Twig Alert

Bar-throated Apalis (Apalis thoracica) pair and Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna collaris) mobbing Southern Vine Snake (Thelotornis capensis), Turaco Wood, Nelspruit, January 2013.

‘tjick . . tjick . .tjick . . tjick . .tjick . . tjick . .tjick . . tjick . .tjick . . tjick’.

Okay, it’s been found again. Without leaving my desk, the rapid alarm call of the Bar-throated Apalis tells me that the resident Twig Snake has been rediscovered and is now being mobbed by a bunch of small birds. I step outside and follow the insistent calls. On our fence line, and just about a metre off the ground, a pair of Bar-throated Apalis are glaring down at the slender snake which is stock still and perfectly camouflaged to match the dry twigs on which it rests. Only its colourful head, and flickering pink tongue, make it visible to me.

A dazzling male Collared Sunbird joins the fray, along with three Cape White-eyes and a single African Paradise-Flycatcher. More birds are drawn in as the combined alarm calls build up into a frenzy.  They have come together to drive the snake away but this seems a futile pursuit because this particular snake (assuming it is the same individual) has been hereabouts for nearly three years. For its kind, it is a particularly large specimen at over a metre in length and in summer, every day or so, it sets off the small birds.

I’ve spent plenty of time watching this snake, often close to our garden pond, but I’ve yet to see it with any prey. My suspicion is that it takes the diurnally active Dwarf Geckos but the size of its distended body reveals that it must capture much larger quarry at times. Its habit if flicking its brightly coloured tongue in such a way that it resembles a worm suggests that this is used as ‘bait’ to lure an unwary lizard, frog or bird (perhaps young, inexperienced individuals) to within snatching distance. Is it possible, that it might even ‘encourage’ small birds to mob, by positioning itself in places where they come to drink or feed, and then strike out at unwary ones?

The Twig Snake (more correctly known as the Southern Vine Snake) is a venomous species but because it is back-fanged, bites to humans are extremely rare. It would have to strike a finger or an ear lobe to inject its powerful venom which has similar effects to that of the Boomslang.

Turaco Wood, Nelspruit, South Africa. January 2013

0 thoughts on “Twig Alert”

  1. Amazing! It’s fantastic that you can observe all these creature right outside your window! You live in an incredibly special place! Love the posts and the watercolours! Fascinating reading!

  2. Hi Duncan – nice to read. This snake was the first I encountered when I started guiding at Phinda. I was sitting in my room and heard a soft ‘reptile-like’ thud. I popped my head outside and saw the Twig Snake come down to grab the large male Tree Agama which was already experiencing its final death shake. What a special snake.

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