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Many fear these legless creatures, others are fascinated. Maybe following information will help you to reduce fear and prejudice and increase your interest. As all armed living beings they should be treated with respect and caution.

Who likes to get to know more about snakes can get it from literature, visits to professionally managed snake farms e.g. Bio-Ken Snake farm in Watamu, zoos or by joining a professionally organized safari to search for snakes in the bush. Also Marc Jäger in France has information on his website http://www.giftschlangen.ch. For any further information please do not hesitate to contact us or check this NEW page out.

The earliest snake fossil was found in Spain, dated 135 million years ago. Snakes developed from lizards and lost their legs to be better adjusted to their lifestyle. They are the youngest among the reptiles, found world-wide, absent only from some oceanic islands, the Antarctic and very high latitudes. Over millions of years they became very specialized to their biotopes.

Some religions and cultures connect snakes with falseness and temptation. In Ancient Egypt, they were venerated as Gods.

Now there are 2900 known species of snakes. New researches and DNA-comparisons will add more names to the list. Some 198 species from eight families are found in East Africa, 45 of them are dangerously venomous, and 18 species are known to have killed people. Unfortunately even harmless snake bites have caused death, often due to false treatment. The Bio Ken snake farm in Watamu educates doctors and lay people and provides antivenom.

If you ask what are snakes useful for, the answer is rats. Those rodents compete with human for maize and corn and often spread diseases dangerous to human e.g. plague. Many snakes feed on rodents and keep their number under control. If there are no snakes whole maize and corn fields can be destroyed by rats and mice. Some smaller, non venomous snakes keep larger and venomous ones off and some, like the file snake even feed on them.

Snakes either kill their prey by strangling or by injecting venom, which helps to digest their food. Composition, implication and effectiveness depend on species, last bite, place of bite and amount of poison injected.

If you do not specifically search for snakes on safaris it is very rare to come across one. They fear us and mostly hide away. When ever you spot a snake it will try to move away from you and search for cover. Listen to the voices of animals. Monkeys, squirrels, birds and even snakes themselves warn. Do not reach under stones or wood and keep your tent well closed. The chance to get bitten by a poisonous snake is smaller  than being hit by a lightening, out of  "The Amphibians and Reptiles of Botswana". Human do not belong to snakes menu plan and they only bite in defense when not given any other option.

Identifying snakes is not easy and especially difficult in the bush. Many harmless snakes resemble dangerous ones. That is why it is necessary to be very careful. Even specialists have made fatal errors. Still, we would like to introduce some species from East Africa to you.








BLINDSNAKES (Typhlopidae) are harmless and often small snakes.

Peter’s worm snake (Leptotyphlops scrutifrons) are thin and small glossy snakes. They live under leaves or stones where they feed on minute insects. Sometimes after rain they can be found on the surface.






Pythons and Boas kill by constricting their prey. Both species Southern Africa Rock Python (Python natalensis) and Central African Rock Python (Python sebae) are found in East Africa. Both can be dangerous to human and their domestic animals. Python sebae can reach up to 7.5 m in lenght.   

Sand boas (Eryx colubrinus) reach 30 to 50 cm in average and have a burrowing lifestyle. They occur in North-and East Kenya. Picture taken in Nairobi Nat. Museum












Southern African Rock Python (Python natalensis) at Meserani snake park in Arusha. They can reach up to 5.5 m and due to their colouration are not easy to be detected in the wild. The species is endangered (Cites, appendix II). They are hunted for their skin or killed because most people fear snakes. The female guards the eggs and produces heat by muscle vibration.






Super familie Colobroidea  The family of the Colubridae is with 2000 species worldwide the largest. It contains many harmless and a few highly poisonous species.







We meet Battersby’s green-snake (Philothamnus battersbyi) once in while in my compound in Nairobi. They sometimes get attacked by my cats. They are swift moving but harmless and not aggressive. Sometimes I find them basking on leaves. They feed on amphibians, skinks and are often found near water.


Angolan Green Snake (Philothamnus angolensis) occurs locally in
the Albertine Rift and in Southern Tanzania. Up to 1.2 m, diurnal
and arboreal. Photo Fabian Krokan, Entebbe






spottedBush Snake_Picco_Ruaha






Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus) occurs from Southern Kenya, around Lake Victoria
to Tanzania. It is diurnal and arboreal. Maximum seize is about 1.3 m. Photo Claudio Comolli, Ruaha National park






Speckled Bush snake
Speckled Green snake juvenile



Speckled Green Snake (Philothamnus punctatus). Left in turquoise colour, right a young one. They occur in bushland in lower altitudes in EA.






