Big and bashful

- Visit africansna­kebiteinst­iture.com for more informatio­n. – Johan Marais

Mole snakes are common and widespread in southern Africa. They even occur on Robben Island! Most average about a metre in length, but individual­s in the Western Cape have been known to become quite bulky and can exceed two metres in length.

Across the majority of its range, the mole snake is seldom detected. That’s because it spends much of its life in rodent burrows, where it hunts. Their most common prey is mole rats, accounting for the name, but mole snakes also feed on other small rodents, which they grab with their sharp teeth and constrict.

Snakes vary in colour from dark grey or shiny black to various shades of brown. Juveniles are brightly marked with patterns down their back. They’re muscular snakes, with a small pointed head that is not very distinct from the body – ideally adapted for its burrowing existence. During the mating season, males engage in combat, wrestling and biting one another. Older males are invariably scarred from such battles. The winner gets the female, who usually produces between 25 and 50 live young, but that number has been known to reach as many as 95 in late summer. The colourful youngsters measure 20 to 21 cm in length.

The mole snake is not venomous to humans, but it is frequently mistaken for a variety of other snakes, including venomous ones – and vice versa. In KZN, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the North West, people often encounter the venomous Bibron’s stiletto snake and mistake it for a mole snake, sometimes with disastrous results. If you do get bitten by a mole snake, the worst that can happen is an infection (if you don’t clean the wound properly) or in nastier cases, a few stitches.

In the Western and Eastern Cape, mole snakes are frequently killed by vehicles. It’s quite common to see dead mole snakes beside busy roads. Mole snakes also fall prey to a number of natural predators like small carnivores, birds of prey and other snakes. The Cape cobra is particular­ly fond of a mole snake dinner.

 ?? ?? MOLE SNAKE (Pseudaspis cana)
MOLE SNAKE (Pseudaspis cana)

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