Saturday, 6 October 2007

#31 Red-bellied Black Snakes

Snakes are mobile again after emerging from winter rest (brumation) and are actively hunting and preparing to breed. Red-bellied Black Snakes are one of the most commonly encountered snakes of the Hunter Valley.

A Red-bellied Black Snake slithers off into the leaf litter of the Barrington Tops NP rainforest

'Hibernation' in reptiles is called brumation - it is different from hibernation in mammals in that the reptile is not living off its fat reserves. Instead, its metabolism, which is temperature dependent, has slowed down so much because of the cold that it hardly uses any energy over the course of winter. The reptile is still awake and still active (although very sluggish), but it actually doesn’t lose any significant weight during the winter.

The Red-bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus, is from family Elapidae. Elapids are venomous snakes having permanently erect fangs in the front of the upper jaw.

Features of Red-bellied Black Snakes

Although the sudden sighting of a snake always gets my adrenalin racing through a healthy dose of fear, I can't help but admire the beauty of this reptile. As seen in my first picture of a Red-bellied Black Snake, the dorsal colour is a uniform glossy black. The belly is cream to pink with red flanks, and the snout is often brown.

1.5 to 2 metres is a common length, but there have been specimens recorded up to 2.5 metres long. Although a bite from a Red-bellied Black snake is venomous, it rarely results in the death of a human.

This species is not renowned for being aggressive and is quick to retreat if disturbed. I have encountered them basking beside clumps of thick ground-hugging vegetation and on walking trails, and they have always been swift to disappear.

A 1.2 metre Red-bellied Black Snake hastily retreats to the safety of thicker vegetation when I encounter it basking by the Hunter River

When approached or provoked, the Red-bellied Black Snake can recoil into a striking stance as a threat and flatten its head similar to that of a Cobra. It can also hiss loudly, but will try to escape at the first opportunity. When cornered, or if a person is attempting to kill or capture the snake, it may strike and bite.

This startled Red-belly flattened its head and looked threatening when I encountered it in thick grass. I stood still (photographing), and the snake moved away swiftly.

During mating season, males have been seen engaged in vigorous combat where they raise their bodies, intertwined in a struggle of strength. Biting does not occur, but the strongest snake will displace the rival courting male.

Mating season begins in spring, and an average of 12 young are produced between January and March. Red-bellied Black Snakes are viviparous (bearing live young). These are enclosed in clear membranous sacs from which they emerge shortly after birth. Average length at birth is 22cm, and young disperse after a few weeks. A baby's bite is as toxic as the parents', with well-developed venom glands from birth.

Habitat, range and prey

The Red-bellied Black Snake is widespread along Australia's east coast and ranges from north Queensland, through NSW and Victoria, into south-eastern SA. It is not found in Tasmania which I find surprising as it is suited to cool climates.

It's preferred habitat is swamps, riverbanks and the edges of damp forests. Whenever I have seen Red-bellied Black Snakes, they have been within 50 metres of a watercourse.

Frogs are their preferred prey, but they will eat reptiles and small mammals. They are able swimmers and therefore fish and eels are also on the menu.

An Eastern Brown Snake and Red-bellied Black Snake seen basking in the winter sun together presents a rare and odd sight. Both of these snakes were displaced from their winter shelters by the flooding Hunter River and took temporary shelter together in the in-ground telecommunications pit in front of my house. They will tolerate each other as they are cold and sluggish and unlikely to eat during winter. They have since moved on, together with a Blue Tongue Lizard and another Eastern Brown Snake that were also sharing the pit.

Populations have apparently declined dramatically in Qld and northern NSW, which has been attributed to the spread of the toxic introduced Cane Toad. Degredation of waterways has also contributed to the decline of Red-bellied Black Snakes.

Red-bellies are known to be canabalistic. They are also one of the Eastern Brown Snakes, (Pseudonaja textilis) major predators, keeping their numbers in check.