South Eastern Green Snake

South-Eastern Green Snake (Philotamnus hoplogaster). Is mainly found at Kenyan coast to South Eastern Tanzania. They live on trees where they feed on frogs. Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watam






Jacksons tree snake






Jackson’s Tree Snake (Thrasops jacksoni)  can easily be confused with the black phase of a Boomslang. Like the Boomslang in flattens the neck when threatend. The venom is mild. It occurs in Kakamega forest and in forests further West. This fast moving snake lives mostly on trees where it feeds on lizards and chamaeleons. Picture taken in the National Museum, Nairobi






Emerald Snake_Fabian






Emerald Snake (Hapsidophrys smaragdina) is a slender, fast moving, diurnal and arboreal snake West of Lake Victoria. It lives in woodland and forests and feeds on arboreal lizards and tree frogs. Photo Fabian Krokan, Uganda

Smyth’s water snake (Grayia smythii) is a robust water snake up to 1.7 m. It occurs around Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward and in the Nile. On land it is quite slow, but a good swimmer so to catch fish, amphibians and tadpoles. It hides in reed and stones near water. This is still a young snake. Photo Fabian Krokan, Uganda






Cape Wolf snake




Brown house snakes (Lamprohis fuliginosus) are non venomous, nocturnal snakes widespread all over Africa. The can reach 1.20 m and feed on rodents (rats!) and sometimes birds and frogs. They play an important role in controlling rat population. Unfortunately most Africans fear snakes and kill them, allowing rats to multiply rapidly and destroy crops. They also get confused with black mambas, but their feature and behaviour are different.

I found this snake in my house in Nairobi thanks to my cats. It didn’t try to bite, which they readily do if molested.


Cape Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense) lives in grass land in many parts of Africa. The nocturnal snake lives on the ground and hunts sleeping lizards. It is not an aggressive snake at all and likes sleeping in holes in the ground.






Cape File Snake




Cape File Snake (Mehelya capensis) is not very choosy with the habitat. Amphibian and snakes, also highly venomous are their food. Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu






Mole Snake



BlandingsTreeSnake_Fabian Krokan






Mole Snake (Pseudaspis cana) got its name due to the main prey which are mole rats. The up to 95 young are live born and feed on lizards. It occurs in East Africa where mole rats live. Picture taken at Meserani Snake Park, Arusha




Blanding’s Tree Snake (Boiga blandingii). Up to 2.8 m and found areas with trees from 700 to about 2.200 m at some places in Western Kenya, Uganda, Mahale and Rubondo Island in Tanzania. Diet: birds and their eggs, lizards, frogs, arboreal rodents and bats. It is a rear-fanged snake and the venom might be dangerous to humans. Photo Fabian Krokan, Uganda






CROTAPHOPELTIS is a genus of tropical Africa.

White-lipped snakes (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) are nocturnal and terrestrial, prowling at night hunting for frogs. If threatened it flattens the head into a triangular shape and flares lips, lifts the forepart of the body off the ground, hisses and puffs and strikes. Its venom has no effect on human.

The left picture is the common colouration. This picture was taken in the Masai Mara. The right picture is the olive phase of the same species which Petra Allmendinger photographed on Sandai Ranch north of the Aberdares.








White lipped snake young


Rufous egg eater






Young White-lipped snake




Rufous Egg-eater (Dasypeltis medici) occurs in this but also rufous colour. It is a coastal and low land species that feeds on eggs it cracks with protuding spine bones. The egg shell is spit out. Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu






Common Egg eater


Common Egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra) occurs in semi deserts in  Africa. They feed on eggs found on the ground and on trees.
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu






Boomslang green and black
Boomslang female










Typical for members of the subfamily Boiginae is that the teeth with venom glands are situated behind on the upper jaw – they are called back-fanged.

A head shaped like a VW-beetle (according to late James Ashe, cowriter of “A field guide to the reptiles of East Africa” and founder of Bio-Ken Snake farm), huge eyes and colors from green (male), brown (female), olive, green-black mottled to completely black are the characteristic of Boomslangs (Dipholidus typus). Boomslang means in Afrikaans tree snake, which indicates where to find them. They feed on chameleons, birds and small rodents. They are large, highly venomous, back fanged snakes. The slow acting venom affects clotting factors in blood. Initially few symptoms are seen, but after an interval of 1 to 24 hours a general bleeding tendency develops. An effective serum is available. All documented Boomslang bites were suffered by incompetent snake handlers! They are widespread in Africa. Brown a female feeling threatened by a starling. Male on the tree by Sandra Schänzer, www.saga-photography.de, green + black at Bio-Ken Snake farm, brown at Amboseli.






Vine Snake


Forest_VineSnake_Fabian Krokan






Savanna Vine or Twig Snake (Thelotornis mossambicanus) is a diurnal snake living in forests and savannas at the coast in Kenya and Tanzania and further South. Like the boomslang it is a back-fanged snake with a venom that causes incoagulable blood and hence massive internal bleeding. It is camouflaged like a twig and ambushes its prey, mainly other reptiles. It lays 4 to 13 eggs. It is an inoffensive snake and with its short fangs can not easily penetrate human skin. We found this one in Arusha Nationalp park, unfortunately killed by a car.




