Snake sightings

David Chaplin, Fish Hoek

The text accompanying the beautiful photos of a snake (Echo, May 3) implied that the snake was possibly a Cape cobra, but mentioned no alternatives, and indeed avoided any firm identification altogether.

While I would applaud the householder’s careful relocation without harming the snake, I fear this coverage may do little to reduce public alarmism over snake sightings, and the misidentification of it being a Cape cobra may even prompt others finding these snakes to kill them on sight out of fear or ignorance.

The pictured snake was in fact a herald snake, Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia, also known in Afrikaans as “rooilippie” because of their bright red “lips” in some regions other than in the Southern Cape, where they tend to be white or pale yellow.

These snakes are in the family Colubridae (back-fanged snakes) and grow to a length of some 70cm, with some individuals reaching as long as a metre.

Their lifespan is about 15 years. Heralds are very common throughout South Africa, and feed mostly on amphibians or sometimes lizards.

They are only mildly venomous and are almost completely harmless to humans or pets, despite their feisty nature and theatrically aggressive response when alarmed or molested.

I would be grateful if you could make the identification clearly known, in the interests of education d advancing the spirit of conservation. The best thing one could do on finding a herald in your garden is to celebrate the biodiversity you have, and to leave it exactly where it is. Because it’s probably doing just fine, and it’s not at all dangerous.