Saturday, November 26, 2011

Snakes alive

Yesterday a courier showed up at our back door to collect a parcel, and told us he'd just seen a large snake at the bottom of our driveway. That's not surprising, as the past few days of lovely warm sunny weather would have brought them out to bask in the sun. But this news sent David out on the ride on mower to cut the grass in the front paddock. It's kept nice and short in the winter by the army of wallabies that gather there each night, but come spring, everything grows like crazy. David had already mowed inside the house paddock this week, but he didn't want the snakes in the longer grass outside the wallaby proof fence.

Neither of us are particularly worried by snakes, but we are worried about the dogs getting hold of one. I'm not keen on having a snake in the chook shed either. Doesn't the front paddock (our 'sprawling parklands') look great now?

I remember reading in a tourist guide before we moved here that 'there are only three kinds of snake in Tasmania - all venomous'. However, the good news is that they are all quite timid. You are unlikely to encounter a snake in the winter months. Snakes in Tasmania are generally active in the warmer months between October and March. The dark colour of most Tasmanian snakes is an adaptation to the cold climate, as it means they can absorb heat more quickly.

The smallest and least dangerous of the three varieties is the white-lipped snake, also known as the whip snake. They are greenish-grey or olive in colour and grow to around 40cm long. They are quite shy and feed mainly on small skinks. They are most often seen in grasslands or heath and on rocks. I once saw one sliding away through the rocks on the beach near Cockle Creek, where it had been sunning itself. David has seen one along the fence at home.

The lowland copperhead snake lives mainly in swampy or marshy areas where it feeds on frogs, lizards and smaller snakes. It reaches up to 1.5 metres in length. Unlike the tiger snake, it has a narrow pointed head and range from dark grey or black to copper or brick-red in colour, usually with a yellow-white underside and an orange or red streak along the sides. They are very shy and prefer to retreat when disturbed by humans. Copperheads are extremely venomous and capable of killing an adult, but the good news is that their fangs are relatively short, making their bite less effective. Thick socks and strong shoes or boots will provide some protection.

The tiger snake is the largest snake in Tasmania, reaching between one and two metres long. It is found in most habitats in Tasmania and mainly feeds on small mammals and birds. They are known to climb trees to reach bird nests, and so the alarm calls of birds in the area may alert you to their presence. It has a broad and blunt arrow shaped head and comes in so many colour variations that it is unwise to identify them this way. If threatened, a tiger snake will raise its head and may feign a strike, but like most snakes, they will not bite unless provoked. Their venom is highly toxic. We saw one recently on a walk to Billy Brown's Falls.

If you want a better idea of what these snakes look like, visit the Parks & Wildlife Service web site or check out the natural history section of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for some safely stuffed examples.

A couple of months ago I did a St. John’s first aid course and the instructor, a paramedic of many years standing, reliably informed us that no-one has died from snakebite in Tasmania for around 40 years. I’ll take that as an encouraging sign.


  1. G'day Susan,
    Just used twitter to find out who was from Tasmania and found a link to this post.

    I have just been travelling around USA and Canada for 11 weeks on long service leave. I talk about Tasmania to everyone I meet. They say they would love to come to Australia but all the poisonous animals put them off.

  2. How funny! I haven't seen that many poisonous animals despite living in Australia most of my life. You can tell them that only stupid people get eaten by crocodiles ;-)

  3. im glad i didnt read this yesterday, it would have put me off doing the weeding and sticking my arms and legs in the bushes and plants where i couldnt see anything! Last year i saw two large snakes crossing over the road about 200m from my house, there are orchards and a huge lake there, so hopefully they all stay down that end of the street.

  4. Like you I don't really care about the snakes for me, but I'm absolutely terrified about our dogs accidentally getting bitten. As this is the first year we are living at the hut, I'm keeping a close eye out, not leaving water lying around etc. We're keeping the grass very short around the hut, but I still can't wait til the grass gets cut for hay, then I'll feel a little bit better. We saw snakes on several occasions last year for the first time at the block, and twice they were very close to the house site.
    Fingers crossed.

  5. About what you've mentioned about Tiger Snakes, they also feed on mice - which is one of the top rodents observed in US. According to this website ( ), the concentration of its venom is sufficient to kill 50% of a mice population.

  6. Really great information and all the right facts, snakes really don't kill many people at least in Australia, in India an Pakistan it's another story.

    1. That's exactly right, the same thing with crocs, bees and horse kill more people all around the world not just in Australia.