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Snakes

It is rare to encounter a snake problem and – as shy creatures – if you see one, it is likely that they will simply be passing-by as quickly as possible. Snakes tend to avoid contact with people and will therefore steer clear of you and your pets.

Providing Snake Advice

Although we don’t cover snakes as part of our usual pest control programme, we can provide you with advice. Snake problems do, however need to be dealt with using very specific skills. If you have concerns regarding a snake issue, especially non-native snakes, we would urge you to contact your local KWS centre specialist assistance

How to Identify Signs of Snakes

If you do spot a snake, it will usually be in the warmer season when they are at their most active.

Only gardens with extensive secluded wildlife areas will have snakes. In most garden areas if snakes are seen, they are most likely just passing through.

There are a few ‘hard to spot’ signs that you can look out for if you have concerns about snakes. These include:

  • Shed skins – Snakes tend to shed their skins soon after emerging from hibernation
  • Winding trails on light dirt or sandy surfaces.

Where You Might Find Snakes

There are certain places where snakes are more commonly found.

  • Reptile Habitats – Nature reserves of rough grassland, disused quarries, large allotments, large derelict urban sites or sunny road and railway embankments with scrub cover.
  • Garden Features – Wood, rock or rubble piles, rockeries, ponds, long grass areas and shrubs.
  • Sunny Areas – Sun trap areas with lots of vegetation cover and places to shelter.
  • Gardens, parks or other grassed areas – Be prepared to find reptiles if you lift up debris or are near features such as hedges, ponds, compost heaps and areas of long grass.

Reptiles are timid and will usually flee to seek cover if they are detected by people or pets.

Know if you are at Risk

  • Snakes are not aggressive by nature and will attack in most cases if threatened or provoked.
  • Puff Adders, Black Adders and Gaboon Adders all have cytotoxic venom which destroys tissue. The Night Adder also has cytotoxic venom, although this is relative low in toxicity.
  • Adders are rarely found in gardens and only occur if you live close to their preferred habitats.
  • Bites from adders are very rare, and most occur when a snake is picked up or provoked.
  • The venomous Cape Cobra, Snouted Cobra and Green Mamba snakes have neurotoxic effects – attacking the central nervous system and affecting cardio pulmonary action.
  • The Boomslang and the Vine snake’s venom are haemotoxic, meaning that it disables the clotting process, causing internal and external bleeding. Unfortunately, no anti-venom exists for a bite from the vine snake.

Deter Snakes from Entering Your Property

To deter snakes there are a few things you can do:

  • Mow grass regularly to keep it short.
  • Clear low growing plants and shrubs that provide cover.
  • Remove rockeries, debris, wood or log piles. Keep compost heaps in a sealed bin.
  • Fill holes that they can hide in; under sheds, patios and walls.
  • Putting close fitting fences or walls around ponds can be a deterrent.

If the snake you’ve seen is an escaped pet, it should be removed by the KWS, or a trained snake operator for re-homing.

Sometimes exotic snakes are found in gardens, grounds or warehouses, mostly in urban or suburban areas. These species may be escaped or abandoned pets or accidentally imported in goods.

 

Snake Bites

There are hundreds of species of snakes around the world but only a low percentage of these are venomous. In Kenya there are a few venomous native snakes, some of which include some Adder and Cobra species.

Snake awareness is important in protecting yourself and your family from snake bites.

  • Be aware of the dangers, know the signs of snakes and take steps to avoid them.
  • ‘Proof’ your home and garden.
  • Know the symptoms and appropriate treatment.

Types of Venomous Snake Bites

The recommended first aid for snake bites will also vary according to species.

Treatment for a snake bite is defined according to whether the venom is cytotoxic, haemotoxic or neurotoxic and the wrong treatment will not only be of little or no help but could even be dangerous.

  • CYTOTOXIC – An agent or process that is toxic to cells and suppresses cell function or causes cell death.
  • HAEMOTOXIC – An agent or process that kills red blood cells and prevents clotting resulting in internal and external bleeding.
  • NEUROTOXIC – An agent or process that is destructive or deadly to nerves or nervous tissue.

The Venom from Adders and Vipers is Cytotoxic

  • Generally two puncture marks at the site of the bite.
  • Bite causes instant pain, immediate swelling, bruising and blistering.
  • Symptoms include nausea and dizziness.
  • Immobilises the limb but does not restrict the blood flow.

