Monday, 20 October 2008

#54 Eastern Brown Snakes in the Hunter Valley

The highly venomous Eastern Brown Snake is not my favourite creature of the bush, but I feel these misunderstood reptiles deserve a bit of support. In my part of the Hunter Valley, they are dispatched with shovels, roles of hose, moving vehicles, and goodness knows by what other means.

I saw my first living snake of the season last week -
a fine specimen of Eastern Brown sunning itself

Yes, the Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) is venomous; potentially fatal - but only if a person is bitten. Most bites occur as a result of a person threatening the snake. A snake will generally go out of its way to avoid humans, but humans have created habitat that is to the liking of the snake, hence, humans and snakes will occasional cross paths.

A Brown Snake finds refuge in a roadside
telecommunications pit

The Common or Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) varies in colour from yellowish brown, brown, reddish brown, greyish brown to almost black. Juveniles bear a black blotch on the head and a black band on the nape of the neck, (and in some areas, prominent narrow black bands on the body).

Habitat: This snake is widespread through subhumid to arid eastern Australia, occupying almost all habitats except rainforests or wet sclerophyll forests and alpine areas.

Land clearing has apparently proven beneficial, as brown snakes seem to be most abundant in agricultural regions. The Eastern Brown Snake is the snake I encounter most (although, still rarely) in the rural area of the Hunter Valley where I live.

The Eastern Brown Snake well camouflaged . . . . .

. . . . . and another well hidden Eastern Brown Snake
eyes off the photographer (me)

Breeding: Clutches of 10 to 30 eggs have been recorded; laid in late spring. A litter may contain both banded and unbanded individuals. Eggs hatch after about eighty days, and hatchlings measure about 27cm. When nesting, this snake utilises any available cover, but is particularly fond of man-made cover such as sheets of metal.

Habits: The Eastern Brown Snake is diurnal (although sometimes nocturnal in hot weather). It relies on keen vision to locate prey which can consist of mammals, birds, lizards, and occasionally other snakes.

The abundance in rural areas is probably due to the presence of numerous introduced mice and rats which provide a valuable food source.

Eastern Brown Snakes are extremely swift, alert and nervous; quick to retaliate if provoked, readily adopting a defensive stance raising its forebody in an S-shape, hissing loudly and striking repeatedly. I have never observed this defensive behaviour, but I have seen it remain motionless in an effort to remain hidden, and flee swiftly.

Ref: "Australian Reptiles - A Photographic Reference to the Terrestrial Reptiles of Australia" by Stephen K. Wilson and David G. Knowles.

Ref: "Australian Reptiles and Frogs" by Raymond T. Hoser.

An unusual sight: an Eastern Brown and a Red-bellied Black (Pseudechis porphyriacus) sharing living space after being washed from winter shelters during the June 2007 Hunter River flood.

A dead juvenile Eastern Brown Snake with
distinctive head markings

I don't normally feature images of dead animals, but many of the snake road-kills in my area are deliberate killings - unnecessary, and often cruel.

I encounter very few snakes during my normal day to day activities in rural Hunter Valley, but following the June 2007 flood, Eastern Brown Snakes and Red-bellied Black Snakes were washed from their winter hides on the river bank opposite my home. I had a fabulous opportunity to observe them.

I also witnessed unnecessary cruelty from humans. Sections of a previous post, I feel, are worth repeating:

If people find a snake inside their home or workplace, wildlife aid people or NPWS should be able to offer advice as to who to contact to have the snake removed and relocated safely. Rural people who encounter snakes would be wise to give the snake space to move on.

Regardless of size or venom toxicity, all species avoid confrontations with humans whenever possible and must be trodden on or otherwise harassed before they resort to biting in self-defense. The primary function of venom is to subdue prey, not to attack animals too large to be consumed.

An Eastern Brown Snake basking in the sun

It is not only unnecessarily violent and heartless to kill snakes, but it is illegal. Snakes are protected. If we hold a healthy respect for these animals, along with a commonsense approach, we can live in the same locality without incident. After all, it is we humans who are invading and changing the snakes' environment, not vice versa.

Note: My journal blog Snippets and Sentiments has evolved into mainly entries telling of my daily rambles amongst nature, which might be of interest to those who visit this nature blog.


Mosura said...

Some great shots. Were you tempted to move that little bit of grass near it's eye in the first photo? Probably not I guess :-)

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Chuckle, chuckle.....of course!! (not)

Gouldiae said...

A great report Gaye.
Yes, I'm one of the 'leave them alone and they'll leave me alone' brigade, except on the very rare occasion when they are in the garden beds against the house - pets, grandchildren etc.
I wonder how the next telecom technician will fare when he has to service that inspection pit?

Duncan said...

Yes Gaye, nice photos of impressive animals. Plenty about this season down here, tigers, browns...

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Gouldiae,

prior to the June 07 flood, there was a very large Blue-tongue Lizard hold up in the Telstra pit. Following the flood, there was 2 Eastern Brown Snakes and one Red-bellied Black Snake all hold up in the Telstra pit.

I was encouraged to think of the technicians' safety and wellbeing, so called in a snake rescuer. As I had predicted, he was unable to locate the snakes as the pit is so badly damaged.

So I rang Telstra to warn them of the snakes in the pit, should someone need to access the pit. I was told that my warning would be noted. I also asked if the pit could be repaired as it was in a dangerous condition. I was assured that it would be done in the near future. More than 12 months on and there has been no attempt to repair or section off the damaged pit (not surprising).

I keep my immediate living space mowed and tidy so it is not good snake territory (I have grandchildren too), but I have created spaces around the yard (well away from the house) that are lizard-friendly, so therefore, snake-friendly too.

So far, the only snake I have encountered in my yard is a red-belly disappearing into cracks in the ground in the height of summer in the drought.


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Duncan,

thank you for leaving a comment.

I have yet to see a tiger, although they are supposed to be around here.

Years ago while walking in the Tops (the alpine section of the Barrington Tops above Moonan), I was scared stiff of the tigers and wore a bulky pair of gum boots while struggling through the grass that was over head-height.

I still did not encounter a tiger snake, but I did fall down a wombat's hole. I was straggling along at the end (as usual), and no one noticed me missing, so I dragged myself out of the wombat hole leaving one boot behind. Then of course I had to reach down into the hole (while lying on the ground) to reach my boot.

It wasn't funny at the time, but we all had a good laugh about it later :)


Gouldiae said...

G'day again Gaye,
Yes, it's a bit of a problem. we like the garden beds to be 'natural' too, and the spaces between are well mown, etc. A problem we have, is that our garden water dam is only 50metres from the house.
Plenty of water and bush next door on the golf course too, but oddly, since we've been here there's hardly been more than snake sighting a season on the course.
(I hope you don't need Telstra to repair your phone line too often!)

David said...

Hi Gaye,

Nice work with the Brown Snake post.
Great shots and story.
As you pointed out, all snakes are protected in Australia...and rightly so.
They play a valuable part in our ecosystem.
Red Bellied Black Snakes eat Brown Snakes and, if for that reason alone, are good for your garden :)
I filmed one the other couldn't find a more relaxed was more than willing to get out of our way...though my dog got a nip a few days later...If they are pestered they will give a nip...cant blame them.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gaye

I am going to resurect the link to this site, which I took down in error.
Nice snakes, by the way. Better you than me, especially with the browns. they are faster moving than our Copperheads and Blacks.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

David and Denis, thank you for your comments. I have seen very few snakes in the wild, considering the amount of time I spend wandering the bush. I believe they are there, just have the sense to avoid potential danger.