Herald snake or black mamba? Here’s how to tell them apart

A large, old-looking herald snake, with few colours and visible patterns. Picture: Nick Evans

A large, old-looking herald snake, with few colours and visible patterns. Picture: Nick Evans

Published Dec 1, 2023


Durban — With herald snakes often confused for black mambas because of their colour and defensive display, Durban snake rescuer Nick Evans shares details on how to distinguish between the two.

Evans said that herald snakes are common species around Durban and throughout most of the country. Their extremely mild venom poses no threat to people or pets, so they are fine to have in the garden. They are nocturnal, feeding on frogs.

“Unfortunately, due to their colour, and defensive display, they’re often confused for black mambas,” Evans said.

“Black mambas are quick to get out of your way, heralds aren’t shy to get into their defensive position, flatten their heads and strike until the threat backs away.

“The back of their head is black, a lot darker than the body. The body has white speckles on it, and occasionally, they have the ‘red lip’, where they get their common name,” Evans described.

He recently removed a herald snake from a laundry room.

“While I was trying to put it in a bag, it latched onto a corner of the bag and started chewing away, swallowing some of the bag. It was like it was trying to eat the bag, but I’m sure it was just out of fear,” Evans said.

He said it was a mission to get it to release the bag but eventually, it did and later it was released.

A herald snake Nick Evans was trying to put in a bag latched onto the corner of the back and started chewing it and swallowing some of the bag. Picture: Nick Evans

Another herald was hiding in a retaining wall, a favourite hiding place for heralds and other species.

“A large, old-looking specimen, with few colours and patterns visible,” Evans said.

Meanwhile, the African Snakebite Institute said it is summer and the warm, wet weather gets the Stiletto snakes (Atractaspis bibronii) on the move. They emerge at night and often move about in jerky movements.

“Please note that this is a venomous snake and cannot be handled safely in any manner. If you pick one up you will get bitten! Its venom is potently cytotoxic causing severe pain, swelling and subsequent tissue damage. There is no effective antivenom for its bite and doctors will treat for pain and eventually may have to remove some necrotic tissue,” the African Snakebite Institute said.

The Stiletto Snakes (Atractaspis bibronii). Picture: Johan Marais (African Snakebite Institute).

Reiterating, Evans said: “Please DO NOT pick up any snake you think looks harmless, or even if you think you know what it is. I’ve already recorded multiple bites around Durban this season from this species, all on people who picked them up. Don’t do it!”

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