A venomous snake is hardly the sort of "gift" you'd hope to find resting under the Christmas tree ... let alone in it. A family in South Africa's Western Cape province recently discovered a boomslang slithering amongst the tinsel and ornaments of their freshly decorated tree, and hastily phoned a snake catcher to remove the unwanted visitor.

"The cats were peering into the tree and my wife said 'there's probably a mouse in there somewhere,'" homeowner Rob Wild told CNN, recounting the incident. Rob and his wife Marcela soon discovered that the tree-dweller was of a more serpentine variety. "I didn't know what it was at the time but then I Googled what snakes are in our area and it came up immediately as a boomslang."

The boomslang – easily recognisable by its huge eye and short snout – is at home in the branches. In fact, it derives its common name from the Afrikaans words for tree (boom) and snake (slang), so it's hardly surprising to see one retreat to the safety of the leaves. It carries a highly potent haemotoxic venom that can be fatal to humans if injected but, thankfully, the snakes are shy and rarely go on the offensive. It's likely this home invader slithered into the synthetic tree in an attempt to hide away – which is usually the boomslang's first option when faced with a potential threat.

Snake catcher Gerrie Heyns was certain he was dealing with a hoax when he first got word of the Christmas-tree snake, but after receiving photos from the Wilds to confirm the validity of the sighting he rushed out to help. 

"The snake stayed in the tree for two hours until I got there," Heyns told CNN, having already instructed the family to stay away from the tree and keep their eyes on the boomslang. Using snake tongs, the experienced handler removed the boomslang from its hiding spot and wrangled it into a "snake tube". It was temporarily housed in an enclosure that evening and released back into the wild the following day.

"Once I had it under control the family came right up to see the snake. It didn't try to bite or be defensive because I gave it no reason to. A scary moment turned into an exciting moment for the children," Heyns explained.

This is not the first time a snake has taken refuge in a Christmas tree. A photo shared in the comments thread of one of Heyns's Facebook posts showed a non-venomous spotted bush snake taking up position at the top of a decorated tree, and back in 2019, a coastal carpet python was found coiled up in an outside tree at a home in Brisbane, Australia:


So before you unwrap your presents this year, you might want to check for snakes ...

Header image: Dick Culbert