In the search for memorable images it pays to take your time and look very closely at the world around you. Pro wildlife photographer Theo Allofs recalls a memorable encounter with an ingeniously camouflaged snake.

During my career as a nature photographer I’ve often wondered which animal would be best suited to doing my job. This animal would have to stay still while lying in wait, would require great patience, would need to be invisible to its prey, and would have to stay alert over a long period of time without needing anything to eat. Then, when the moment demanded, it would have to strike with lighting speed. Aren’t these the characteristics any good nature photographer should have?

The animal that would fit my requirements best, I believe, is a snake. Unfortunately, humans rate snakes among their least favorite animals. I’ve met people who would love to travel to Australia or Africa if those countries weren’t home to so many species of snake! Yet snakes are fascinating and beautiful creatures that would rather flee than confront humans. There are only a few aggressive venomous snakes which actually might chase us and strike because of their limited ability to accept a threat. One of them is the fierce black mamba.

Near the other end of the danger scale of venomous snakes is the small sidewinding adder, Bitis peringueyi, which is found in the sand dunes of the Namib Desert. Its head is barely the size of a thumb. The sidewinder buries itself into the sand so that only its eyes are visible. The eyes themselves aren’t much bigger than surrounding grains of sand. And they blend in perfectly - ideal for an ambush! The snake waits until a small lizard walks by, then strikes. The chance that a lizard would come into such close and deadly proximity is probably much larger than me finding the snake hidden in an ocean of sand.

Even when my experienced guide pointed out its eyes and put his fingers right above its head, I couldn’t find it! Only when I looked through a macro lens was I finally able to see and admire this tiny wonder of nature.

I photographed this miniature scene for about 30 minutes. My lens probably wasn’t further than a few centimetres away from the snake. But the reptile relied totally on its’ camouflage. Although it could have easily injected some poison into my hand, it remained motionless, waiting for prey that it would actually be able to kill and eat.

A sidewinding adder (Bitis Peringueyi) lies in wait for passing prey. Namib Desert, Namibia. Canon EOS 1DS Mk III, 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, 1/125s @ f/20, ISO 100.

Article first published in Australian Photography, 2014.

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