The Venom from Mambas and Cobras is Neurotoxic

  • Generally two puncture wounds at the site of the bite.
  • Bite can feel more like a sting with little or no bruising and swelling.
  • Symptoms include feeling confused, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing and breathing.
  • Immobilise the limb and restrict blood flow between the bite and the heart.
  • Administer CPR until Medical help is available.

The Venom from Boomslang and Vine snakes is Haemotoxic

  • Sometimes puncture wounds can be seen at site of the bite.
  • Bite is generally not very painful but within one hour copious bleeding is likely from the bite wound and any other wounds cuts or scratches the victim may have.
  • Symptoms include a severe headache, nausea and vomiting.
  • It’s helpful to restrict the blood and lymphatic flow, but it’s important not to cause bruising which can lead to bleeding under the skin.
  • If Venom is spat in to a person’s eyes use any liquid available, preferably a neutral one such as water or milk – but anything at all will do, to flush out the eye.

Do’s and Don’ts of Treating Snake Bites

Symptoms usually manifest soon after a snake bite, so observing the victim is extremely important.

If no symptoms have occurred within half an hour of the bite then indications would be that it was not a venomous snake, it failed to inject any venom or the snake was very old and had little or no venom left.

Do

  • Try to identify the snake; colour, size, shape of head and attacking method are useful.
  • Loosen the Victim’s clothing and move them in to the shade.
  • Keep the victim calm and still; movement will increase blood flow and transport the venom to the heart much faster.
  • Immobilise the limb but do NOT restrict blood flow unless you are certain the bite was from a snake that delivers neurotoxic venom.
  • Clean and dress the wound being careful not to apply pressure and cause bruising.
  • Be prepared to administer CPR if necessary.
  • Get the victim to a hospital quickly.

Do Not

While there can be differences of opinion as to what we should do for snake bites the consensus of opinion as to what not to do is reasonably consistent:

  • Allow the victim to exercise or stress themselves.
  • Cut the bite or attempt to suck the venom out.
  • Give the victim anything to eat or drink especially alcohol.
  • Use potassium permanganate crystals or solution near or on the bite wound.
  • Use soapy water round the bite wound.
  • Leave pressure bandages on too long.
  • Leave the victim alone.
  • Apply ice to the wound.
  • Soak the affected limb in any solutions.

 

African Rock Python

(Python sebae)

Appearance

  • African rock pythons are generally brown with lighter brown and olive green markings.
  • Belly is creamy white in colour.
  • The African rock python is one of the world’s largest snakes; reaching lengths 6 metres or more.
  • Upper and lower jaw bones are not attached so they are able to open these incredibly wide.
  • They have no breastbone so can expand their ribs allowing them to swallow food sources much larger than themselves.
  • Pythons are ‘constrictors’ which mean they hold their prey with their teeth and then constrict them until they are unable to breathe and their heart then stops. They then proceed to swallow the prey head-first, whole.

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; female African rock pythons lay up to 100 eggs.
  • Incubation period is between 2 and 3 months.
  • Hatchlings between 50 and 60cms in length.
  • Hatchlings have the same colour as adults, although they are more vibrant.

Habits

  • Non-venomous.
How to identify the signs of snakes>

Black Mamba

(Dendroaspis polylepis)

Appearance

  • Black mambas have two enlarged venom fangs fixed to the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Adult Black mambas reach an average of 2.5 meters and a maximum of 4.5 meters in length.
  • These snakes are grey to olive in colour with lighter scales round their head.
  • They take their name from the black colouring inside their mouths.
  • Black mambas are thin and extremely agile.

Lifecycle

  • Mating takes place in late spring or early summer (October to December).
  • After mating the male returns to its own nest.
  • Female lays between 10 and 20 Eggs.
  • Young Black mambas are self-sufficient from birth and capable of catching prey as big as a rat.

Habits

  • Black mambas tend to live in scrubland but can sometimes be found in bushes and small trees.
  • They will continue to occupy the same nest for many years if left undisturbed.
  • Their diet consists mainly of birds and rodents and they actively hunt during the day or night.
  • Black mambas are capable of rearing up to a third of their length in the air.
  • Extremely venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.
How to deter snakes from entering you property>

Boomslang

(Dispholidus typus)

Appearance

  • Solid teeth in both jaws with venom fangs in rear part of upper jaw.
  • Average length is 1.2 metres but can exceed 1.8 meters.
  • Has a short, blunt nose & large prominent eyes with a pear shaped pupil.
  • Boomslang have keeled scales.
  • Females usually retain a brown colour.
  • Males colouring is highly variable ranging from black to bright green.
  • Belly is light green.
  • Often confused with the Green mamba (Dendroaspis augusticeps)

Lifecycle

  • Female lays between 8 and 25 eggs in hollows of trees or piles of leaves.
  • Young Boomslang hatch between 70 and 100 days later.
  • Newly hatched Boomslang are grey with blue patches and do not achieve their full colouring until several years old.

