Pipesnakes

Yesterday morning I was almost dragged from the car by our neighbour, who was screaming “Help! Help! There´s a huge snake in my garden! I’m so scared of snakes. Come quickly!”

In spite of my mumbled protestations that I was quite as scared of snakes as her, I could really not decline to help a maiden in distress (damn – gets you every time, right?). Anyway, she ran ahead to point the way and I kind of shuffled unwillingly after her, until finally we got to her small patio with sink and draining board built against an external wall. And sure enough, there was a bright red-and-black banded tail just disappearing behind some pots and pans underneath the sink.

I stood in contemplation (okay, 2 parts fear, 1 part contemplation), but my dear neighbour would have none of it. Pushing me (I kid you not) forward, she kept saying “There it is! There it is! DO something! Oh, I´m so scared of snakes…”

Clearly I was either going to have to come clean, tell the woman in no uncertain terms that I was scared shitless and beat a retreat, or it was time for action. Against my better judgement I grabbed a nearby brush and gingerly poked around the pots, until the thing started slithering around again. It wasn´t really huge after all, and I estimated its length at around three feet. It was quite slim and I noticed that its head was round. Immediately I felt a bit more relieved, since in my (fundamentally limited) experience, round-headed snakes aren´t venomous – and they tend to look more like giant worms than snakes.

Pipesnake (anilius scytale). Photo: Otavio Marques

Buoyed on by my expert identification, I eventually managed to force the snake into the open. The woman by this stage had retreated a few feet and grabbed a machete, which she kept thrusting at me while screaming “Here! Kill it! Kill it!”

“No,” I announced smoothly. “It´s not venomous and I’m not going to kill it. Get me another broom, please.”

She was clearly impressed now by my calm and authoritative tone, and duly put the machete down and fetched me the broom.

I managed to get the snake wrapped around one broom, and while securing it the other, I lifted it up and chucked it over the garden wall into the forest.

With the danger gone I turned, handed back the brooms, and soothingly informed my distraught neighbour that it would definitely not come back, but that even if it did she should not be concerned as it definitely wasn´t poisonous. And I was off.

Later, as we drove towards the port (we were on our way over to see Naice´s Mum), I was suddenly sturck by the thought that the rather famous and quite deadly coral snake family is known partly by its bright red and black colours, and partly because of its apparently innocent rounded (worm-like) head.

Spending the rest of the day worrying about whether the poisonous snake had returned and imagining my neighbour cuddling up to the thing and getting bitten on the nose and dying, I eventually got back to the house and was able to get the books out and the internet connection on (normally of course I would defer to Sarah McAndrew´s internet prowess, but it was 1 a.m. UK time and I felt there was some urgency to the thing..).

In the end, I´m pleased to say I got a positive ID, and am 99% certain it was an anilius scytaleSo there we are – no drama, and another snake saved. I do hope though not to be confronted again by any more snakes – or neighbours in distress, for that matter. I´m not sure my nerves could handle it all again.

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