30 January, 2014

Tabakrolletjie snake

- gardening for biodiversity in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa

This is a guardian angel post. Written to Cape gardeners for biodiversity. Even if you can't abide snakes - get to know the tabakrolletjie. Duberria lutrix (common slug eater). GOOD guy. Please be kind to him! Don’t kill off these snakes by feeding them snail bait in dead and dying snails. If your garden is well mulched, some of these little snakes are living in your garden. Beneath logs and stones, or near the pond – wherever the snails are living.

Remember that old nursery rhyme – what are little boys made of? Frogs and snails and puppy dog’s tails. You are what you eat. Meet that “little boy – made of snails!” The slugeater, is one of the good guys because he, eats snails.

I know that is true, because only once in twenty years of gardening in Camps Bay, did I see the life and death struggle slowly play out. The snake had caught a snail. The snail doesn’t want to be eaten, so he resists. The snake hangs on like grim death. Grim. Death. Until the snail tires … and the rest, is Lunch.

Tabakrolletjie snake


He is harmless, doesn’t bite, isn’t poisonous, and sadly his only defence is to tie himself up in a knot, with his head optimistically buried in the centre, Mr. Venter. That is where his Afrikaans common name comes from – a coiled up, dried tobacco leaf.

Compared to the Ungardener’s hand you can see he is about the thickness of a pencil, or a slender finger. That blur in the head shot is his forked tongue, scenting danger.

Duberria lutrix lutrix snake's head

In the Camps Bay garden, after wildfire on the mountain twice we had boomslang (tree snakes) in the garden. 

From SCARCE Cederberg reptiles - Duberria lutrix lutrix are restricted to the damper areas of the Western Cape, through the eastern Cape into KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Free State, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, eastern Limpopo Province and eastern Zimbabwe. In drier parts, they are found on mountain slopes. The common slugeater is protected under the Western Cape Nature Conservation Act.

Duberria lutrix species is found from Ethiopia to Kenya to Mozambique to us in South Africa.

(The pictures were taken in September 2009, when Meredith of Great Stems wrote) - I love snakes, always have. They are very welcome in my yard. That little good guy Tabakrolletjie snake is a cutie. Glad you are keeping it safe! The boomslangs have their place in this world, too, so if rescues are options, excellent. But in your own backyard, please YOU be safe! Here in Texas our main threats are rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, and water moccasins. Fortunately, I rarely ever see them, and not yet in my yard!


Pictures by Diana Studer
of Elephant's Eye

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12 comments:

  1. Very cool snakes. I am the....like them over there kind of guy......but they are welcome anytime in the garden:)

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  2. What a beautiful post Diana, you obviously love snakes, although I am not sure that I would be remaining in the garden should a serpent the size of my arm be watching me...you were brave.

    Jen

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    1. Oh, NO! Once I realised it was a huge boomslang looking at me - I beat a hasty and careful retreat, inside, behind closed doors. Then I nipped out to retrieve an unconcerned Pickwick.

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  3. I agree with Chris. They are wonderful inhabitants, but I keep a safe distance. We have harmless garter snakes here, but we also have rattlesnakes. One time, a neighbor working in his garden was bitten and had to be treated at the hospital. It rarely happens here in town, but the thought of it is a bit scary. Still, they are amazing animals and serve a great purpose, as you say so well.

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  4. I'm trying to imagine my mrs allowing a snake to live in our garden

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    1. tuck the tabakrolletjie back under the leaves ... and don't tell her.

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  5. I've always been a bit blase aboutthe snakes here; most that I see are harmless and I'm glad to have them as I think ours eat slugs but last spring I was bitten not badly but my ankle then my leg swelled up to my knee and my whole leg felt strange for a week. You advice is sound, keep a healthy distance but don't kill anything just because it's there.

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    1. I have accidentally come close to snakes while hiking, but I've never been bitten.

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  6. In our country we are not used to snakes, there are but they are rarely spotted. I am sure I should be very frightened and running inside when spotting a boomslang and even het tabakrolletje is not my cup of tea.

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  7. Is the Boomslang dangerous Diana ? I think that it would be unnerving enough just to be 'looked at' by a snake as thick as your arm, regardless whether it could actually do harm ! I get a bit twitchy just watching the way the small leeches move, in our garden pond!

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    1. yes the boomslang would be dangerous if it bit us - but we have always treated our snakes with kind respect and wary caution. In Camps Bay we had a phone number ready, and our local vet would come.
      Here in our Porterville garden we have only ever seen the harmless and welcome tabakrolletjie.

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  8. We have a similar non-poisonous snake here that so many are afraid of....i love snakes and welcome them in the garden. We have had some big ones...very revered in my garden....great post.

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