Do you want to learn about the types of snakes found in South Africa?
If so, you have come to the right place. In the article below, I have listed the MOST COMMON snakes you can expect to see. Unfortunately, there are so many snakes that live in South Africa that it would be impossible to list each one. 🙂
You’ll see that the snakes in South Africa are very different from each other. They range from venomous species to snakes that use constriction to immobilize their prey. In addition, certain snakes are common to find living around people. For each species, you will find out how to identify that snake correctly, along with pictures, interesting facts, and RANGE MAPS!
Here are 16 types of snakes that live in South Africa:
#1. Puff Adder
- Bitis arietans
Also known as the African Puff Adder and Common Puff Adder
- Adults are 100-150 cm (39-59 in) long.
- They are commonly gray to dusty brown, with yellow chevrons on their backs.
- There are two dark bands on the head, one on the crown and one between the eyes.
- Male Puff Adders are usually larger than females.
Puff Adders are one of the most dangerous snakes in South Africa.
This ill-tempered native snake roams savannas, grasslands, and – to the great misfortune of inhabitants – densely populated areas. The Puff Adder gets its name from how it inflates itself when threatened. Instead of moving away, it will hiss a warning to intruders before inflating and striking.
Its distinctive chevron pattern in yellow, white, and brown colors allows the Puff Adder to blend into its surroundings. This camouflage is particularly useful for its lifestyle as an ambush predator. Be careful where you wander because this highly-venomous, fast-striking snake seems to come out of nowhere.
The Puff Adder’s venom contains a cytotoxin that can kill a healthy adult human within a day. Their potent venom and tendency to loiter around footpaths make this snake one to avoid. Watch your step!
#2. Cape House Snake
- Boaedon capensis
Also known as the Brown House Snake and Common House Snake
- Adults are 60 cm (24 in) on average, but they can grow up to 120 cm (47 in).
- They are various shades of yellow and brown, but some individuals are brick red.
- You will notice two white lines on the head: one from the back of the eye to the tip of the mouth and the other from the nose to the back of the head.
- The belly is creamy white, with stripes running along the body.
The Cape House Snake is frequently seen in grassy and suburban areas, but it doesn’t stop there. As its name suggests, it has a habit of appearing in houses unannounced, especially at night!
Luckily, these snakes are harmless to humans. They slowly drag themselves around at night to catch unsuspecting rodents, lizards, and birds. Without venom to paralyze their prey, Cape House Snakes constrict their prey with strong muscles along their bodies.
The Cape House Snake is popular among exotic pet owners due to being low-maintenance. However, owners should be careful to keep these snakes separated. In captivity, they breed up to six times per year as opposed to two times in the wild.
- Dispholidus typus
Also known as Common African Tree Snake, Kivu Boomslang, and Kivu Large Green Tree Snake
- Adults are usually 100-160 cm (39-63 in) long.
- Coloration varies greatly, allowing these snakes to camouflage in different terrains.
- Generally, males are light green, scaled with black and blue, and females are brown.
- Boomslangs have an egg-shaped head and notably large eyes.
This slender snake in South Africa makes its home in low-lying trees.
In fact, its common name Boomslang means “tree snake” in Afrikaans and Dutch. Be careful within this species’ range because the next vine you pull might become a deadly encounter!
This snake’s venom is highly potent, causing bleeding and death for humans, even in small doses. However, compared to front-fanged snakes, which release large amounts of venom at once, rear-fanged snakes like the Boomslang inject small amounts of venom in quick succession.
When confronted, the Boomslang will freeze and then swing its head from side to side before quickly attacking. Fortunately, Boomslangs won’t attack humans except as a last resort. If you are bitten, seek immediate treatment. Victims might get a false sense of safety because the venom is slow-acting, but many people have died from internal bleeding hours later.
#4. Cape Cobra
- Naja nivea
Also known as Yellow Cobra and Black Spitting Cobra
- Their typical length is between 120-140 cm (47-55 in), but some have been recorded to grow up to 188 cm (74 in).
- Male Cape Cobras are slightly larger than females.
- Their colors vary, ranging from bright yellow, dark brown, and reddish black to speckled.
- Juveniles have dark bands from the throat to the belly for their first two years.
The Cape Cobra is found along savannas, shrublands, and deserts. Although it’s mostly a terrestrial snake that hunts on land, this venomous species is surprisingly agile near water or atop trees.
