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Rule no 1 for snake season


I’ve been undertaking research for an article I’m writing on my understanding of how snakes can detect sound and movement.

It seemed a pretty simple task to start with, but when I tried to convince myself that I’d ticked all the boxes, I found that it wasn’t that simple.

Suffice to say, my research told me that it goes a lot deeper once you start to collate and analyse the available information. It also became clear to me that no matter how long we’ve been working with whatever it is we work with, there’s an awful lot we still don’t understand or know about in this world around us.

New stuff

As a result of my findings, and as we’re well on the way to the busy part of the snake season, I thought that now would be a good time for us to sharpen up on the basics, learn some new stuff and revise the old.

There’s one thing that remains unchanged, however…

Apart from taking in air through their nostrils, snakes use their tongues to receive pheromonal information. Some also have good eyesight and are acutely aware of movement within their range of vision.

Rule number one: The only and simplest rule when you encounter a snake in most situations is stand still.

Thereafter, consider your options, which are either to retreat slowly or to continue to watch it and wait until it’s moved on, which it will ultimately do. Snakes do their best to avoid confrontation.

If you’re standing on it at the same time you see it, a slightly different set of rules applies.


Basically, even if it tries to bite you while you’re making your decision, get off it and move away. Deal with the consequences, if any, thereafter.

This second scenario is undoubtedly a common occurrence, but bear in mind that most of our snake species are either non-venomous or mildly venomous.

Driving on South African roads is a lot more dangerous.

Snakes have been on this earth for a lot longer than we have. As a result, and because they don’t know what we are, they automatically class us as a potential threat, as they would any other creature, if moving.

If we’re immobile, we are more than likely taken to be another harmless object and ignored.

Kruger sojourn helps clear the mist

To determine the difference between the two, the snake would need to conduct a rapid analysis of us as the object using some or all of the following:

Eyesight: Snakes with good eyesight are acutely aware of any movement within their range of vision.
Sensors: Pits or tubercles embedded within the scales of most snakes are sensitive to a diverse range of incoming information, including to a lesser or greater degree, temperature differences, pressure changes (vibrations) from ground or airborne sources, and distance from the object.
Smell: Apart from the natural intake of air through the nostrils, snakes use their tongues and the organ of Jacobson, a patch of sensory cells within the main nasal chamber, to receive additional pheromonal information.

Which is why we seldom see snakes in the wild. They “see” us first.

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