Getting to know the neighbours
Working toward a stress-free co-existence with snakes
This month’s Meander Chronicle theme is “Winter Warmers” and I’m convinced that whoever chose that title either had a wicked sense of humour, or prior knowledge of my impending move to my new home in mid-June. Since moving to Cato Ridge last month, I’ve purchased a forest of black wattle (cut to fireplace size) and my local vendor’s annual allocation of l.p.gas. I’ve even googled the long-term effects of microwaving oneself. It’s not often I use the ‘F’word, but I tell you, right now it’s ffffreezing.
Ectotherms, or those of us who require an external heat source in order to help us survive, will head for the warmest place they can find at this time of the year, and wait out the punishment. Snakes and frogs gear themselves up for a longer than usual sleep, and because they consume little or no energy in this state, their metabolic rates slow down. In Canada, Red-sided garter snakes, in hibernating through winter, even have to cope with below freezing temperatures, ultimately emerging after their long layoff, ready to continue partaking in the annual orgies of eating and procreation that keep the gene pool going. Although our temperature ranges here in South Africa – perhaps with the exception of Sutherland – are not as extreme as those in the far reaches of the outer hemispheres, our flora and fauna still need to hibernate – be that by hiding underground where it’s warmer, or by suspending their animation to a greater extent – in order to fit in with the availability of sustenance and their reduced capacity to digest or convert their food in the colder months. Closer to the equator, there’s less need for this, and I recently received some pictures from a cousin in Zambia, taken of a pair of snakes mating near the golf course a few days ago – no self-respecting KZN snake would even contemplate that sort of nonsense at this time of the year.
Added confirmation of the effect of hibernation on certain animals and plants would be in their growth rates and ultimate size, where like-species in the warmer climes would grow larger because of the greater availability of food throughout their year, than those where the temperatures are lower and consequently, food is not as readily available. I’ve seen puff adders and snouted cobras from the northern areas of Kruger and in Zimbabwe for example, which are markedly longer and more bulky than any like species I’ve come across in KZN. For the fishermen who wish to test my theory next time they head north for a holiday, unlike the fish that invariably gets away before the weigh in and prize-giving, a puff adder crossing the road is not as elusive and can be photographed against a background of a measurable object – beer can for example – to verify the tales of 1.5m puff adders that will undoubtedly come my way.
© pat mckrill. 2015