I was browsing through some old photos the other day and cam across a couple of one of Londolozi’s lesser known snakes; the Vine Snake. Or Twig snake. Or Bird snake. Depends who you ask.
Vine snake is the more common name these days, or at least around here it is, so we’ll go with that one.
One of Londolozi’s most beautiful serpents, it is also one of the least commonly seen. Not so much because there aren’t many of them around, but more because of the arboreal habitat that they favour and their unbelievable camouflage.
As the name suggests, the vine snake resembles exactly that; a slender vine or branch, totally inconspicuous, blending right in to its surroundings.
It’s not a bad thing that vine snakes aren’t often encountered. Their venom is deadly, and there is no known antivenom for it. Its mechanism is to destroy clotting factors in the blood, and the necessary treatment is a complete blood transfusion.
No need to panic however, as these snakes are back-fanged (see video below), and almost need to chew on their prey or victim to envenomate. The venom is also very slow-acting, so in the extremely rare event of an actual bite (the majority of recorded bites were among snake handlers) one has a long time in which to get help. Only one or two fatalities have ever been recorded, and none of them in South Africa as far as I’m aware, so this snake shouldn’t even be on our radar as something to worry about.
A video we posted on our Instagram account from a few months ago showed a vine snake devouring a lizard. Most likely the victim didn’t notice the deadly serpent descending from the buffalo thorn tree, and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a cloudy day as well, which means that the lizard would probably have had slower reaction times, being an ectotherm and therefore dependent on the sun’s energy to warm it up.
Whatever the case, the most impressive thing about the snake was how quickly it devoured the lizard. While watching it, we were expecting something a bit more python-esque and slow (the last snake I watched swallow something was a python swallowing an impala, which took an absolute age), but this was not the case. That lizard disappeared almost as quickly as we could get the camera gear rigged, and we ended up missing most of it:
As we move forward into winter, the snakes are going to be few and far between. They will all be curled up in a log or hole somewhere, waiting for the heat of summer to provide them with warmth and more abundant prey. Although they aren’t many people’s favourites, the reality is that they play an important role in the ecosystem, and certain species can provide dramatic sightings. Watch a black mamba being mobbed by a flock of starlings or a her of impalas alarming at a 4 metre python and you’ll know what I mean.
The vine snake is one of Londolozi’s most beautiful, and it’s always an event when one is seen. Just be glad you aren’t a lizard when the next one comes slithering by.