When encountered, the Red-bellied Black Snake will usually retreat swiftly without threat.

There are plenty of reasons to resist picking up a shovel when you encounter a Red-bellied Black Snake, the most relavent of which is that humans should respect the life and habitat of native wildlife. Snakes, like all other creatures, are a vital part of the big picture.

If you require a snake to be removed from your living space or work place, wildlife carers or NPWS should be able to put you in contact with a trained snake rescuer. With awareness and education, it is hoped that people will be more tolerant and understanding of snakes. Red-bellied Black Snakes are not aggressive unless provoked, and will avoid humans when ever possible.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gaye
Pleased to see you made it to Barrington Tops. Trust you to find a nice healthy Red-bellied Black Snake while there.

I look forward to hearing what else you found.



Pete (Woollybutt) said...

Hi Gaye

Great to see you've been so busy with your blog of late. I've got a bit of time up my sleeve so I'll catch up with your posts I've not read yet.

Seen a few RBBS around here too in the last few weeks. I went out with the specific intent to get a photo of one so I visited a place I often see them, took my all of 5 minutes to find one but he didn't look active like the one you've shown, rather it remained completely motionless the entire time I was watching it apart from the odd flicker of the tounge as I moved closer. A very placid snake that doesn't warrant fear, only respect.


storm said...

nice blog Gaye, fabulous pictures. Having dogs limits so much of what one might see.

Esperance Blog said...

Hi Gaye, another interesting blog. Must admit I like the red-bellies, their glossy red and black coloration is so dramatic, but as you say, they are quite docile. However I had not realised they grew so large, 2.5 metres is a big snake and would I imagine most spectacular to see.

I feel sorry for people who are terrified of snakes as they miss so much beauty, their intelligence and interesting habits. I think you have got to be doing something very wrong to get bitten by one, although that is not to say you should be blasé and not provide them necessary respect.

All you have to do now gaye, is get eye to eye with one. :)

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Denis,

Actually, I found the snake at Barrington during winter. It was basking on a walking track in a patch of sunlight.

My most recent trip to Barrington NP was a very relaxing affair as I took guests for a picnic.

But I have 'discovered' many orchids closer to home that I am anxious to share here when I can find the time. I'm sure you'll be delighted by some of my finds :)


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Peter,

you are extremely lucky to be able to set out to observe a particular breed of snake and easily find one. Good on you.

Now that the weather has warmed up, the only snakes I have encountered lately are unfortunately roadkill. With all the wandering I do in open forest with a thick covering of leaf litter and twigs on the ground, I am very surprised that I don't see more snakes.


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Storm,

I have a friend who walks with dogs and observes much wildlife - it can be done. I hope you are able to talk your doggy friends in to walking quietly and steadily so that you too can enjoy the creatures as you go.

Many thanks for your comment and interest :)


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Jack,

here's one of my little stories for you :)

I was flat out on my belly in the leaf-litter of the rainforest a couple of years ago, photographing a mushroom. I didn't notice the Stephen's Banded Snake with its breakfast of Perons Tree Frog a couple of metres away, at eye level, until I had got over the excitement of finding this particular fungus. The snake was 'cornered' against the base of a huge tree, so I was more than a little concerned at my predicament - but I still got photos - and lived to tell the tale :))


Mom and Toby said...

Dear Gaye,
My son and I are really enjoying your bolg spot, thankyou, anyway, the reason that we are writing to is to share our encounter with a red belly black snake yesterday (Sunday).
It was thoroughly exciting, we were within 50 meters of the Murray River in Albury.
We saw the snake, the snake saw us, we said hello as we shuffled past sideways!
It was kinda cute.
My son had thongs on and will wear his Doc Martens' next time!

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hello "Mom and Toby"

I'm pleased that families are finding my blog and enjoying my nature observations.

Thank you for sharing your snake encounter by the Murray River, and I'm pleased to know that I'm not the only one who talks to snakes and other wildlife on these chance meetings in the bush.

