16 Types of VENOMOUS Snakes in South Africa! (2024)

Do you want to learn about the types of venomous snakes in South Africa?

Types of venomous snakes in South Africa

If so, you have come to the right place. In the article below, I have listed the MOST COMMON venomous snakes you can expect to see. If I missed any, please leave a Comment at the bottom of the page. 🙂

You’ll see that the venomous snakes in South Africa are very different from each other. They have different sizes, habitats, and even different types of venom. 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!

Venomous Snakes that Live in South Africa:

#1. Puff Adder

  • Bitis arietans

Also known as the African Puff Adder and Common Puff Adder.

Types of venomous snakes in South Africa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 venomous 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 yellow, white, and brown chevron pattern 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 poison and tendency to loiter around footpaths make this snake one to avoid. Watch your step!

#2. Boomslang

  • Dispholidus typus

Also known as Common African Tree Snake, Kivu Boomslang, and Kivu Large Green Tree Snake

Types of venomous snakes in South Africa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 venomous snake makes its home in low-lying trees in South Africa.

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.

#3. Gaboon Viper

  • Bitis gabonica

Also known as Gaboon Adder, Forest Puff Adder, Butterfly Adder, Whisper, Swampjack

Types of venomous snakes in South Africa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 venomous 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.

#4. Rhombic Night Adder

  • Causus rhombeatus

Also known as Demon Night Adders, Cape Night Adders, African Night Adders, and Cape Vipers.

Types of venomous snakes in South Africa

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 60-94 cm (24-37 in) long.
  • Their base color is usually brown but may also be pinkish-brown, grayish-brown, or olive green. They have 20 to 30 dark rhombic blotches with pale edges along their backs.
  • They have a blunt snout and a characteristic dark V-shaped mark on their heads.

Despite being venomous, Rhombic Night Adders are considered docile. That said, they will put up an impressive defense when threatened. Most of their defensive display is designed to make them look like cobras.

For example, they coil up and inflate their bodies, flattening the neck area like a hood. They may move forward with their tongue extended like a cobra as well.

It’s a good idea to heed their warnings! If their defense doesn’t work, they’ll strike repeatedly and aggressively, sometimes so violently that it lifts their entire body off the ground.

Thankfully, bites from Rhombic Night Adders are less severe than other venomous snakes in South Africa. Their bites typically cause pain, minor swelling, and minimal necrosis. The symptoms appear to clear in most adults in two to three days, but you should still see a doctor to be safe.

#5. Black Mamba

  • Dendroaspis polylepis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 lurks what many consider the deadliest venomous snake in South Africa, if not the world. 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 to warn 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.

#6. Cape Coral Snake

  • Aspidelaps lubricus

Also known as Coral Shield Cobras and Cape Coral Cobras.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 45-76 cm (18-30 in) long.
  • They have a narrow neck hood and a short head.
  • Their coloring is usually red-orange to yellow with thick black rings down the length of their bodies.

Look for this venomous snake in South Africa in dry habitats.

You’re most likely to find them in arid deserts and other sandy or rocky ecosystems with little vegetation besides scattered shrubs.

In these intense climates, Cape Coral Snakes are nocturnal out of necessity. Most of their activity and hunting occurs after the sun has gone down. During the day, they stay cool in the shelter of burrows, tunnels, and rocks. They prefer cooler nights and move around less during the heat of summer.

When they leave the burrow in the evening, the hunt is on. Cape Coral Snakes rely on their sense of smell and taste rather than sight. Typically, they go for diurnal prey that’s asleep, which makes an easy target. Lizards, legless skinks, small rodents, and occasionally other snakes are all on the menu. Before feeding, they strike their prey and inject venom to incapacitate it.

When threatened, Cape Coral Snakes flatten their neck like a cobra, hiss at their attacker, and strike repeatedly. Unfortunately, fatalities from their bites have been recorded! It’s thought that their neurotoxic venom causes respiratory failure.

#7. Twig Snake

  • Thelotornis capensis

Also known as Cape Twig Snake, Savanna Vine Snake, Southern Bird Snake, Cape Twig Snake

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 venomous 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, 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.

#8. Eastern Green Mamba

  • Dendroaspis angusticeps

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.8 – 2m (6 – 6.5 ft) long.
  • They have long, slender bodies, narrow, coffin-shaped heads, and short, fixed fangs.
  • They have smooth, bright-green scales that overlay darker skin. This contrast gives them the appearance of paving stones.

Despite their showy appearance, these venomous snakes are a shy, elusive species in South Africa.

Their intense green coloring allows them to blend in with their leafy habitat seamlessly. Eastern Green Mambas are adept climbers and spend most of their time in dense rainforests, coastal bush, and montane forests. Unlike their well-known and feared relative, the Black Mamba, you’re unlikely ever to spot Eastern Green Mambas in open areas.

