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SNAKES Corneringthe CREEP of CREEPY CRAWLERS Author: Bruce Coetzee Summertime is almost upon us, and as many South Africans know, this marks the return of humankind's least favoured, misunderstood creatures. Snakes are wondrous animals who have survived not only aeons upon the earth but have also endured the consequences of humanity's distaste since Adam and Eves’ early malevolence. If you have at some point encountered one of the multitudes of variations encompassed by the species, then you may understand how well adapted they are to surviving a harsh and brutal world. There are two very similar yet significantly distinct classes within the species—commonly known as colourbrids and those which fall into the school of venomous snakes. There are also variations according to subspecies, including adders, boas, pythons and cobras. Each sub-species has adapted and developed mechanisms best suited to its natural environment, including food choice preferences.
Colubrids are typically rodent eaters; however, often, birds, frogs, and other small invertebrates collectively form part of their staple diets. Common colourbrids in SA include the Brown House snake, Spotted Bush snake and Natal Grass snake. These snakes rely on a system of strikes and constriction to subdue prey, and hunting techniques utilised by these animals are indeed a sight to behold. Certain snakes are classified as arboreal, while others fall into terrestrial serpents. Some, however, are at home in the trees and ground level. Venomous snakes may contain one or a combination of three distinctive venom types. Cytotoxic venom results in tissue necrosis, and snakes that fall into the adder or viper genus, which includes the notorious Gaboon viper, will often lie in wait, striking only when conditions are perfect, utilising the effects of its venom to do the work. The elusive Boom slang is equipped with Hemotoxic venom, which prohibits blood coagulation, resulting in blood loss and eventual death if not treated quickly. The third and possibly most lethal venom variation is that of snakes such as Black and Green Mambas and includes many of the Cobra family. Neurotoxic venom affects the central nervous system and acts expediently, shutting down respiratory and peripheral functions in minutes. Anti-venoms may not be readily available for many of these snake subspecies, and if you find yourself in doubt, do not attempt to capture or handle the snake in question. The specialised study of reptiles is referred to as herpetology and has become a passion for many amateur enthusiasts, who have helped break down stigmas traditionally attached to these incredible animals. Snakes, like all reptiles, are cold-blooded, thus relying on external heat to maintain internal body temperatures. Sun-filled days and warmed surfaces provide ample opportunity for snakes emerging from periods of "sleep", otherwise referred to as bromating period, to regain energy for hunting. The common misconceptions and superstitions following these unique and vital components within nature have led to the compounding of man's natural fears in the face of predators. Unfortunately, most people need to realise that we would be overrun by more volatile disease carriers, such as rats, with these animals. Take the time to educate yourself on the facts before making decisions about the nature of snakes, and you may find that they are simply spectacular!