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What you need to know about the Night Adder

Often described as a “brown snake with black diamonds on the body”, the Night Adder favours damp localities and is fairly common around the wetter eastern half of South Africas.

Fact file:

Full name: Common Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)

Other names: Rhombic Night Adder; Nagadder

Classification: Dangerous

Despite the common name, the Night Adder is more active during the day. The largest member of the genus Causus, it averages 30 to 60cm in length, but can reach up to 1m. The snake can be identified by the distinct dark V-marking on the head. Their bodies are usually grey or light brown in colour, with dark brown, light- edged blotches (rhombic markings) along the centre of the body and tail. Occasionally it can be olive-coloured. The relatively blunt snout is generally more rounded than in other members of this adder family.

The Night Adder favours the wetter eastern half of South Africa and occurs right down to Swellendam in the Western Cape. Being a frog specialist, this snake prefers damp localities such as dams, ponds, rivers and wetlands. It is commonly found in suburban gardens, especially those with water features or pools (since their favourite food – toads and frogs – are found here).

While generally a docile snake it will hiss aggressively and strike when provoked. Night Adder venom is cytotoxic which is not considered to be lethal to humans. Having said that, this snake’s venon should never be underestimated, especially in children, as some victims require hospitalisation. It accounts for many bites, especially in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. Bites are painful and swelling occurs almost immediately. However, antivenom is not required or effective for this species. Night Adders are slightly different to the other adders and they fall into their own genus, Causus

rather than Bitis, which includes the Puff, Berg and Gaboon Adders). Unlike the other adders, they lay eggs rather than give birth, and can lay more than 20 eggs during summer. Their scales are also not keeled, whereby each scale has a ridge in the middle, which gives other adders a rough texture. Night Adder scales are smooth. These snakes also have one of the longest venom glands of any South African snake, in proportion to their body.

Snake bites and your pets

Dogs are often bitten and small dogs may die from a Night Adder bite (or any other snakebite for that matter). Bites from snakes with predominantly cytotoxic venom – such as adders and spitting cobras – result in pain, swelling and blistering, which may lead to severe tissue damage.

Small animals may suffer severe blood loss in addition to tissue damage. In cases where dogs are bitten in the face and throat region, the swelling may also inhibit breathing and this is particularly problematic in small dogs. Animals that are severely envenomated may die as a result of hypovolemic shock and/ or tissue necrosis and cell death.

The bite from a neurotoxic snake (largely mambas and some cobras) may cause respiratory paralysis and threaten the animal’s life. The animal may be saved if it receives antivenom and/or assisted ventilation. Should the animal stop breathing on the way to a veterinarian, you can try mouth-to-nose resuscitation. These animals will probably need antivenom and will likely have to be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe while the antivenom takes effect.

In cases of severe envenomation, antivenom is the only solution and anything from two to six (or more) vials of polyvalent antivenom (polyvalent antivenom neutralises the venom of cobras, mambas, the Rinkhals, Puff Adder and Gaboon Adder) may be required. Such treatments cost anything from R4 000 to over R20 000.

For venom in the eyes, the treatment is like that for humans. Gently rinse the eyes with water for 15 to 20 minutes and get the dog to a veterinarian who will apply local anaesthetic and antibiotic eye drops. If the correct procedures are followed, most dogs regain full sight within a few days. There is very little an owner can do to save a pet’s life when it has been bitten by a venomous snake, other than getting it to a vet. Home remedies and first-aid treatment have little effect on the final outcome of such a bite. Popular myths that are meaningless in saving your pet after a snakebite include:

• Forcing milk down the animal’s throat.

• Feeding it charcoal.

• Giving the animal an antihistamine such as Allergex.

• Cutting the tip of the animal’s ear to let the venom ‘bleed out’.

www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com

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