Know your Green Snakes!

To some people, any green snake is a Green Mamba. Well, there are six species of Green Snakes in the Greater Durban Area, and only one of those is a mamba, and only two of the six are venomous.
This post aims to help people identify the various different green snakes. It’s focused on the Greater Durban Area, but all of these snakes can be found elsewhere in the province.

Let’s start off with what is by far the most common green snake: The Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus).
I have a love/hate relationship with this snake. I love it because its a very pretty snake, and a nice one to have cruising around the garden. What I hate though, is that I get calls for it every single day. Usually not one, but anywhere up to ten-fifteen calls. These calls aren’t from people who want to tell me how gorgeous this snake looks. It’s from people who are convinced that they’re Green Mambas or Boomslang! “There’s a Green Mamba in my yard, with black spots”, is a phrase I hear daily.

Spotted Bush Snakes are, as I said, the most commonly encountered snake in the Greater Durban Area. It is a snake that has adapted rather well to suburbia, unlike some other species. There’s plenty of hiding places for this thin snake, and there’s plenty of food too: geckos. The Tropical House Gecko is in every household around Durban, and so with thriving gecko numbers, the Bush Snakes are kept well fed.
So as these geckos come to our homes in search of geckos and a place to hide, they’re often encounters on walls, burglar guards, curtain rails, security gates, in post boxes etc etc. They’re also frequently seen on the eeves of roofs, and when they’ve been spotted, they’ll move into the roof. If this happens, don’t bother calling a snake-catcher please. With this fast-moving snake in a large open space, where movement is limited for a human, catching it in a ceiling is near impossible. The same applies if you see this snake outside. If its outside, please just let it be. It will go away by itself. They are phenomenal climbers.
If a Bush Snake enters your house, you can call a snake-catcher to confirm its identity, and from there, they can advise on how to deal with it. Many people successfully sweep it out with a broom. That’s quite easy, although be prepared for the Bush Snake to put on an aggressive show!

Identifying this snake is relatively easy. It’s a thin green  snake, nearing a meter in length, with a pale yellow belly and black spots/stripes going half-way down the body. The tail is plan green. That orange iris is also a noticeable and distinctive feature.

Please try to accept these snakes in and around your property, and try to appreciate them. They are completely harmless to adults, children and pets, and they make sure you don’t have an overpopulation of geckos. They’re a joy to see in the garden!

 

The next is certainly not the most common, but the most well-known, the Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)

The Green Mamba is not nearly as abundant as what people think. In fact, it generally occurs only on the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. It resides in pristine, coastal forests, which if you can imagine, are constantly in decline. Natural areas along the coast are constantly being developed, meaning these magnificent snakes have less and less areas to live in. So in the GDA, they’re generally seen from Umhlanga northwards, and from the Bluff (where they are rarely seen) southwards. They are far more commonly seen further north and south of Durban, where there is less development. So when trying to identify a green snake, consider where you live. If you’re a few kilometers away from the coast, west of Durban, it is extremely unlikely there’s a Green Mamba in your garden.

The Green Mamba, like the Black Mamba, grows to be a large snake, with adults occasionally exceeding two meters in length. They’re thick too, much thicker than a Bush Snake. In the few calls I’ve had for them, people generally describe them to be nearly as thick as their wrist. Juvenile Mambas are an even rarer sight. They are a beautiful, emerald-green color, with no spots or markings. Like the Black Mamba, they have a matt appearance. The harmless green snakes have yellow or white belly’s. Green Mamba’s generally have a green belly. You can look for the coffin-shaped head too if you want, but in my opinion, just about any snake can have a coffin-shaped head, so I wouldn’t waste my time if I were you! Although to me, they look like they’re smiling.

As I’m sure you know, Green Mambas are highly venomous. Fortunately though, because they tend to stick to the canopies of trees, and like the Black Mamba, they’re shy and retreating, they are not responsible for many bites. They’re not after us, they’re after nestling birds, bats and rodents.

