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Filter out the detritus before s-s-s-wallowing the whole story

puff adder

Working towards peaceful co-existence with snakes

By Pat McKrill

Another of those “dangerous snake” encounter phone calls brought this thought on. I hope I’m wrong, but I think that nowadays, a lot of what goes through the average human brain/phone goes in and gets passed on, unfiltered. No questions asked.

That’s a bit like drinking water from a puddle made by playful hippo in the game reserve – or perhaps directly from the Dusi on our next canoe trip. Not clever. We need to filter out the detritus and unhealthy elements before swallowing.

Firstly, the call. “Hi, we’ve got a puff adder in the garden, could you come and remove it please.”

Ignore it

I’ve said this before, but I only do snake callouts if there’s something I’m looking for, otherwise I’d tell the “victim” to ignore it and get on with whatever it was they were doing. The snake will do likewise – unless they’re standing on it.

As happens with many of these puff adder callouts, while on my way to collect it, the snake quite incredibly transforms into a night adder.

A spotted bush snake takes a shine to Pat McKrill’s potjie lighter. Cue national emergency.

Reminder here:
Puff adder – big, heart-shaped head, narrow neck, thick (fat) body with lighter coloured reverse chevron marks all the way down to the tail.

Night adder – narrow head with a dark, forward-pointing arrow mark atop, between the eyes. No defined neck, narrow body with regularly spaced dark “rhomboid” marks all the way down the back.

Now here’s where the confusion sets in, and a filtering process is required.

Apart from the obvious differences, both species will hiss if stressed – they’re warning you to back off. But then egg eaters also hiss, as do Berg adders, python, rinkhals, heralds and many others, so that’s not a great indicator of species type.


I’m sure it’s not only humans that tend to stereotype. Animals and insects, for example, quite logically consider everything that moves to be suspicious, at least until proven otherwise. However, I’m convinced they process the available facts in a more balanced way than we do. They watch, they listen, they smell, and they react accordingly.

Humans, on the other hand, when it comes to snakes, seem to see every snake as a potential killer.

More from Pat McKrill: Out with the old, in with the new

I like to use real-life examples of this unthinking categorisation to illustrate the futility of leaping before we look, and my favourite is that of the poor fellow sitting on the pan in his luxury, open-to-the-elements, game reserve toilet, trousers around his ankles, mind in neutral.

A resident snake, species immaterial, inquisitively pokes its head over the pole supporting the adjacent thatched roof.

Pat McKrill: When fiction becomes fact

Our hero, apart from becoming immediately incontinent, heads off, at a speed that would make Caster Semenya envious, into the bush, trousers still around his ankles, having assumed, sans the necessary mental filtration, that he was about to be er… er… what? Attacked? Eaten? Strangled? Can a 1.8-metre human fit into a 500mm snake?

Those vital seconds we take to analyse anything incoming can be extremely valuable. Use them wisely.

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