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by Marcia Mattushek

I can honestly say that I've seen more snakes in the two plus years I've been in Australia, than I did in my forty-something years in South Africa.

When we first arrived, one of my neighbours realised that I'm particularly terrified of snakes, and made a point of letting me know about the many times he had encountered “vicious” brown snakes on the path in our local park. I've spent many hours running and walking on that path since arriving, and I have yet to encounter any snake there – brown or otherwise! My neighbour clearly gets a kick out of terrifying me.

Coming home one day towards the end of August, I encountered a very large carpet snake slithering across our road. Fortunately it was moving rather slowly, and after my hyperventilation attack, I realised that my camera was in the boot. I figured that Mr Snake must've eaten recently, as he was moving very slowly, and that my car was still a good few metres away, and so I had time to jump out and grab my camera. I managed to snap him while he was still across the road – with his nose on the curb, the tail went passed the middle of the road. A very long snake indeed, it slithered under the corner houses fence. I was very happy not to be living in that house!

My next encounter was on a walk in our neighbourhood with my friend, Lani. I noticed a bright green coil some distance away to the side of the road, and immediately realised it was a snake. I started jumping up and down shouting “snake, snake!” Lani nearly had a heart attack, thinking she was about to step right on it, judging from my yelps of terror! Imagine her relief when she realised it was a good ten metres away, calmly basking in the sun.

Since then, we've had 3 in our cul-de-sac – one green and two brown's, and I've seen many more, both alive and dead. On my runs around our area I encounter many squashed snakes on the road, some of them still recognizable. And I've seen a good few healthy ones too, but they slither off in alarm at my presence.

I imagine them regaling their families with tales of terror at encountering a human, making more noise than a herd of elephants!

There are many venomous snakes in Australia. Brown snakes in various species occur throughout Australia and are quite varied in colour. They are quite common in urban areas, so be careful when going near stacked wood or corrugated iron. As a result, they are the major culprits when it comes to bites and cause more deaths than any other type of snake. Brown snakes range in colour from any shade of brown, through to grey, orange, dark yellow and black. They could be speckled, have dark bands or dark scales on their heads. When they are threatened, they will rear up with their front ends raised off the ground, and their mouths wide open, and will strike frequently and rapidly. The eastern brown snake, found in the Eastern half of Australia, has the second most potent land-snake venom in the world. The good news is that brown snake bites are often “dry” with no venom being injected. This is because their fangs are small and only small amounts of venom are produced. Fortunately anti venom is available.

The Taipan is Australia's largest venomous snake, and is extremely dangerous with long fangs and plenty of venom. The inland version is the most venomous snake in the world. Taipans can grow up to 4m in length and are generally brown in colour, but vary from light to quite dark with a russet tinge. The head is long and pale, particularly at the snout, with a prominent brow. The belly can be cream to pale yellow and often spotted with orange. The inland version of the snake has a more olive colour. Taipan's feed on warm-blooded prey, and can most often be found on rubbish dumps and in cane fields and areas where rodents live. Fortunately, anti venom is available and survival rates are good as a result.

Other venomous snakes include: Tiger snakes, Copperheads, Rough-scaled snakes, Broad-headed snakes, Eastern small-eyed snakes, Mulga snakes, Red-bellied black snakes, Collett's snakes, Spotted black snakes and Death adders.

Avoid a potentially deadly snake bite by:

  • Not walking in the bush on your own – if you're with another person you reduce your chances of being bitten by half! But seriously, if you are bitten, your friend can help you.
  • Wear enclosed footwear and long pants when out walking.
  • Watch where you put your feet – many snake bites are as a result of the snake being stepped on, so who can blame it for retaliating.
  • Don't run in long grass or thick vegetation if you can't see what's ahead of you – make a lot of noise when you're walking and allow any slippery creatures the chance to get away from you.
  • Snakes like water, so be especially aware if you're near a creek or river area.
  • Let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back, and take a good first aid kit with you.
  • Familiarise yourself with snake bite first aid. Check out http://www.anaes.med.usyd.edu.au/venom/snakebite.html#firstaid before you go on your next bush walk.
  • If you find a snake in your garden or neighbourhood, don't kill it! Snakes are protected in Australia and killing one unnecessarily could get you a severe fine. Call your local snake man – you'll find one in your local paper or the yellow pages.

Not only are there an abundance of potentially deadly snakes on land, but quite a few inhabit the sea. The good news is that of the 50 or so species of sea-snakes, only a few are dangerous to humans. Sea-snakes will only bite if provoked, and most bites occur when the sea-snakes become trapped in fishing nets, or are handled.

Prevent a sea-snake bite by:

  • Leaving all sea-snakes alone.
  • Shuffle your feet when walking along a muddy bottom – this will chase them away.
  • Wear protective clothing while underwater.

Carpet Pythons are the good guys of the snake world and are harmless. They are beautifully patterned and quite large, growing up to 4 metres in length. They feed on rats, mice, possums and birds, and are known to live in roof spaces. I've been told that having them around keeps the dangerous snakes away. So if you have one of these gentle giants around, don't worry.

Personally, I've gone from being absolutely terrified about encountering a deadly Australian snake, to acceptance that they inhabit much of the same spaces which I choose to play in. Being noisy by nature, I'm now relying on the fact that they fear me more than I fear them, and will stay away from my clumsy clatter.

But I do make sure that I have the phone number for an ambulance (000) on speed-dial, just in case.

Posted in migration |
Posted by Marcia Mattushek
17 Sep 2010

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