Be extra careful if you find yourself within Cape Cobra territory. Among snakes in South Africa, it’s considered one of the most dangerous because its venom targets the respiratory and nervous systems. Seek immediate treatment if bitten because victims have been reported to die within an hour.
Like most snakes, the Cape Cobra prefers to flee than fight. However, it can strike without notice if it feels trapped. Be especially wary during this cobra’s mating period in September and October, when it’s more aggressive than usual.
#5. Spotted Bush Snake
- Philothamnus semivariegatus
Also known as Spotted Green Snake and Variegated Green Snake
- They are typically 60-130 cm (24-51 in) long.
- Spotted Bush Snakes have small heads, golden yellow eyes, and blue tongues.
- The upper half of the body can be yellow, green, or blue, while the tail-end is brown. You might also find black spots or stripes.
You might encounter the Spotted Bush Snake in South Africa in forested areas or suburban gardens.
These beautifully-patterned snakes have keeled, or ridged, belly scales, allowing them to easily climb walls, trees, and bushes. Curiously, they’re fantastic swimmers as well!
Often misidentified as the more dangerous Green Mamba, Spotted Bush Snakes are non-venomous and harmless to humans. Instead, they’re patient hawk-eyed hunters, staying completely still before swiftly attacking lizards, geckos, and frogs in daylight.
Spotted Bush Snakes are alert, nervous animals and will immediately flee upon sensing danger. They don’t have established territories and are noted to travel far and wide in pursuit of their prey. So if you find one astray in your home, leave a window open, and it’ll leave soon!
#6. Stripe-bellied Sand Snake
- Psammophis subtaeniatus
Also known as Western Yellow-bellied Sand Snake
- Their average length is 70-140 cm (28-55 in).
- As its common name suggests, it has prominent stripes along the body from head to tail. The belly is yellow.
- Look for a slender head and large eyes.
Try not to blink, or you might miss seeing one of the fastest snakes in South Africa!
Stripe-bellied Sand Snakes are swift enough to successfully hunt birds, lizards, rodents, and even other snakes. But thankfully, it poses no threat to humans.
The Stripe-bellied Sand Snake frequents arid habitats such as savannas and rocky hillsides. Here, it indulges in one of its favorite pastimes– basking in the sun! Consequently, it’s most active during the hottest hours of the day.
Interestingly, they share a trait commonly seen in house geckos. If a predator catches its tail, the snake snaps it off and slithers away to nearby shrubs and trees for safety. The tail grows back, but it’s usually less colorful and shorter than before.
#7. Black Mamba
- Dendroaspis polylepis
- Adults are 200-450 cm (79-177 in).
- Its coloring is usually brown, olive green, or yellow. Black specimens with purplish scales are very rare.
- Juveniles are usually gray or green, but they darken with age.
In small woodlands and rocky outcrops of sub-Saharan South Africa lurks what many consider the world’s deadliest snake. The Black Mamba is named after the inky coloring of the inside of its mouth, something you should hope never to see! It likes to nest in burrows, so stay alert around suspicious holes.
The fatally potent venom of the Black Mamba targets the nervous system and the heart. Difficulty breathing can occur within 10 minutes. If you get bitten, it’s a race against time, so get medical attention immediately!
In addition to their highly toxic venom, Black Mambas are terrifyingly fast. They can move 16 kph (10 mph) for short distances and even lunge at prey or attackers.
Contrary to popular belief, these snakes are rather shy and will choose to escape when given a chance. They raise their heads, spread their cobra-like neck hoods, and hiss loudly as a warning to would-be attackers. So the best thing to do if you encounter the Black Mamba is to slowly back away, making sure it doesn’t feel cornered.
#8. Red-lipped Snake
- Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia
Also known as Common Herald Snake, White-lipped Herald Snake, Savanna White-lipped Snake, Black-templed Cat Snake
- This snake can grow to 70-100 cm (28-39 in) long.
- Coloration is usually olive green or gray on the back, sometimes speckled white. Its head is notably black.
- True to its name, it has a bright red (sometimes orange or yellow) upper lip most prominently displayed when it feels threatened.
- The head is broad and triangular, while the tail is short.
You’ll find Red-lipped Snakes near marshlands, bogs, and lowland forests in South Africa.
They also gravitate towards the suburbs, so you might bump into one in your backyard after an evening rain.
