Before I tell this story, I must express my gratitude to the brave firefighters who have been battling the flames of an enormous and terrifying fire that has ravaged the Cape Peninsula for the past 48 hours. I extend my sympathies to my friends and those I do not know, who have lost their homes and businesses.
Last week, while on a walk in The Table mountain National Park with some super-fun visitors from California we were very fortunate to see a beautiful small snake in the path. The Cape Peninsula has long been known for its snake population but as the human population has erupted, so the snake population has declined. And although I see snakes fairly often further south in the less populated parts of The Peninsula, I never see snakes around Table Mountain and the city. That was one of the reasons I considered us lucky. The other reason is because the beautiful snake that we saw mostly lives underground and is rarely seen.
Just as we saw it, a Table Mountain National Park ranger arrived and proclaimed the snake to be a Coral Snake and warned us that it was extremely dangerous.
In fact it was a Spotted Harlequin Snake (Homoroselaps lacteus). These spectacular snakes feed mainly on small burrowing snakes and legless lizards. Although they do possess venom, their mouths are so small that it is difficult for them to bite anything larger than a snake or lizard and they are not aggressive at all. They do not strike and when handled roughy they bite slowly rather than strike. A bite from one of these snakes would result in considerable localised swelling, swelling of the lymph nodes and headache which last for 24 hrs to 3 days.
Below is a picture of a Cape Coral Snake (Aspidelaps lubricus lubricus) borrowed from the biodiversityexplorer.org website:
As you can see the two species are very different. The Coral Snake is much more aggressive and will threaten. Although they are from the cobra family and tests on their venom show that they are potentially dangerous, there appears never to have been a confirmed fatality from these snakes! In fact there is a noticeable lack of information about the effects of their venom.