Following on the success of the Common Snakes of Durban post that was compiled here is a much broader spectrum to cover South Africa.
This insert below will touch on these medically insignificant snakes, which include harmless (non-venomous) as well as the common mildly venomous snakes which the average South African may come across on a day-to-day basis.

There are 72 species of non-venomous snakes and 50 mildly venomous(bites which do not require hospitalisation) snakes found in Southern Africa.

These snakes can be found right across the country, from Fynbos Biome; Succulent Karoo Biome; Desert Biome; Nama-Karoo Biome; Grassland Biome; Savanna Biome; Albany Thicket Biome; Indian Ocean Coastal Belt; Forests as well as heavily developed land in the suburban and city environments. Many of these species have adapted well to these developed habitats and it is not uncommon to find a variety of species in well built up areas across South Africa.

Brown House Snake
– Non Venomous

Arguably one of the most common and widespread snakes in South Africa. Easily distinguishable by the two white lines running down the side of the head. These snakes can be found in almost every environment from suburban gardens, forests, grasslands and including the drier arid regions of the Karoo. Excellent  at pest extermination, these snakes feeding mainly on rats, mice, lizards, birds and even bats have been recorded as prey. When first caught they may bite and strike out readily which may draw blood but only superficial bite marks. A commonly kept pet snake by many amateur snake enthusiasts.

Aurora House Snake (Lamprophis aurora) – Non venomous.
In stark contrast to the Brown House Snake the Aurora House Snake is one of the most exquisite looking harmless snakes in the country. Favouring grasslands and fynbos these snakes are abundant in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State and Gauteng elsewhere they are less commonly seen due to their fossorial nature. Feeding mainly on small lizards, nesting rodents, frogs and on occasion fledgling birds.  A shy snake often not exceeding 60cm reluctant to beet although will emit a foul-smelling musk when handled.

Olive Snake (Lycodonomorphus inornatus) – Non venomous
Previously called the Olive House Snake these snakes have since been renamed and are part of the Lycodonomorphus genus which includes the Brown Water Snake, Dusky Bellied Water Snake and the uncommon Floodplain Water Snake here in South Africa.
A variable species which can range in colour from dark olive, light olive, olive green, almost pitch black and light brown. A snake that favours damp localities and can often be found under logs, stones and other debris along rivers and the edges of forests. A powerful constrictor these snakes can attain an impressive length and girth of close on 1.3 m in some cases. An opportunistic feeder and will take, rodents, frogs, lizards, birds and often other snakes.

Olive Snake - Lycodonomorphus inornatus

Olive Snake – Lycodonomorphus inornatus

Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis-hotamboeia) – Mildly venomous
Another prolific snake found across most of South Africa occurring in all 9 provinces. A variable snake which may have bright orange/red, white, yellow or black colouration on the upper lip adding to its common name of the Red-Lipped or Herald Snake. Primarily a frog feeder but are known to take geckos and small lizards. Favouring damp localities these snakes are a common sight in suburban gardens amongst garden ponds and water features. Larger specimens can reach close to 1m in length and as they age may appear a gun-metal grey colour and are often thought to be Black Mambas due to their impressive threat display.

Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia_Herald_Snake_Tyrone_Ping_2019-2

Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia_Herald_Snake_Tyrone_Ping_2019-2

Rhombic Skaapsteker (Psammophylax rhombeatus rhombeatus) – Mildly venomous.
A misleading common name, these snakes got a bad wrap from the original sheep farmers in the Karoo who upon discovering dead livestock thought to be attributed to snake bite would find these snakes commonly in the paddocks. It is more likely such deadstock would be attributed to the Cape Cobra.  A fast moving snake common in grasslands, fynbos and montane environments where it preys on small rodents and lizards. They bite readily when handled and bites will often bleed freely for a few minutes – there is much thought behind the anticoagulant properties in the venom. These snakes are boldly patterned in the Western and Eastern Cape but in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Free State they typically lack such bold patterns.