Most active during the night, these land snakes prey on amphibians such as toads and frogs. Their venom is mild, effective only on their chosen prey, and harmless to humans. They also have a mild and shy demeanor.
Don’t test your luck, though. Red-lipped snakes have a trigger-happy temper when provoked. So even though its venom isn’t dangerous, its bite is still painful!
Interestingly, the Red-lipped Snake got its other common name, the Herald Snake, from a newspaper story. It was first mentioned in the Eastern Cape’s Herald newspaper!
#9. Southern African Python
- Python natalensis
Also known as Lesser African Python, South African Rock Python, Natal Rock Python
- On average, this large snake is 280-460 cm (110-181 inches) long, with rare specimens reaching 600 cm (236 inches).
- Females are much heavier than males.
- Its broad head is marked by an arrow shape on the crown.
- The coloration is dark brown speckled with gray, with a white underside.
This species is one of the largest snakes in South Africa.
It regularly grows longer than four meters (13 feet), and some rare individuals reach a staggering six meters (20 feet) long! Look for the Southern African Python in woodlands and savannas, close to water sources such as lakes, streams, and rivers.
This python’s main diet consists of warm-blooded animals like monkeys, large birds, and even young antelopes. If warm-blooded prey isn’t abundant, it will eat fish and even small crocodiles. As with the rest of the python family, it kills by constriction and swallows its prey whole.
Although they’re non-venomous, they’re big enough to kill and eat humans on rare occasions! Thankfully, Southern African Pythons are not aggressive and usually don’t bother people. Instead, they prefer basking lazily in the sun while submerged in shallow waters.
#10. Gaboon Viper
- Bitis gabonica
Also known as Gaboon Adder, Forest Puff Adder, Butterfly Adder, Whisper, Swampjack
- Their typical size is 80–205 cm (31-81 in) long.
- Females are heavy and stout, while males have longer tails in proportion to their body length.
- You’ll see faded, rectangular blotches down the snake’s back, with yellowish hourglass-shaped marks along the gaps.
The Gaboon Viper boasts the longest fangs of any snake in South Africa!
Incredibly, they can grow up to 6 cm (2.3 in) long. This is one snake you definitely want to steer clear of!
Interestingly, its fangs aren’t the only unusual thing about this species. It also has the highest venom yield of any snake worldwide because of its hunting style. Unlike most vipers, it doesn’t release once it engages in a bite, injecting massive amounts of venom into its prey.
Watch your step because this nocturnal viper has near-perfect camouflage. It’s practically invisible amid fallen leaves on the forest floor and can remain motionless for hours hunting small birds and mammals.
The Gaboon Viper’s venom can be fatal in large doses or cause severe necrosis in the bite area. Fortunately, bite incidents are rare. These snakes are normally non-aggressive, sluggish, and are only encountered in dense rainforests.
#11. Olive Whip Snake
- Psammophis mossambicus
Also known as Olive Grass Snake, Olive Sand Snake
- Adults are 100-180 cm long (39-71 in) on average.
- It’s mostly olive-brown, but some specimens are black.
- There are dark-edged scales along the neck and body. The underside is yellow.
This snake in South Africa is a common resident of grasslands and swamplands.
You might find the Olive Whip Snake prowling near water sources during the day, so keep a keen eye out! Be alert around trees and shrubs, too, because it’s an adept climber.
The Olive Grass Snake is not nearly as venomous as the Black Mamba, but it often gets mistaken for one. This is due to its size and tendency to lift its forebody off the ground to an impressive height. Its food sources are also similar to the Black Mamba: lizards, rodents, frogs, and fellow venomous snakes.
Despite its weight, the Olive Grass Snake moves incredibly fast. And while it prefers a speedy retreat when sensing danger, it may choose to lunge and bite. Fortunately, its venom is mild for humans.
#12. Brown Forest Cobra
- Naja subfulva
- Adults are 200-275 cm (79-108 in) long on average.
- They are mostly brownish yellow on the head, darkening to pitch black on the tail. There are light-colored spots all over the body.
- Other notable characteristics are black stripes under the eyes and a band of small black dots near the throat.
Brown Forest Cobras are mostly limited to savanna woodlands in South Africa. This highly alert and intelligent cobra leaves its lair when the sun is out. If it’s not busy basking in the heat, it goes hunting for its usual lunch: birds and small mammals.