Habits

  • Generally found in trees and shrubs.
  • The Boomslang moves with great speed and agility.
  • Diet is mainly chameleons but will also eat birds & their eggs, frogs and lizards all of which are swallowed whole.
  • In cooler months they may hibernate for short periods – often taking over birds nests.
  • Timid and will rarely bite unless caught or cornered.
What to do in case of a snake bite>

Egg Eating Snake

(Dasypelits scabra)

Appearance

  • The few teeth the egg-eating snake has are solid and harmless.
  • No fangs.
  • Wide variation in pattern and colour; ranging from browns and greens to solid dark grey.
  • V-shaped dark mark on neck; the top of which points to the snout.
  • Fairly slender snake with small head that is rounded at the snout.
  • The belly of the egg-eating snake is usually cream in brown coloured snakes and white in grey ones.
  • Size ranges from 0.5metres to 1.5metres in length.
  • Often confused with the Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus).

Lifecycle

  • Female egg-eating snakes lay between 6 and 12 eggs.
  • Eggs are incubated for approximately three months.
  • Hatchlings are between 14cms and 21cms in length.
  • Egg eating snakes (Dasypelits scabra) reach sexual maturity after about two years.

Habits

  • Generally live in forests or anywhere that is also the habitat of large numbers of nesting birds.
  • Extremely strong climbers.
  • Keenly developed sense of smell – they will not eat rotten eggs or ones that are too far developed for their taste.
  • Swallows eggs whole but crushes and regurgitates the shell.
  • Extremely nervous species and non-confrontational.
  • Non-venomous.
Tips for deterring snakes from your home>

Cape Cobra

(Naja nivea)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged venom fangs fixed in the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Egyption cobras are dark grey-brown in colour, developing to almost black as they get older.
  • Across the neck is a broad black band.
  • Young snakes are a sandy-yellow colour with a black band on the neck.
  • The main physical characteristic of the black mamba is the head and the hood. Their head is large and depressed with a broad snout. Necks can be as much as 18cms wide.
  • Eyes are large with a round pupil.
  • Males larger than females; average size 1.5 to 2 metres in length.

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; female egyptian cobras lay between 8 & 20 eggs, usually in termite mounds.
  • Incubation period is about 60 days.
  • Hatchlings between 20 and 35cms in length.
  • Hatchlings shed their skin after 7 to 12 days.
  • Hatchlings feed after their first shedding.

Habits

  • Favourite ‘homes’ of Egyptian cobras are termite mounds but they can also be found in grasslands.
  • Active at night; foraging from early evening – often found in poultry runs.
  • Very timid; always basks in the sun near home to enable ‘a quick retreat’.
  • Generally only attacks if cornered or provoked.
  • The diet of Egyptian cobras consist of amphibians, rodents, birds & their eggs, lizards and other snakes – particularly Puff adders (Bitis arietans).
  • Extremely venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.
  • Wound shows two punctures and is extremely painful and swollen round the snake bite.
  • Does not show severe Oedema or bleeding.
Do’s and Don’ts of treating snake bites>

Gaboon Viper

(Bitis gabonica)

Appearance

  • The Gaboon Viper is the largest viper in Africa, reaching lengths of up to 1.8 metres and weighing more than 20kgs in some instances.
  • Large triangular head tapers into a narrow neck.
  • A pair of ‘horns’ are located between their raised nostrils.
  • The gaboon viper has a distinctive brown stripe on its pale head.
  • Body colour is pale with brown, beige and yellow markings allowing for easy camouflage.

Lifecycle

  • Viviparous – the gaboon viper gives birth to live young and up to 30 at a time.
  • Gestation period is about 7 months.
  • Newly born gaboon vipers are about 30cms in length.

Habits

  • Favoured habitat is rain forests and woodlands on the edge of the rainforests.
  • They are largely nocturnal.
  • The gaboon viper is an extremely docile, solitary snake.
  • Their diet consists mainly of birds and mammals but will also eat insects and rodents.
  • Generally ambushes its prey rather than actively hunts it.
  • Unlikely to attack unless seriously provoked.
Learn about places where snakes are commonly found>

Green Mamba

(Dendroaspis angusticeps)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged venom fangs fixed to the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Green mambas are the smallest of the species reaching an average of 1.5 metres in length.
  • They are glossy green in colour with a lighter, bright greenish-yellow belly.
  • Green mambas are thin, elegant snakes with a very distinctive head and long thin tail.
  • They have small eyes, smooth scales and a long rectangular head.
  • Often confused with the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus).