There’s that green belly I mentioned. This mamba was relaxing on the gearbox of someone’s car.

 

The other venomous green snake in KZN, and the other infamous one at that, is the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus viridis).

Like the Green Mamba, Boomslang are not frequently-encountered snakes. They also tend to stick to the trees, and avoid detection. So they too are responsible for very, very few snakebites on people, and it usually handlers that are bitten. This certainly is not a snake you want to get bitten by, and just because its back-fanged, doesn’t mean that it can’t bite and inject venom easily. Boomslang have, drop for drop, the most potent venom of any South African snake. It’s a haemotoxic venom which will unleash hell upon you, if left untreated. The good thing about their venom, if one can say it like that, is that it’s slow-acting, usually taking hours to show symptoms. So there’s time to get to hospital. But like I said, this is usually only a snake that bites when handled. They hunt nestling birds, chameleons and sometimes rodents, not people.

Boomslang are actually easier to tell apart from Bush Snakes than people think. As is the case with Green Mambas, size is one feature to note. Juvenile Boomslang are not green. Their eyes are, though. Juvenile Boomslang are brown in colour, with a darker brown, broad band running down the length of their body. They have a pretty, yell0w-coloured throat, and the most gorgeous eyes! Their eyes are bright, emerald green, making them look like a work of art! In juveniles, it almost looks as if their heads are too big for their bodies. These colours fade as they grow, and when they’re around a meter in length, they’ll start turning green. If they’re a male that is. Generally, females are a light to olive brown colour, whereas males are green. This visual difference is unusual in snakes. In Durban, just about all of my Boomslang calls come from around Field’s Hill (Westmead side) and then in the Upper Highway Area. In these parts, the bright green males have black bands running down their body.
Apart from having large eyes, Boomslang have large heads too. They are far more rounded than that of the other green snakes.

A beautiful green, male Boomslang from Crestholme.
A sub-adult, in the transition phase of its colouring.
A juvenile Boomslang. That eye is just…wow!
Female Boomslang can resemble Black Mambas. Their heads are more rounded than that of a mamba, and they have a much more slender body, which is usually lighter in colour too.
An unusually-coloured, male Boomslang that I caught in Hillcrest. It was very yellow, resembling the Boomslang in the Cape.

 

The other three green snakes, like the Bush Snake, also tend to cause panic among people. Although they arguably cause more panic, seeing as, for the most part, they lack the black spots.

The Green Water Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster)

This non-venomous, thin, green snake, which grows up to around 60cm in length, is plain green in colour, causing people to immediately label it as a Green Mamba. For a start, they’re much smaller, and they have a white belly. Yes, I know you don’t lift up snakes to check the colour of the belly! But usually one can see this without having to pick the snake up. There’s a popular misconception that this snake is only found in and around bodies of water, but they’ll often venture quite far from water. They’re not as commonly seen as Bush Snakes. They mostly feed on frogs.

 

Then, there’s the harmless Natal Green Snakes. Like the Green Water Snake, they aren’t nearly as common as Bush Snakes, but they’re around.

The more common of the two, particularly in coastal parts of Durban, is the Eastern Natal Green Snake (Philothamnus natalensis natalensis).

This non-venomous species tends to have a bright, yellow belly which is usually quite noticeable. They grow to a similar size as that of the Bush Snake, and feed mostly on geckos and frogs. You’ll see that the specimen in the first pic below, does have some faint, black markings on the body.

 

It’s cousin, the Western Natal Green Snake, is usually seen in the Upper Highway. They have a turquoise-blue appearance, which looks stunning! Their eyes tend to be much darker than the other green snakes eyes.

 

With spring here, you’re bound to see at least one of these green snakes in your property, and so I hope this article prepares you for that moment. Remember, don’t panic! Well try your best not to, as there is no need for that. Like any snake, they’ll hope that you leave them alone so that they can continue their search for food.

 

For snake identification & removals, you can contact me on 072 809 5806.

 

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