Thankfully, snakebite incidents are rare because Brown Forest Cobras live far away from human civilization. Even if you encounter them, their first instinct is to flee. Nonetheless, stay back as their venom can cause tissue damage, difficulty breathing, and even death if left untreated.
#13. Horned Adder
- Bitis caudalis
Also known as Horned Puff Adder, Horned Viper, Sidewinding Adder, Common Single-horned Adder
- Adults are 30-51 cm (12-20 in) long.
- Body coloration appears in shades of brown, gray, yellow, and red.
- Males have more vibrant colors, while females are significantly larger.
Horned Adders are one of the smallest snakes in South Africa, but they are fierce when disturbed.
This species owes its common name to the prominent horn-like scale above each eye. Horned Adders inhabit scrublands and semi-deserts because their repetitive sidewinding motion is efficient in sandy terrain.
As an ambush predator, this adder will bury itself into the sand just deep enough for its eyes to poke out. Then, it uses its black-tipped tail to lure prey in the form of geckos, rodents, and birds. Horned Adders are most active at dusk. In the daytime, they enjoy the shade of rocks and bushes.
The venom, containing mild cytotoxins, has been known to cause serious pain and skin ulcers. Listen carefully for angry hisses as you might accidentally cross paths with a Horned Adder already in striking position!
#14. Twig Snake
- Thelotornis capensis
Also known as Cape Twig Snake, Savanna Vine Snake, Southern Bird Snake, Cape Twig Snake
- These are slender snakes with very long tails, measuring 100-168 cm (39-66 in) in total length.
- Look for a flattened bluish-green head, keyhole-shaped pupils, large black fangs, and a reddish-black tongue.
- Body coloration is brown or gray with blotches.
As the name suggests, you might mistake this snake in South Africa for a twig!
Twig Snakes hang perfectly still on branches of low shrubs, waiting for passing chameleons, frogs, and birds. They are patient predators and can maintain this posture for hours. When disturbed, they inflate their necks like a balloon as a scare tactic.
Take great care when trekking through coastal forests and woodlands. Its coloration allows it to blend in with the bark and branches of trees. Although it’s unassuming, the Twig Snake is venomous and very dangerous.
The Twig Snake’s venom is a slow-acting poison that can cause profuse bleeding and hemorrhage. One German herpetologist named Robert Mertens died 18 days after being bitten by his pet Twig Snake. So, get quick medical treatment for a bite even if you don’t have immediate symptoms.
#15. Mole Snake
- Pseudaspis cana
- Adults grow up to 207 cm (81 in) long.
- Colors are commonly gray, red, or black on the body. The belly is white, speckled with dark spots.
- Juveniles are light brown with white zig-zags or spots.
- They use their small heads, pointed snouts, and narrow necks to hunt underground.
Look for Mole Snakes in South Africa in scrublands and mountainous regions.
You are most likely to find one near rodent burrows where it spends the day foraging for its next meal. In fact, this species was named after the Golden Moles it loves to feast on.
A curious quirk of this muscular snake is that it’s viviparous. So instead of laying eggs as most reptiles do, the Mole Snake will give birth to live babies. Incredibly, a single mole snake can give birth to up to 95 babies at once!
Mole Snakes may be non-venomous, but you should still be careful if handling one. With strong, very sharp teeth, they can inflict deep wounds that need stitches. In addition, they’re extremely aggressive. They are often mistaken for Cape Cobras because of their short tempers and notorious ferocity.
#16. Common Slug-Eater
- Duberria lutrix
- Adults grow to only about 40 cm (16 in).
- Typically, they have black-striped green or brown backs, white and yellow bellies, and gray sides.
Common Slug-Eaters are non-venomous snakes endemic to the damp grasslands of Southern South Africa. True to their name, they feed on a specialized diet of snails and slugs. They have a calm demeanor, and they pose no danger to humans.
This snake is known to hunt its prey down by following slime trails. Once it locates a meal, it quickly swallows the soft body before the snail or slug can secrete foul, defensive mucus. In the case of snails, Common Slug-eaters are known to bash the hard shell against a rock to break it open.
Do you need more help identifying a snake you saw in Africa?
If so, check out this field guide, which is full of great information!
Learn more about animals found in South Africa in these ID Guides:
Which of these snakes have you seen before in South Africa?
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