One does not often see snakes in the road and so it was interesting to see this puff adder (Bitus arietans) crossing a dirt road.

Notice how its body seems to dent in as it passes over small pebbles. Unlike several other snakes that seem to move at great speeds, the heavy-bodied puff adder moved slowly enough for me to observe its passage from one side of the road to the other. You can see its tongue more easily in this photograph:

It is commonly accepted that snakes use their tongue as a primary sensing device. They can ‘smell’ by flicking their tongue up and down to pick up various particles in the air. The chemical information collected is used in conjunction with the Jacobson’s organ, situated in the roof of the mouth. Puff adders mostly rely on their camouflage and the ability to lie still in order to catch their prey. When a Puff adder detects movement in its immediate vicinity, it will use its tongue to determine the source of the movement. This Puff adder headed up the raised bank at the side of the road.

Where it would soon ‘disappear’ in the shade of the low bushes.





While the quotation Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! (Sir Walter Scott) uses the imagery of a spider’s web, it often springs to mind when I walk past this enormous Natal fig (Ficus natalensis) growing next to the road around the corner from where we live. Look at the intricacy of the large trunk and the air roots that have become so entwined over the years – much as that ‘small white lie’ might grow and twist until one can become completely ensnared by it.

No, this isn’t a moral tale – merely an analogy. We too have a magnificent Natal fig in our garden, the base of which is somewhat hidden by a number of clivia plants.

It was big thirty years ago and now has a very wide drooping canopy of shade, with branches that stretch right over the street!

While the figs are not edible to humans, they attract a wide variety birds which relish them.

The broad branches provide adequate roosting spots for several Hadeda Ibises that come in to land during the late afternoon and generally start waking up the neighbourhood about half an hour before sunrise every morning. Here two of them are perched on a branch.

Other birds commonly seen in this tree are Red-eyed Doves, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Black-collared Barbets, and Olive Thrushes.

We are always delighted when a flock of African Green Pigeons settle in to devour the fruit.

We have seen Olive Thrushes and Speckled Mousebirds nesting in the tree, as well as Fork-tailed Drongos. Here a parent has just brought food to its youngster.

A thick layer of mulch has gathered underneath the tree, so thick that one can sink into it. One has to step through it with care – this puff adder emerged from it into our neighbour’s garden three years ago.


While I draw the line at a Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) making itself comfortable in our home – as one tried to nine years ago – I have never minded seeing them in our garden.

It has happened more than once that I have nearly stepped on one as they lie so still and are perfectly camouflaged in the leaves. The Puff Adder is responsible for more bites and fatalities in Africa than any other snake due to its habit of not moving away from approaching footsteps. It is fortunate that I have not been bitten, for although they are rather slow-moving snakes, they are reputed to be one of the fastest striking snakes in the world. Despite having got very close to a few Puff Adders, I have never heard one emitting the hissing sound that has given rise to its common name.

When disturbed, Puff Adders coil into a defensive S-shaped posture.

The Puff Adder has a thick, heavily built body with a large, flattened, triangular head and large nostrils which point vertically upwards.

The body is yellow-brown to light brown, with black, pale-edged chevrons on the back and bars on the tail.

I came across a dead Puff Adder while out walking this morning and so got a clear view of its whitish yellow belly with some scattered dark spots.

I turned it over so that you can see the full beauty of the Puff Adder.

The Puff Adder is the most widely-spread venomous snake in South Africa. This one was in our garden.

You can see a range of beautiful photographs of Puff Adders at http://www.tyroneping.co.za/snakes-southern-africa/bitis-arietans-puff-adder/



Daily temperatures fluctuate up and down, with more ups than downs; we have been blessed with some rain at last; there are birds aplenty in the garden … all signs that summer is moving into its seasonal space:

The promise of a feast of plums


The Pompon trees are coming into bloom


Nasturtiums brighten the dullest of places


As does the odd Californian poppy


Bold marigolds make a show


Swimming time


And we need to keep an eye out for Puffadders


As March is proving to be a month of either visiting or hosting visitors, it is appropriate that I introduce you to three of the uninvited guests to our home.

‘Flatties’, as we call them, can be seen in almost every room and frighten no-one.


As I was about to brush my teeth the other night, I saw this tiny frog on the wall next to the basin.


It soon sidled across to the mirror.

Having negotiated that slippery surface, it clung to the wall on the other side whilst taking its bearings.

Then, it eased itself round to the edge of the window.


It settled happily on the burglar guard, from where it observed me completing my ablutions.


While puffadders are beautiful to look at outdoors, they are not welcome inside! Fortunately, this one was spotted making its way down our passage one evening. We were able to catch it and release it in the veld well away from the house.