Keep enjoying nature.


Anonymous said...

Hi gaye

firstly i think it great that there are other people who walk around looking for snakes.Secondly i have a big red bellied black in my back yard and the new nieghbours cat tried to eat it i had come to its rescue but now i fear the cat will get him when im not around i want to move him to a farm near by i need some addvise on how to cath him and move him or he will be killed

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi, and thank you for your comments and questions.

I suggest looking in the White Pages of your telephone directory for entries under "Wildlife Aid" or "Wildlife care", ringing and telling them of the situation and asking for advice. A snake should not be attempted to be moved by those other than trained snake handlers.

"WIRES" also should be a source of snake removal people, or failing that, ring your local council or NPWS and ask to be directed to a snake handler.

The world needs more like you who will care for our native snakes, and fewer irresponsible cat owners.

Good luck. I hope your local Red-belly can be moved to a safer environment. It would be worth having a word to your new neighbour about the harm that unrestrained cats do to our native animals and birds, but, unfortunately I have found that cat owners who let their cats roam do not often welcome advice or education. I have tackled the problem with reverse psychology at times and warned the cat owner that their moggy is in real danger from local snakes.


Anonymous said...

My encounter with the snake was in my family room. I would far prefer it had been in the wild though I realize at times my housekeeping might be deemed "wild".

leah said...

my 13 yr old son went to bring his cat in tonight and saw it pouncing on something. he went to inspect and found it was trying to play/kill a red belly black snake about one and a half feet long. we removed the cat to indoors then went back to see size of snake. we called the local police who in turn directed us to a snake handler. we rang them and they referred our call to the designated catcher for our area. we had no response call...being 1045pm..we understood possibly no call would come thru till the morning..well we couldnt leave the snake there in the grass on the nature strip for a neighbouring child to step on on their walk to school in the morning..after watching many nat geo shows on snake handling and steve irwin shows and being passionate wildlife warriors ourselves we gave snake catching a go!!! we pryed it out from under the grass with a coathanger come snake hook and after about 5 careful calm minutes my son picked it up by tail...the snake was calm and nonagressive...and placed it in a cloth snake caught..our first...feel like we have done a great service to our wildlife..came home and rang previous snake lady and told her and hopefully snake handler for this area will be in touch with us to collect we have to look for info to see what to do if indeed our cat was bitten and came across your such advise was would be great if there was info on what symptoms arise when animals are bitten by baby red belly..we will keep googling...thanks for your info anyhow..
angus and leah

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Hello Angus and Leah,

thank you kindly for taking the time to tell your story. Cats disturbing, maiming or killing wildlife is such a familiar and sad story. You are to be congratulated for keeping your cat indoors at night when most of their wildlife hunting goes on.

You did well to successfully catch the snake, but I am surprised that the snake was still in its original position after such a fright. It would be normal for the snake to flee, or at least hide. When the snake handler arrives to relocate the snake, he/she should check it for injuries.

You didn't mention your habitat. I would be interested to know if your home is in a residential street, or if you are on the edge of town or the country.

I'm sorry that I have no reliable information regarding pets being bitten by a red-bellied black snake, but I should imagine that the snake rescuer that comes to relocate the snake should be able to give you some information. If so, I would be most appreciative if you could leave a comment here so that others might be able to benefit from your questions and answers.

I hope all goes well with the snake relocation, and that the snake is healthy after its ordeal.


Anonymous said...

we are very excited to have a pair of red bellies sunning themselves every day in a garden above retaining wall only 3 m from our house. We dont have little children around and dog is quite sedate so there is no danger to us or them. We have lots of questions on technicalities - if they are mating - do they stay together long. How long until babes arrive and are they al born together or over a few days. Doses mum stay with the babes or does she leave them to fend for themselves. Ifthey are mating here will they stay around in the same place for the whole gestation or do they move around ? Lots of questions and hopefully some answers
Cynthia - Outskirts of Singleton Hunter Valley NSW