Small, slender and cylindrical with short, stubby tail, terminating in a sharp, horny spine. Adults 450 mm long, can reach 700 mm. Head small and indistinct from neck. Eye very small or minute and round; pupil round; iris dark. Above uniformly dark-brown or purplish to black; below uniformly creamy-white with or without dark blotches, or uniformly dark-brown. Very smooth, shiny dorsal scales in 19 – 25 rows at mid-body; anal entire. Often misidentified by snake-catchers with dire effects.
Two hollow, well-developed, and comparatively large fangs in relation to head-size, borne on each maxillary bone. Without opening mouth, uses a single fang in a lateral stabbing motion to envenom prey encountered in underground tunnels.
Potently cytotoxic causing severe pain, swelling, blistering and necrosis at the bite-site. Bites usually occur on digits of extremities with around 25% requiring amputation of the digit. Numerous bites reported annually, often a result from being trodden on in darkness. No anti-venom is available.
Grassland, fynbos and lowland forest where it lives mostly underground, in holes, soft soil, sand or leaf litter.
Nocturnal and burrows underground (fossorial). Emerges on wet nights to move about on the surface and may enter buildings.
Preys on burrowing reptiles, frogs and rodents.
Can move relatively fast. Not aggressive, but if restrained will try to bite. When restrained or cornered, it arches the neck, with nose pointing at the ground, resembling an inverted U, in an effort to escape down into the soil. Releases foul-smelling substance from cloaca and if further disturbed, may wind body into tight coils, turning head and neck upside down, lashing from side to side or jerking violently. Cannot safely be held by hand.
Reproduces by egg-laying.