By Pat McKrill
Just more than halfway through lockdown, if we’re lucky. If not, how much longer?
I must apologise for my outburst last month regarding part of the blame for Covid-19 being laid at the door of snakes. Human nature when things go wrong, I supppose – the tendency to point at something/somebody else for our mainly self-inflicted woes, forgetting that other fingers are pointing back as us.
Enough of that now, let’s take a refreshing and thought-provoking look at how the little people – the inhabitants of the undergrowth, our invisible neighbours – are being affected by this monster and how they’re coping.
From what I’m seeing, I’d say they’re drawing better benefits than any politician!
Certainly here in SA, for obvious reasons, there’s been a marked reduction in roadkill of anything, from insects upwards, and a similar reduction in the targeted killing of my friends, the limbless ones, as people are confined to barracks (those who’ve bothered to obey the rules, that is).
The only ones being killed (or hopefully captured and relocated) will be those that had the temerity to enter our homes and gardens in search of food and shelter, as per norm.
The mere curtailment of cutting/mowing/poisoning etc of roadside verges has led to a noticeable increase in availability of grass seed, extra food and more dense shelter for all and sundry.
This is radically changing the environment, bringing with it a notable food bonanza, drawing more snakes, birds, rodents, slugs, snails, insects, you name it, out of hiding and back into a world that for many of them probably never existed.
We can’t ignore that it’s also a plus for predators and, so soon after shutdown, some radically changing feeding patterns and movements are being seen.
Now that you’ve got more spare time, and if you are privileged to have a piece of land, even a small patch of garden, put the phone away, pull up a chair, a pair of binoculars (ones that can focus to within 1.5 metres of you) and take note of what is happening around you.
Wild creatures fear movement and will often hide or freeze their positions if they see it. If, however, you can cut it out, within minutes of settling you’ll start to notice movement you wouldn’t normally have seen. Try it. You might even enjoy it.
Regarding the way wild animals hide to avoid detection, at my new spot in Monteseel, while unpacking my bakkie after a trip to get groceries, I noticed what looked like a trail of termites winding its way between a few stacked wooden planks.
Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a rather rare snake, because of its specialised feeding adaptations and preference for a cliff-type locality, a la Monteseel. It was a spotted rock snake, once known as a spotted house snake. What an unexpected bonus!