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Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The Stiletto Snake

If there is one snake in southern Africa that people should know about, it is Bibron’s Stiletto snake. It rates as one of the top four snakes when it comes to snakebites, and many people learn some harsh lessons every summer. Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute gives us more insight.

The Stiletto snake is a smallish, insignificant-looking snake that is often mistaken for a Mole snake, even though it does not look at all similar.  It is dark brown to blackish in colour, often with a similar-coloured belly. However, some individuals – especially those found further north – have white bellies.

Adults average around 30 to 50 cm in length but can exceed 70 cm. It is a fossorial snake that spends most of its life underground in tunnels where it hunts for snakes and lizards, but on warm summer nights, it is often found on the surface or crossing roads. Summer rains really get them moving, and I have seen more than a dozen of these snakes in an hour on tarred roads at night.

Stiletto snakes are unique in that they have large fangs in the front of the mouth that point backwards. As they hunt in the confines of underground tunnels, they can protrude their fangs from the mouth, even when closed, to stab their prey and kill it. And herein lies the problem. Because of their ability to protrude their fangs on either side of the mouth, Stiletto snakes cannot be handled safely in any way. If gripped behind the head, as people often do, the snake merely twists its head to the side and a fang will get a finger or thumb. This is how most victims are bitten – trying to pick up a Stiletto snake or when rescuing one from a cat.

This snake’s venom is potently cytotoxic, causing a great deal of pain, swelling, and blisters. Over the next few days, the blisters may go dark, as will the surrounding tissue as the destructive cell-destroying venom does what it is intended for. As there is no antivenom, doctors can do very little other than treating pain and ensuring patients stay hydrated. Early surgical intervention is not recommended and often makes things worse.

While this is not considered as one of our deadly snakes, many patients suffer from severe local tissue damage and, in some bites, even lose a thumb or fingertip. In addition, Stiletto venom also contains sarafotoxins that could affect muscles around the heart, and this has led to fatal bites from other species of Stiletto snake north of our borders. So, whatever you do, never attempt to pick up any smallish dark brown to blackish snake that you may encounter at night. Even using braai tongs to capture individuals has resulted in hospitalisation.

Bibron’s Stiletto snake is widespread throughout southern Africa, excluding the Western and Eastern Cape and most of the Northern Cape.

About ASI

The African Snakebite Institute (ASI) is the leading training provider of Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling courses in Africa. These courses are presented by Johan Marais, one of Africa’s leading herpetologists with over 40 years of experience, in conjunction with Luke Kemp, a zoology graduate that has been working at ASI for the past four years. Besides their public and corporate training courses, ASI provides additional educational information, interesting reads and various tips in newsletters, articles, posters and other documents on their website. They are also the largest distributors of snake handling equipment on the continent and have a free app that includes first aid information, snake identification features, snake removal information and more.

www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com | admin@asiorg.co.za | Product enquiries: +27 60 957 2713 | Course enquiries: +27 73 186 9176 | Snakebite emergencies: +27 82 494 2039.

*Also read about our training with ASI and a recent adventure with the team, in search of creepy crawlies in Limpopo:

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