Olive Grass Snake (Psammophis mossambicus) – Mildly venomous.
An impressive Grass snake which can often exceed 1.8m in some parts of Mpumalanga and Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. Often seen shooting across roads during the heat of the day and subsequently larger numbers are killed on roads. One of the most robust species of Psammophis in South Africa, these snakes feed on a variety of prey such as rodents, birds, lizards, frogs and often other snakes are taken.
These snakes will bite readily when handled and often if held by the tail will thrash and spin in a dramatic fashion and will break off a section of the tail tip to avade its capture.

Short Snouted Grass Snake (Psammophis brevirostris) – Mildly venomous.
A snake that is commonly confused with the Olive Grass Snake but the former has a distinctive white-dotted line of scales down the length of the spine which allows for an easy identification. As the name suggests these snakes are typically found in grasslands as well as montane grasslands. Common sight on the highveld and often see crossing paths on hiking trails or basking in tufts or grass. Much like the Olive Grass Snake these snakes will not hesitate to bite. Their mild venom may cause small superficial bite marks that will bleed freely for a few minutes. Swelling and irritation is not uncommon at the bite site if the snake is left to chew on the victim.

Karoo Sand Snake (Psammophis notostictus) – Mildly venomous.
A common snake found throughout most of the arid regions of Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Southern Free State. A fast moving snake which is often active during the hottest part of the day where it actively chases down prey. Often seen crossing roads subsequently many are killed.  Like the other Sand/Grass snakes mentioned above they have a mild venom and will not hesitate to bite when handled. Bites are superficially and mild itchiness and swelling may occur in some cases.

Spotted Bush Snake (philothamnus-semivariegatus) – Non venomous.
An extremely common snake along the East coast Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal, into Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Gauteng. Well adapted to suburban gardens where these snakes actively hunt geckos, frogs and small lizards. Often making their ways into homes in search of prey – these snakes are persecuted being mistaken for Green Mambas and Boomslang. These skittesh snakes will often move off quickly when disturbed up the nearest wall or tree. They are excellent climbers and well adapted and hunting their prey amongst the trees or roof beams. Prey is often swallowed whilst the snake is suspended. They will bite readily if handled but the bites are superficial and of no concern.

Eastern Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis) – Non venomous.
These snakes are far less common in Durban than the Spotted Bush Snake, and they tend to prefer dense coastal forests and thick bush along the coastline. They occasionally enter homes built in and around natural vegetation. They are a robust snake, typically a bright emerald green with a yellow underside, but can also have a few black transverse bars on the dorsal side of the body. Much like the Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus) the Eastern Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis) is mistaken for the much larger Green Mamba or Boomslang and is needlessly killed.

Philothamnus natalensis natalensis - Eastern Natal Green Snake

Philothamnus natalensis natalensis – Eastern Natal Green Snake

Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster) – Harmless
This is the lesser-seen of the harmless green snakes found in Durban. The Green Water Snake is much smaller than the Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus) and Eastern Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis) and only averages around 60cm in length. They prefer to live in damp areas around ponds and rockeries, as well as in dense bush. They feed largely on frogs, small lizards, and geckos. They can sometimes be seen sleeping in low bushes and shrubs near water. They are placid snakes which seldom—if ever—attempt to bite, and many people see these snakes when bought into the house by domestic cats.

Philothamnus hoplogaster - Green Water Snake

Philothamnus hoplogaster – Green Water Snake

Cape Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense) – non venomous
A small (averaging 40cm) nondescript looking snake which is often brown with white edging on the scales or black with white edging. Often confused with the venomous Stiletto Snake. When accosted the Wolf snake will move in small jerky motions often hiding it’s head beneath the coils of its body. They feed almost excusiley on smooth scaled skinks which are often taken at night when these skinks are asleep in rock crevices. These snakes do not bite even when first handled.

Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) – non venomous.
Along with the Brown house Snake the Rhombic Egg Eater can be found just about anywhere in South Africa. From the arid regions in the West, the coastal forests in the Eastern half of country, grasslands and montane fynbos. These snakes feed exclusively on birds eggs and can go many months without a meal when the birding season comes to an end. Being virtually defenseless these snakes put up an impressive threat display by rapidly rubbing its scales together coiling and uncoiling which produces a rasping sound. These snakes average around 50-60cm  but can reach over 1 m in certain areas large enough to consume an adult chicken egg.

Dasypeltis inornata | Southern Brown Egg Eater | Tyrone Ping

Common Slug Eater (Duberria lutrix) – Non venomous.
Another widespread species which favour damp localities and suburban gardens where it hunts slugs and snails. A real benefit to any budding horticulturist. Small snake soften not exceeding 30/40cm, they can be found under logs/stones beneath pot plants and in and around compost heaps where their prey occur. A rather variable and attractive looking snake in some parts and drab and nondescript in others. Easily distinguishable by its small head and stocky body. When threatened these snakes will emit a foul smelling musk and may roll up into a tight spiral as part of their defencive posture.

Duberria lutrix | Common Slug Eater | Tyrone Ping

Duberria lutrix | Common Slug Eater | Tyrone Ping

Black Headed Centipede Eater (Aparallactus capensis) – Mildly venomous
Another common—although not often encountered—snake. These small, thin snakes seldom exceed 40cm in length and can easily be identified by their pitch-black heads and brown/reddish-brown/grey bodies. Being a fossorial snake, they spend most of their time beneath the ground, under rocks, and in old termite mounds in search of their prey, which is exclusively centipedes. After heavy rains, they often come to the surface. They can be seen on roads and often drown in swimming pools. They have a mild venom and an incredibly small mouth, so they do not often bite people; their venom is of little consequence to people.

Brown Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus) – Harmless
A relatively small snake, the Brown Water Snake averages around 60cm and is a shy, nocturnal, semi-aquatic snake. They swim well and are far more aquatic in nature than the Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster). They often catch prey in water. They are powerful constrictors that readily feed on frogs, tadpoles, small fish, and occasionally rodents or nestling birds. They can often be found in suburban gardens at night, actively hunting near fish ponds; and, uncovered during garden cleanup operations while sheltering under rubble and rotting logs.

Lycodonomorphus rufulus Brown Water Snake. From Hogsback, Eastern Cape.

Lycodonomorphus rufulus Brown Water Snake. From Hogsback, Eastern Cape.

Southern African Python (Python natalensis) – Can inflict a nasty bite.
The largest snake in Kwa-Zulu Natal, it can grow close to 6m, however, specimens of this size are uncommon. They are non-venomous but are capable of inflicting damaging bites as they have around 100 strongly recurved teeth in their mouth. These large snakes can often be found in the eco-housing estates along the coast, where human conflict can create issues for these animals, as pets like small/medium-sized dogs can easily be eaten by pythons. These snakes don’t pose any real threat to people, and records of humans being eaten by pythons in South Africa in recent history are non-existent.

Mole Snake (Pseudapis cana)
A highly successful snake that is most common in the Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga. These snakes come in a wide variety of colours from pitch black on the West Coast, to reddish brown, grey, light orange, ashy grey and salmon in some areas. As juveniles they are heavily patterned but these patterns typically fade with age. A robust powerful constrictor and can be aggressive and will not hesitate to bite when handled, in some areas these snakes reach close to 2 m in length. They feed largely on rodents which are actively sought after in their burrows but birds and lizards are readily taken.

Pseudaspis cana _Mole_Snake

by Tyrone

16 thoughts on “Common Harmless Snakes Of South Africa

  1. suki says:

    Brilliant post, Tyrone, and very well timed for me. I had the following experience experience today. I think/hope it was probably a brown water snake …
    We love our now well-established ecopool and I am swimming in it several times a day and spending lots of time sitting next to it. I had a quick dip at lunchtime and while standing in the water, felt a nudge against my leg. I looked down into the water and there was a long dark thin thing moving in the water. I panicked, and it panicked, and it swam, still underwater, across the pool before rising up and exiting into the plants on one of the floating islands. It was unmistakably a snake, but I am wondering which kind.