Forest Vine Snake (Thelotornis kirtlandii) grows up to 1.6 m. It occurs in Uganda, Budongo Forest, forests of the Albertine Rift, Mahale peninsula and Udzungwa mountains in Tanzania in forests and woodlands from 600 to 1.200 m. Venom like Savanna Twig snake and also arboreal and diurnal. Photo Fabian Krokan, Uganda











Skaapstekers called the South African these just slightly venomous, diurnal and terrestrial snakes. They held them responsible for the death of their sheep even those snakes feed on amphibians, lizards and rodents. The poison has no effect on human.

Kenyan striped Skaapsteker (Psammophylax multisquamis). Males in some region can reach up to 1.40 m.


The Genus of the Sand snakes (Psammophis) contains medium to large, savanna-dwelling mostly slightly poisonous snakes. These slender snakes 'run' swiftly on the ground, their neck and head up. Most of them have stripes. The poison might cause swellings, nausea, itching and discoloration. If cornered they try to hide in bushes or holes.

Olive sand snake (Psammophis mossambicus) is a large and fast moving snake living on the ground. The venom has little effects on human. We found this individual in our camp and even we cornered it to take pictures it didn’t show any intension to bite.




Tanganika Sandrennnatter
Speckled Sand Snake






Tanganyika Sand Snakes (Psammophis tanganicus) occur in semi deserts
and dry savanna from sea level up to 1.300 m. Tsavo East in several small
areas in Kenya and Tanzania. Tsavo East National park




Speckled Sand Snake (Psammophis punctulatus) occurs Northeast Tanzania up to further North of Kenya in dry savanna.
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu






Northern stripe bellied Sandsnake



Northern stripe-bellied Sand Snake (Psammophis sudanensis) is found from central to Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They prefer open savannah and hide in holes.






Olive Marsh Snake (Natriciteres olivacea) occurs around Lake Victoria, along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Southern Tanzania. Along water sides where it catches fish and amphibians.




Rufous beaked snakes (Rhamphiophis rostratus) are muscular snake up to 60 to 70 cm length. The venom hardly has an effect on human beings. They do not bite readily. These diurnal snakes occur in dry areas where they search for prey like rodents (also mules), frogs, toads, snakes and insects in holes and burrows. 4 – 12 eggs are laid.








Hook nosed snake




Hook-nosed Snake (Scaphiophis albopunctatus) in coast areas and low savanna up to 1.500 m in Kenya and Tanzania.

Colubridae, Subfamily Lamprophiinae

They feed on malls which they hunt in holes. Harmless to humans.






Small scaled burrowing Asp




Small-scaled Burrowing Asp (Atractaspis microlepidota) lives in coastal bush and thickets. Even hold behind the head it can inject venom with the side moving
venom tooth. They are responsible for quite a number of bites. At night they search food by putting their nose into the ground.
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu






Cobras, Mambas and relatives (Elapidae) is a family of dangerous snakes with short, erect, immovable poison fangs at the front of the upper jaw. Over 200 species are known world-wide in tropical regions, there are none in Europe but there has been a remarkable radiation of elapids in Australia, where they are the largest group. The large elapids generally have neurotoxic venoms.






East African Garter Snake






East African Garter Snake (Elapsoidea loveridgei) occurs in several areas in East Africa in mid altitude woodland, moist savanna and grassland. They are terrestrial and slow moving. Lives in holes and feeds on other reptiles, their eggs, frogs and small rodents. It is a non aggressive snake and not much is known about the venom, but not fatalities recorded only swellings, pain and swollen lymph glands. Picture taken in Nairobi National Museum












Black-necked Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis) exist in different colours; from black to reddish and grey-brown. They live in holes and other places they can hide. Young animals are mainly diurnal while adults mainly nocturnal. They can spit and hit the eyes up to 3 m. Flush the eye immediately to avoid any complications. They also bite and medical care will be required. The reddish phase occurs in Nairobi - Thika area. I have seen this individual many times around my compound and it never threatened - in the contrary it just moved away.






Black necked spitting cobra


Rote Speikobra






Cobras are not easy to differentiate and occur in different species and subspecies.
To go near is not advisable, even it might run off instead of attacking. This is a Black
-necked spitting cobra
(Naja nigricollis).
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu




Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida) is with 1.5 m a smaller cobra. It occurs in areas with red soil, Northeastern Tansania up to Northern Kenya. Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu






Forest_Cobra_Fabian Krokan

Forest cobra brown






Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca) grows up to 2.7 m. It is terrestrial to semi-arboreal and feeds on amphibians, fish, snakes, lizards and small mammals. The range is Westkenya and further west and along the coast of East Africa. It has a potent neurotoxic venom and must be treated fast. Photo Fabian Krokan, Uganda



Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca) the browner colour of the Eastern population. It is the Western as seen left which has these beautiful black/white markings.
Forest Cobras don’t spit
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu.






