Text and photographs Nick Evans
When people hear the word constrictor, the first snakes that come to mind are pythons, boas and anacondas. However, there are many species of snakes which use constriction as a method to subdue their prey, and many of them are not very big at all. In this article, I’ll be discussing four species that occur in the Kloof and surrounding areas.
Brown House Snake
Adult Brown House Snakes usually have scars on their bodies, from rats biting them while being constricted, or from predators. This specimen, as is the case with many old House Snakes, has had its tail bitten off by a predator.
Constrictors do not have venom, if they did, constriction would not be necessary. A Black Mamba will bite a rat, for example, and release it immediately, letting the venom do the work. The rat may run off for a few meters at most, and then pass away. The mamba, using its forked tongue, will track it down using its sharp sense of smell that all snakes possess.
The species below, pythons and other constrictors, will bite their prey item and wrap their coils around the animal, applying a surprising amount of pressure.
Spotted Rock Snake (Lamprophis guttatus)
Previously known as the Spotted House Snake, this is one of the ‘specials’ of the Kloof and Upper Highway area, which is frequently seen in such parts. Those with an interest in snakes are always envious that residents in the area have of these secretive snakes. Around Durban, the Upper Highway Area is generally the only part of the region they occur, although I do have one record from Reservoir Hills. In fact, the area could probably be considered the ‘hotspot’ for this species throughout their range in KZN, which extends to the Lebombo Mountain range in the north.
While Spotted Rock Snakes occasionally frighten people, presumably because they resemble a Night Adder, they are actually one of the most docile snakes around, particularly if left alone. Night Adders have a thicker body, a less slender tail, with a distinctive ‘V’ marking on their head. Their patterns are, more diamond-like, as people often describe to me, whereas with Rock Snakes, their patterns are almost perfect, dark circles.
Night Adders are venomous, the Rock Snakes are not.
Spotted Rock Snakes favour cliff faces, where they move between crevices with ease, feeding on lizards, bats, small rodents and nestling birds. A friend of mine, who bred birds on the edge of Krantzkloof, lost a few canaries to these small yet efficient constrictors.
Spotted Rock Snake – Their heads are quite flattened, allowing them to squeeze into narrow crevices.
If you happen to see one of these beautiful snakes, which are usually 50cm- less than a meter in length, consider yourself lucky and enjoy the sighting. Not a snake one needs to remove from the garden, nor are the next three I will be discussing.
Brown House Snake (Boaedon capensis)
Brown House Snakes are one of the most widespread species of snakes in the country, and are one of the most common species throughout the Greater Durban Area.
This snake is nature’s solution to rodent control, along with owls. Well, a Black Mamba is too, but few want those around their house.
Rodents are not the only animal on the menu for Brown House Snakes. These clever snakes often hang around bird feeders, latching onto visiting birds. They will also eat lizards, from geckos to adult Tree Agamas (Blue-headed lizards).
These non-venomous constrictors are most active at night. During the day, they are often uncovered in wood piles, piles of bricks, under pool pump covers, any form of suitable cover. Yes, as their name suggests, they are very often found around homes, and do quite well in suburbia, despite the many threats they face in such areas.
A light-coloured Brown House Snake
Brown House Snakes are fairly easy to identify. Light to dark brown in colour, with cream-coloured stripes running along their body, starting on both sides of their head, fading out towards the tail. Their bellies are white in colour. They have a shiny/glossy appearance to them, particularly when the sun hits them, or a torch light.
The stripes on either side of the head of a Brown House Snake are a feature to look out for.
This species can grow to around 1.2m in length, with the females growing to be a lot larger than males. I find the larger, older specimens to be calm, rarely biting. The youngsters are often feisty, biting regularly.
Brown House Snake twins!
In high school, I had a pair of Brown House Snakes, and one year, the female laid eggs. You could imagine my surprise when I saw two heads appearing! My first thought was that it was a two-headed snake, but it was actually two snakes. I have never seen that again.
Brown Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus)
If you have a pond in your garden, you’ll likely attract Reed Frogs, among others. And with the frogs, come Brown Water Snakes. Not that this is cause for concern. Having a pond is a great way to attract wildlife in general, and these snakes are non-venomous, and extremely docile. I’ve picked up countless individuals, and I have never been bitten. Not that I recommend picking up any snake.
Brown Water Snakes are frequently seen at night in reed beds, hunting Reed Frogs, or other species of frogs. I’ve seen them wrapped around reeds, and upon closer inspection, notice a frog among their coils. However, these snakes are not fussy at all, and they will also feed on lizards, small rodents, and even fish.
Despite their name, they do not live in water, and they do actually venture away from water too.
Brown Water Snakes are plain light to dark brown on top, with a pinkish/cream-coloured belly. They’re usually around half a meter in length, but can get a little longer.
Olive Snake (Lycodonomorphus inornatus)
Previously known as an Olive House Snake, this snake has since been moved into the water snake genus, although they do not spend most of their time around water.
Out of the four, this is probably the more scarce species of the lot, although the Upper Highway Area is probably the region of Durban where they are most common. I don’t get many calls for them around Kloof, but I do get a few calls for them around Hillcrest and further west.
Olive Snakes can be a lovely, olive green colour, but many are very dark in colour, particularly juveniles. The belly, in adults, is usually a little lighter in colour than the ‘top side’. Like Brown House Snakes, they have a rather shiny appearance, as opposed to the matt appearance of a Black Mamba. They can reach lengths of 1.2-1.3m.
I hope this article helps reduce any fear you may feel towards these species, and snakes in general. Not all snakes are venomous, and none are ‘out to get us’. Snakes are trying to adapt to the continuous threat of development. Humans with spades, cars, cats and dogs are some of the threats these snakes have to deal with on a daily basis, as well as their natural predators. I hope you’ll be willing to accommodate these species in your garden, as well as other non-venomous species. If not, please don’t kill them. It’s far better to have them relocated to your closest nature reserve.
About the author
Nick Evans runs KZN Amphibian & Reptile Conservation. He spends most of his time teaching people about snakes across the province, and removing unwanted snakes from homes in the Greater Durban Area. But he has always had a love for chameleons, and spends many evenings looking for them, whether it’s just for ‘fun’ or whether its to survey populations. You can also watch Nick in the series “Snake Season” on People’s Weather (DStv 180 and Openview 115).
Youtube: Nick Evans – Snake rescuer