    To summarize,

    • It was under a metre long
    • It was long and thin
    • The colour was dark
    • It swam underwater
    • It was interested enough in me to approach me, when I was standing still, and bump its head against my leg – if I hadn’t felt it I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it was there. It definitely wasn’t there when I got into the pool. It didn’t bite me.

    I’m afraid I can’t give a better description than this. I love swimming with the frogs, and I know that frogs attract snakes, so that this would be an occupational hazard of having an ecopool. But, given that the snake was so keen to make contact with me, I need to try establish if it is venomous or not. As a kid I lived near a forest and there were lots of Cape cobras dining on the frogs in the stream nearby. I do hope this isn’t one of them …

    • Tyrone Ping says:

      Hi there,

      Thanks for the comment. That sounds exactly like the habits of a Brown Water Snake they are unmistakable curious and such incidents happen to people often when swimming. There aren’t really any other species of snake that will swim underwater for prolonged periods of time like that besides the Brown Water Snake – Cape Cobras will swim but seldom if ever under the water.

      I wouldn’t worry about it – a really good sign that the ecopool is doing a sterling job!

  2. suki says:

    That’s great, Tyrone. Obviously I wasn’t in a position to take a pic, since I was (a) in a panic and (b) trying to swim. But I have googled the snake and everything seems to fit. Much appreciated, and thanks again for the great post.

  3. Michelle says:

    Hi Tyrone, thanks so much for the pictures and information. I had a massive frog sitting in the dogs’ water bowl last night (in the house, far from the doors to the garden), and it looked quite unfriendly. I left it and it was gone this morning. I found out from my housekeeper that when I was away two weeks ago a massive frog was frantically getting into the house chased by what she described as a ‘big black snake’ who had been hiding under garden equipment, and who went back into the shed and disappeared. I then found this website and Cora identified the brown water snake, she said it was that one. I know my pool is covered up and a messy pond at the moment because of the drought so perhaps the snake stays there? Do they bite people? And do they ever pose a threat to small dogs such as boston terriers (small ones)? We did notice that one of the bird’s eggs disappeared, we have a bird that nests at the front door regularly and one egg went missing. Sounds like the Brown Water Snake? is there anything we need to be careful of? I am only scared of poisonous snakes, so am not concerned if it is a non-poisonous harmless snake. Thanks so much!

    • Tyrone Ping says:

      Hi Michelle,

      It’s not impossible as frogs will typically hang about where ever there is a source of water and food.
      Which area are you in? Brown Water Snakes are very common but not large enough to take down a large toad, they wouldn’t eat the birds eggs but there are several snake species that would do.

      If you could let me know which area you’re in I will be able to let you know about the dangerous snakes in the area.

    • Tyrone Ping says:

      Highly likely a Brown Water Snake or a Dusky Bellied Water Snake.

      The only snakes you need worry about in that area would be Cape Cobra, Puff Adder, Boomslang and Night Adders.

  4. Michelle says:

    Hi Tyrone, yesterday a snake was in the house, it was under the cockatiel’s cage, and the bird alerted me to something. It was a small snake,
    I threw a few blankets over it and kept watch while waiting for help. I called the local snake catcher, it was identified as a Night Adder, and caught and released elsewhere. I think because of the drought here the various reptiles are coming to look for water and food. Any advice as to how to discourage this? I put the frog outside last night, with a big container of water that was accessible for it, but it was back in the house by later that night. I guess trying to get away from the snakes?

    • Tyrone Ping says:

      Hi Michelle, it’s difficult unfortunately. As if there is food like frogs, toads and rodents they will attract snakes. BY keeping a well manicured lawn/garden does help but hard fast way to keep them at bay.

  5. Justine says:

    Hi Tyrone. Found a brown snake with a black line dividing the white belly from the rest of the body. Is it venomous?

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