I am very pleased that a specialist like Andrew has published a article for us. Andrew and I met by chance. Because I find snakes interesting and worthy of protection, I asked him to write an article about snakes, but first- who is Andrew?
I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Geneva Institute of Global Health, where I am working to develop better tools for snake identification from images. I also study the physiology and ecology of lizards and snakes. My work brings me into frequent contact with the need for snake conservation, which requires holistic conservation of ecosystem structure and function, on which human society depends. I believe that we can only accomplish this goal through education, and that is partly why I decided to publish this blog. The title is a quote by David Quammen, one of the best science writers around, and the Mudsnake in the logo is from Duméril, Bibron, & Duméril’s 9-volume early 19th century opus, Erpétologie Générale.
120 species in South Africa
There are about 120 species of snakes in South Africa, less than 30 of which are dangerous to humans.
They range in size from tiny blindsnakes a few centimeters in length to gigantic Pythons more than 3
meters long. Dangerous species include Puff Adders, Spitting Cobras, Green and Black Mambas, and
Boomslangs, as well as less famous Scheinkobras, Ringhalskobras, Zwergpuffottern, and Vogelnatter.
Snakes play important roles as predators in ecosystems, consuming a variety of prey, from invertebrates
to mammals. They generally avoid humans, preferring to spend their days in hiding beneath rocks and
logs, inside hollow trees, or in other shelters protected from the elements and from predators such as
eagles and secretarybirds.
Snakes use their senses to find water, food, and other snakes. Most species can see well and, although
they hear at a lower frequency range than humans, are sensitive to vibrations. But their primary mode
of communication is chemical. Male snakes follow pheromone trails left by receptive females. Most
southern African snakes usually mate in early spring (August-October), but fall (March-May) mating is
known in some species. An unusual observation was made at the Maremmana Estate in April 2018,
which will soon be published in a scientific journal. A single female African Housesnake was observed
mating with two males simultaneously! This behavior is probably very rare in the wild, and has never
been reported before.
More snakes to discover!
We still have much to learn about snakes. For instance, we continue to discover new species at a rate of
about 30 per year. The last new species of snake discovered in South Africa was a blindsnake from
Mpumalanga Province described in 1999. Discoveries like these help us understand and appreciate
nature, evolution, and biodiversity. Here is Andrew´s Blog for education.
If you see a snake, the safest thing to do is to leave it alone. Keep your eyes out for snakes while at
Maremmana & Southafrica, and please report any sightings on HerpMapper.org.