Lifecycle

  • The Green mamba is oviparous (egg laying).
  • The female lays between 6 and 18 eggs in the summer usually in rotting vegetation.
  • Hatchlings are venomous from birth and up to 18 inches in length.

Habits

  • Green mambas are mainly arboreal (live in trees), but are also known to inhabit bamboo thickets, mango groves and coastal shrub land.
  • Green mambas are shy, non-aggressive and only likely to attack if provoked or cornered.
  • Their diet consists mainly of birds, bird eggs and small mammals.
  • Green mambas are active during the day (diurnal), but are seldom seen on the ground, unless after their prey or basking in the sun.
  • Extremely venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.
  • Little or no swelling at the bite wound.
  • The wound will show two puncture marks.
Learn about the types of venomous snake bites>

Puff Adder

(Bitis arietans)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged hinged venom fangs in the front of the upper jaw.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • The average size of a puff adder is approximately 1m in length, and fairly thick in width.
  • Head is blunt & rounded and much wider than neck and body; almost triangular in shape.
  • Colours  of puff adders vary according to geography, but their head usually has two dark bands; one on the crown and one between the eyes.
  • Colours range from dull yellow to light brown and even orange or reddish brown. Male puff adders can have striking yellow and gold colour patterns.
  • Chevron markings are present all the way down their back and getting lighter towards the tail.
  • Iris’ range from gold to silver grey.
  • The stomach of puff adders are yellow or white with some darker spots.

Lifecycle

  • Females puff adders produce a pheromone to attract males.
  • Gives live birth to high numbers of young.
  • Newborns are between 12 and 18cms in length.
  • Newborns have golden head markings.

Habits

  • Puff adders are generally found in rocky grasslands as they are a sluggish species that rely on camouflage for protection.
  • Mainly terrestrial but good swimmers that can also climb.
  • Often found basking by footpaths and tend to remain still in the presence of an intruder.
  • Extremely willing to bite and able to strike at very high speed and from a distance of about one third of their body length.
  • Puff adders are mostly nocturnal.
  • Reluctant to forage and hunt; more likely to ambush prey ‘as it passes’.
  • Diet consists of mammals, birds, lizards and amphibians.
  • The puff adder is extremely venomous.
  • Cytotoxic – tissue destroying.
  • Wound shows two teeth marks and is painful.
  • Swelling develops within 10 to 30 minutes.
Tips on what to do in case of snake bites>

Snouted Cobra

(Naja annulifera)

Appearance

  • Two enlarged venom fangs fixed in the front of the mouth.
  • Solid teeth in both jaws.
  • Typically yellowish to olive brown but can be brown or dark brown.
  • The belly of the snouted cobra usually yellowish.
  • Normally has a darker band of colour round the neck.
  • Average length of adults between 1.5 and 2 metres but can reach lengths of 3 metres!
  • Body is cylindrical and stout with a long tail.
  • Male snouted cobras are larger than females.
  • Often confused with the Eqyptian Cobra (Naja haje).

Lifecycle

  • Snouted cobras are oviparous snakes; females lay between 8 and 20 eggs.
  • Incubation period is between 65 and 90 days.
  • Hatchlings between 20 and 35cms in length.
  • Hatchlings shed their skin after 7 to 12 days.
  • Hatchlings feed after their first shedding.

Habits

  • Favourite ‘homes’ of snouted cobras are termite mounds but can also be found in arid or moist savannah.
  • Active at night; foraging from early evening and are often found in poultry runs.
  • Snouted cobras are not naturally aggressive and will bask in the sun near it’s home to enable ‘a quick retreat’ if disturbed.
  • Generally only attacks if cornered or provoked.
  • Diet consists of amphibians, rodents, birds & their eggs, lizards and other snakes – particularly Puff adders (Bitris arietans).
  • Highly venomous. Neurotoxic – attacks central nervous system and affects cardio pulmonary function.
How to prevent snakes from entering your property>

Night Adder

(Causus rhombeatus)

"Causus rhombeatus00" by Paul venter - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Causus_rhombeatus00.jpg#/media/File:Causus_rhombeatus00.jpg

Appearance

  • Head has a dark brown or black V-shaped mark, the top of which points forward and finishes between the eyes.
  • The colouring of the night adder varies from light browny-pink to light grey.
  • Diamond shaped darker markings are found on the back and tail – these are sometimes bordered with white.
  • Adults average about 0.5metres in length and seldom exceed 1 metre.
  • Body is cylindrical and reasonably slender.
  • Venom glands are extremely long – up to 10cms – and found on either side of the spine connecting up to the fangs.
  • The night adder has poor eye sight and a keen sense of smell.
  • Night adders are often confused with egg eating snakes (Dasypeltis).