These venomous snakes in South Africa are also mostly sedentary. One study found that they only move about 5.5 m (18 ft) per day! Eastern Green Mambas are most active during the day and spend their nights sleeping on branches or in tree trunk hollows. During the day, they hunt by ambushing birds, rodents, and reptiles that cross their paths.

Eastern Green Mambas are the least venomous of the three green mambas and are considered less dangerous than the Black Mamba. Regardless, these beautiful snakes are still highly venomous, and you should treat them with respect and caution.

If they feel cornered or are grabbed, they will bite repeatedly. A bite from an Eastern Green Mamba can cause pain, swelling, gangrene, necrosis, dizziness, nausea, convulsions, irregular heartbeat, and other severe symptoms. If you’re bitten, seek medical help right away.

#9. Snouted Night Adder

  • Causus defilippii

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 20-50 cm (8 to 20 in) long.
  • They have a prominent, upturned snout and a V-shaped marking on their heads.
  • Their coloring is light brown, pinkish brown, gray, or greenish-gray with dark crescent-shaped markings down their backs.

You can find Snouted Night Adders in savannas, coastal thickets, and forests. While you may occasionally spot them on dry, rocky hillsides, their favorite places are close to wet areas where their prey is abundant.

These interesting little snakes are specially adapted to feed on frogs and toads! Snouted Night Adders have a pointed, upturned snout that allows them to dig toads and frogs from their hiding places. They’re also surprisingly athletic and often climb into low branches or take to the water and swim in pursuit of prey.

They are rather slow-moving snakes but are capable of striking quickly if provoked. While bites are rare, you should still use caution. Snouted Night Adder venom causes rapid swelling, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and intense pain. Typically the symptoms subside in about three days, but you should see a doctor right away.

#10. Horned Adder

  • Bitis caudalis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 30-50 cm (12-20 in) long.
  • They have short, stout bodies, keeled scales, and large horn-like scales over each eye.
  • Their coloring varies over their range. They may be gray, brown, yellow, or reddish-orange, with darker blotches down their backs.

You can find Horned Adders in sparsely vegetated and semiarid scrub, but they are tough to spot! The coloring of these unusual snakes typically matches the sand in their area, giving them perfect camouflage. Interestingly, males are more brightly colored than females, while females are typically larger than males.

Horned Adders live in areas with brutally hot daytime temperatures, so they seek shelter during the day. They take advantage of their incredible camouflage and bury themselves in loose sand or rest in the shade of a rock or bush. Then, at dusk, as temperatures drop, they come out to hunt, preying on lizards, geckos, small mammals, and birds.

When threatened, the already fierce-looking Horned Adder puts on an intimidating display, puffing up its body and hissing. If approached, they will strike repeatedly and have cytotoxic venom, which causes swelling and pain. Thankfully the venom is relatively weak, and anti-venom isn’t typically required.

#11. Mozambique Spitting Cobra

  • Naja mossambica

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 91-106 cm (36-42 in) long.
  • Their back may be slate to blue, olive, or tawny black, while their underside is salmon-pink to purple-yellow with black bars on their throats.
  • They have hoods on their necks, which they expand when threatened.

You’ll have to stay up late to find these venomous snakes in South Africa.

Mozambique Spitting Cobras are nocturnal and terrestrial, hunting at night and spending most of their days hidden away in crevices, holes, and termite hills. But if you run into one, watch out! Mozambique Spitting Cobras are considered one of the most dangerous species in South Africa.

Mozambique Cobras are nervous and quick to attack when they feel threatened. They rear up, lifting up to two-thirds of their body off the ground, spreading their hood, and spitting at their attacker’s eyes. They can spit 1.8-2 m (6-7 ft) with surprising accuracy. If their attacker gets close, they strike with a vicious bite.

Their venom contains both cytotoxins and neurotoxins. If the venom gets into a victim’s eyes, it can cause permanent damage and blindness. In addition, bites cause severe pain, swelling, necrosis, vomiting, respiratory distress, and dizziness. Without immediate medical attention, the symptoms can be deadly.

Mozambique Cobras are incredible predators that feed on birds, amphibians, eggs, small mammals, carrion, and other snakes. Most incredibly, these dangerous cobras will even attack the notorious Black Mamba and have developed an immunity to their venom.

#12. Rhombic Skaapsteker

  • Psammophylax rhombeatus

Also known as the Spotted Skaapsteker.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are typically 45-87 cm (18-34 in) long.
  • Their color may be grayish, yellowish-brown, or olive-brown with rows of dark, rhombus-shaped spots on their back.
  • They have a yellowish underside, large eyes with circular pupils, and the tops of their heads are uniformly brown.

You’ll likely find these venomous snakes in South Africa in moist savannas, grasslands, and shrublands.

The second portion of their name, “Skaapsteker,” is an Afrikaans word meaning “sheep-stabber” or “sheep-stinger.” Thankfully for the sheep, the name is a bit misleading. These snakes are known to be fairly gentle and are difficult to provoke into striking.

