usually aimed at the eyes. The venom is neurotoxic and can cause muscle paralysis, resulting in respiratory and heart failure. If the venom enters the eyes, it will burn fiercely and complications may arise from secondary infection if not treated immediately. Immediately wash out the eyes with any form of liquid you have handy, whether it’s water, which is the best, milk, beer or even urine.
Black spitting cobra
The Black Spitting Cobra can be found east of Cape Town northwards into much of Namaqualand and north into southern Namibia.
The snake thrives in dry and arid conditions. It's most active during the day and favours dry river beds. It's a shy and elusive snake that's quick to escape if encountered.
Its venom, like that of all spitting cobras, is potently cytotoxic, causing severe pain, swelling, and tissue damage. It can also spit its venom and does so effectively. It feeds on smaller snakes, lizards, and frogs.
It's important to remember that snakes will avoid contact with humans at all costs and only attack people if they feel threatened. Stick to well trodden paths and be observant. If you see a snake wait for it to move out of the path and avoid getting close to inspect it, especially if you aren't familiar with types of snakes. Delibrately getting close to a snake puts you and those around you at risk. If you find a snake on your property, we suggest that you contact CapeNature, and they’ll put you in contact with a snake handler.
Please visit the CapeNature website for more information about snake safety.