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; females laying up to 24 eggs more than once a year.
  • Eggs are incubated for about four months.
  • Hatchlings average 12.5cms in length.
  • Cytotoxic – tissue destroying.
  • The venom of a night adder has relatively low toxicity.
  • Night adder bites are extremely painful with swelling at the bite wound.

Habits

  • Night adders prefer damp or moist habitats & usually makes their home under rocks or logs and in old termite mounds; often close to rivers or lakes.
  • An extremely slow moving, non-aggressive snake.
  • Only likely to attack if cornered or provoked.
  • Basks during the day and hunts at night.
  • Diet consists almost exclusively of frogs and toads.
  • Hatchlings feed on tadpoles.
  • Cytotoxic – tissue destroying.
  • The venom of a night adder has relatively low toxicity.
  • Night adder bites are extremely painful with swelling at the bite wound.
How to spot the signs of snakes>

Rinkhals

(Hemachatus hemachatus)

 "Rinkhals" by DocSean - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rinkhals.jpg#/media/File:Rinkhals.jpg

Appearance

  • Colours do vary; the Rinkhals is generally brown to browny-black on the top with irregular spotting/banding in lighter browns or creams.
  • Distinctive dark belly with two lighter stripes/bands round the neck.
  • Adults reach an average of 90cms to 120cms but have been known to reach 150cms in length.
  • The Rinkhals is not a true ‘spitter’, but can spray its venom up 2.5m by a flinging action of the head and upper body.
  • Short, pointed head with large black eyes.

Lifecycle

  • Unlike other Cobras the rinkhals is Viviparous – giving birth to live young.
  • Average size of a new born rinkhals is 15 to 18 cms in length.
  • Ringhals’ give birth to an average of 20 and 30 young at a time.
  • Young shed their skin within an hour of birth.
  • New born Rinkhals’ have the same colourings and distinct bands round their neck as adults; they are also, from birth, are able to rear up and spray venom.

Habits

  • Prefers to live in grasslands but easily adapts to conditions found at sea level and high altitudes.
  • Nocturnal – but known to bask in the sun during the day.
  • Diet is primarily consists of toads, but if food is scarce, they will also prey on small mammals, reptiles and other amphibians.
  • If cornered, the Rinkhals has the amazing ability to ‘play dead’; rolling on to its back, going completely limp, with it’s mouth open and tongue lolling out!
  • The venom is neurotoxic.
  • Rinkhals’ usually aims at the highest moving part of the obstacle in front of them. Venom causes terrible pain, and in severe cases can cause damage to the cornea of the eye.
  • Swelling around the bite wound.
  • Bruising in many cases.
More information on cytotoxic venom>

Vine Snake

(Thelotornis capensis)

"Thelotornis capensis mossambicanus" by Kwamikagami - Tanzania. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thelotornis_capensis_mossambicanus.jpg#/media/File:Thelotornis_capensis_mossambicanus.jpg

Appearance

  • Colouring is similar to that of a vine; grey-brown with lighter markings.
  • The  vine snake is very long and thin, averaging 1 metre in length.
  • Their head is elongated, with large eyes and horizontal pupils.

Lifecycle

  • Oviparous; female vine snakes lay between 4 and 13 eggs in summer.
  • Incubation period is between 2 and 3 months.
  • Hatchlings between 230mm and 330mm.
  • Hatchlings identical in colour to adults.
  • Females are extremely aggressive when guarding their eggs.

Habits

  • Favoured habitat is grassland, bushes and small trees.
  • The vine snake is timid and is only likely to attack if provoked.
  • Diet consists mainly of lizards, chameleons, bats, frogs and small birds.
  • Haemotoxic – disabling the clotting process and causing internal and external bleeding.
  • No anti-venom exists for a bite by the vine snake.
  • Puncture marks can be seen at the wound area.
  • The actual bite is not very painful.
  • Likely to bleed copiously as blood clotting mechanism becomes affected.