Warm weather brings out the snakes

Zoologist and nature guide Mathieu van Goethem in the West Coast National Park with a spotted harlequin snake.

With the warmer weather, people have been reporting snake sightings in Hout Bay.

Dirk Meyer photographed what has been identified by experts as a spotted harlequin snake on Thursday September 28. He saw the snake at Valley Road, after the Disa River bridge and posted on Facebook asking whether anyone could advise him on what to do when finding a snake. Was it best to ignore them or call somebody to catch them?

Shimeem Gamieldien found three spotted harlequins in Penzance Estate. “These dudes are thirsty and hungry. It’s been a long winter,” he wrote.

Ingrid du Plessis spotted what appears to be a puff adder while walking in Ruyterplaats Estate.

Zoologist and nature guide Mathieu van Goethem, of Penzance Estate, responded to the posts. As a registered snake rescuer with the African Snakebite Institute, he offers his services for free to the community of Hout Bay and surrounds when they have snakes on their properties.

“Save snakes and put people’s minds at ease is the name of the game,” he said.

He runs day trips to the West Coast National Park to teach people about snakes and reptiles and to not fear them but appreciate them.

He says the best way to deal with a snake on a property is to call a professional snake rescuer.

“Many people get bitten when trying to kill or remove a snake themselves. All snakes provide a service for us and play an important role in pest control and should be appreciated for the service they provide.”

He says the spotted harlequin is a small colourful species averaging 30 to 40cm with large individuals reaching around 60cm. It feeds on legless skinks, other snakes and small lizards.

They are not rare, just semi-fossorial, meaning they spend much time underground. They are mildly venomous and should not be picked up by hand, but they are not medically significant and are very reluctant to bite, says Mr Van Goethem

As for snakes coming out of hibernation, Mr Van Goethem says snakes and reptiles in South Africa do not hibernate; they just have a few months of lowered activity.

“They will still come out and bask on those random sunny winter days and still drink and occasionally eat. But once spring arrives and it warms up, it’s breeding season for a lot of the snakes that call Cape Town home. So males will be cruising around looking for females, hence the increase in sightings during this period.”

Mr Van Goethem says snakes will follow food and look for shelter. “The best strategy to keep snakes away is to keep houses free of places they can hide and keep it clean so that you don’t attract rats and mice.”

On sighting a snake, the first action is to find out if it is dangerous such as a puff adder, berg adder, Cape cobra or boomslang.

“If it’s one of these species, call your local snake rescuer immediately. Otherwise all other species are harmless to humans, or mildly venomous like a bee or wasp sting, but considered harmless to humans. If it doesn’t bother you, you can let the snake be.”

Vist africansnakebiteinstitute.com for more information about snakes. Call Mathieu van Goethem at 084 699 2121 or info@matvangeo.com.

A Spotted harlequin snake goes “walkies” on Thursday September 28. Picture: Facebook.
What appears to be a puff adder was spotted in Ruyterplaats Estate. Picture: Facebook.
Homoroselaps lacteus, also known as the spotted harlequin snake. Picture: Mathieu van Goethem.