Naja ashei



Egyptian Cobra






Africa's Ashe or Giant spitting cobra (Naja ashei) is not only the world's newest snake species it's also the largest spitting cobra. The new species is named after one such expert: the late James Ashe, the founder of the Bio-Ken Snake Farm research center in Watamu. James Ashe believed that this coastal snake was different from any other. It can grow to about 2.8 m. The venom consists of postsynaptic neurotoxins and cytotoxins. Picture taken by Lorenzo Barelli, Samburu




Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje) is a non spitting cobra. It is more distributed on the Northen hemisphare than on the Southern in moist and dry savanna land. It served the old Egypt people as raw model for statues and paintings.
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu












Well known are the Black Mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis). The venom is strong and blocks the transmission of messages at nerves synapses. This paralyses vital organs like heart, lungs and brain leading to a fast death. It is one of the few snakes defending its territory which can lead to unpleasant encounters. I myself have not seen any Black Mamba during my over 15 years in the bush. Locals often spread the message there is a Black Mamba, but in real it can be any other snake. Adult individuals can reach 3 m and move several meters within 1 second. They live in different habitats up to 1.600 m above sea level. 6 – 17 eggs are laid.

The snake is grey-brown or even olive and only the inside of its mouth is black. This can be seen when the snake opens the mouth for threatening enemies. Like cobras they can flatten their ribs to build a hood to look larger. Meserani Snake Park, Arusha


The Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps) occurs at the coast and small regions inland. Mostly it is found below 400 m but at Arusha it lives up to an altitude of 1.700 m. We found this one basking on a bush near the Momella Lakes in Arusha National park. Green Mambas are diurnal, fast moving snakes but not aggressive unless threatened. It mainly lives on trees but can be seen when crossing over a road. It is in discussion if the East African Green Mamba should be split from the Southern Africa and be renamed to Dendroaspis intermedius. DNA tests are required. As the Black Mamba it has potential fast acting venom affecting the nervous system.






Jamesons Mamba






Jameson’s Mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni)  occurs in Western Kenya (Kakamega forest) and further West in forests and forest clearings between 600 and 2.200 m. The up to 2.7 m long snake is fast moving and flattens its neck to warn when threatend. It is less aggressive than the Black Mamba but the venom is probably as well a potent neurotoxin. They lay eggs.  Photo taken im National Museum in Nairobi






Velvety green night adder



Rhombic night adder






Night adders (Causus sp) are small, terrestrial adders in the viper family (Viperidae). They occur in humid areas South of the Sahara desert.

Velvety-Green Night Adder (Causus resimus) are found around Lake Victoria, Masai Mara, coast and in South Sudan. They feed on toads and frogs and are nocturnal. Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu




Rhombic Night adder (Causus rhombeatus) feeding on amphibians it prefers moist savanna. Venom causes pain and swelling. Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu













Probably the best known snake in Africa is the Puff adder (Bitis arietans) in the family of vipers (Viperidae). This snake is an ambush hunter and perfectly camouflaged. The 4.5 cm long fangs have hinges and are bent when the mouth is closed. The venom destroys tissues (cytotoxic) and causes huge swellings. But when first aid is done right (pressure bandage and immobility of the patient) and antivenom injected someone can survive without damage. Puff adders are widespread in Africa with just come colour variations. On the left a baby puff adder photographed by Fabian Krokan, on the right an adult from Tsavo West.






Rhinoceros Viper

Kenya horned Viper






Rhinoceros Viper (Bitis nasicornis) is in Kenya only found in
Kakamega Forest. The venom might be similar to the Puff adder’s.
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu




Kenya Horned Viper (Bitis worthingtoni) is only found in the high central
Rift Valley. Terrestrial, nocturnal, feeds on small mammals and lizards.
Picture taken at Bio-Ken Snake farm, Watamu







Mt Kenya Bush Viper






Rough-scaled Bush Viper (Atheris hispida) grows up to 73 cm and has very small distribution areas. One is in Kakamega forest an other near Entebbe. It is an expert climber and lives in any kind of tall vegetation. The venom is not very toxic to humans and causes swelling and itching. They give live birth and have litters from 2 to 12 young. Photo Fabian Krokan, Uganda




Mt. Kenya Bush Viper (Atheris desaixi) is endemic to Kenya and only occurs in Mt. Kenya region and Nyambene Hills between 1.500 and 1.700 m. They give birth to up to 13 life young. The venom causes swelling, but it is not likely to get bitten by this slow moving non aggressive snake. Photo taken at National Museum in Nairobi