While they have neurotoxic venom, it’s mild and poses no threat to humans or large animals. Additionally, they have small teeth set very far back in their jaw, making it difficult to bite a large animal.

However, Rhombic Skaaptekers are still dangerous to their prey. They’re fast-moving snakes, and their venom is perfectly suited to incapacitating small prey like frogs, rodents, lizards, birds, and smaller snakes.

While we often classify snakes as oviparous (egg-laying) or ovoviviparous (giving birth to live young in an amniotic sack), these weird snakes fall in between. The females lay up to 30 eggs which are already partially incubated. In another somewhat unique feature, the females guard the eggs rather than leaving them as many snakes do.

#13. Rinkhals

  • Hemachatus haemachatus

Also known as Ringhals or Ring-Necked Cobras.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 90-112 cm (35-44 in) long.
  • They have a characteristic dark belly with light-colored cross-bands on the throat, a hooded neck, and ridged upper scales.
  • Their coloring varies throughout their range, and they may be black or yellowish-orange with dark brown stripes.

This species is one of the most intimidating venomous snakes in South Africa!

But despite their dangerous appearance, Rinkhals aren’t especially aggressive. Their first instinct is to retreat into a nearby hole when threatened.

However, they quickly put up a fierce defense if they feel cornered. They raise the upper portion of their body off the ground, spread their neck hood, and then spit venom at their attacker. They try to aim for their attacker’s eyes and can accurately spit up to 3 m (10 ft)!

Venom entering the eyes can cause pain and permanent vision loss. If the snake continues to feel threatened, it will strike its attacker. Though rarely deadly, a bite from this species can cause vomiting, nausea, violent abdominal pain, swelling, bruising, and vertigo. Seek medical help immediately if you’re bitten or spit on!

The Rinkhals’ last line of defense is to put on a fairly convincing show of playing dead. Don’t be fooled! They roll over onto their backs and leave their mouths hanging agape, then try to strike their attacker with the element of surprise.

#14. Spotted Harlequin Snake

  • Homoroselaps lacteus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 30-40 cm (12-16 in) long.
  • Their heads and necks are indistinct from each other, with no real divide.
  • The coloring varies greatly, but they are typically a mixture of black and gray with a bright yellow, orange, or red stripe running from neck to tail.

These colorful little venomous snakes can be hard to locate in South Africa! Spotted Harlequins are semi-fossorial, meaning they spend much of their time hidden in termite mounds, under rocks and logs, or beneath old buildings and debris.

They’re a shy species, and when uncovered, Spotted Harlequins typically wriggle violently to escape. Bites are rare but have occurred often enough that we know the symptoms. Their bites cause cytotoxic effects, including headaches, pain, and swelling. However, due to the minimal venom delivered in a bite, they don’t appear to be life-threatening.

While it may not greatly affect humans, Spotted Harlequins use their venom to help subdue prey. They feed on other snakes and lizards, particularly blind snakes and legless skinks.

#15. Snouted Cobra

  • Naja annulifera

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.2-2.5 m (4-8 ft) long.
  • They have impressively large hoods.
  • Their varied coloring may be yellowish, grayish-brown, dark brown, or blue-black, sometimes with contrasting bands on their backs.

Snouted Cobras live in moist and dry savannas in South Africa. They prefer areas with predominately thorny, shrubby vegetation or open woodland interspersed with openings of long grass. They spend most of their time near a favorite retreat, like an abandoned termite mound. If left undisturbed, they’ll use the same retreat for years.

During the day, they like to bask in the sun near their shelter, and they come out to hunt at dusk. Snouted Cobras actively seek prey and feed on birds, bird eggs, lizards, rodents, toads, and other snakes, especially Puff Adders. Around human dwellings, they’ll often raid chicken houses and can become a nuisance.

While they’re not aggressive, Snouted Cobras will defend themselves. They lift the front portion of their body off the ground, open an impressive neck hood, and hiss. Occasionally, they play dead, but this behavior is rare in this species. However, if further threatened, they will strike.

Snouted Cobras have a potent neurotoxic venom. Bites on humans are often at night on the lower leg. They can cause difficulty breathing, pain, swelling, and blistering. If left untreated, they can result in respiratory failure and death. Seek medical treatment immediately if you are bitten!

#16. Cape Cobra

  • Naja nivea

Also known as Yellow Cobra and Black Spitting Cobra

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 venomous 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.

Did you know that snakes are considered venomous, NOT poisonous?

There currently is a common misconception between poisonous and venomous, one is ingested, and the other is injected. So, for example, If you eat something that makes you sick, then it is considered “poisonous.” But if an animal, like a snakes, delivers its toxins when it bites, then it’s considered “venomous.”

Learn more about animals found in South Africa in these ID Guides:

Which of these venomous snakes have you seen before in South Africa?

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