More reptiles! Australia’s snakes are pretty much as (in)famous as its spiders, and they certainly rate very highly in a lot of excitable venom lists. The two most common snakes around here are the tiger snake and common (or eastern) brown snake, although we’ve seen a few tigers now and no browns. However snake identification is notoriously difficult – tiger snakes are usually striped (hence the name), but can range from plain light brown – like a brown snake – to almost black. To add to the confusion brown snakes can be striped. However because both are highly venomous, like most other Australian snakes, the answer is simple – stay away from all of them!
Of course you’re probably thinking that’s easier said than done – but actually it is. Snakes do not eat people, and so will not actively chase you unless you wind them up. I suppose there’s the highly unlikely possibility of a particularly large amethystine python going after a particularly small person, but they only hang out in tropical Queensland anyway. Snakes just want to get away from people, and will generally just slither off if they hear you coming. Given the amount of racket we tend to make as a family this may be why we’ve seen relatively few.
You will see plenty of signs around warning of snakes, but you’re far more likely to see a sign than a snake. There are spray-painted warnings on the path I cycle on by Ruffey Creek on the way to work but I’ve never seen one there. In fact I don’t think we saw a snake until we’d been in Australia for well over a year – they’re around, but they like to stay well out of your way.
You do need to be a little conscious of your behaviour though – I wouldn’t recommend wandering through long grass, in particular if it’s close to water, and don’t stick your hands in any holes (but you weren’t going to do that in Australia anyway, were you?!). Treading on a snake is a good way to get bitten, which is why most trail races here insist you take at least one and sometimes two compression bandages with you. I do wonder a little about mountain biking too – running over a snake and having the front wheel flick it up towards you seems unpleasantly feasible, but having scoured the MTB forums it seems extremely rare.
The problem with both running and cycling is that because you’re going faster you’re far more likely to crash into a snake unawares, which results in the game every trail runner in Australia plays in summer – is that a stick or a snake? Snakes are ambush predators which means they are well camouflaged and generally very tricky to spot out in the bush:
We spotted this one on a dirt road out in the Grampians, and it slithered off to the side of the road where I got this photo. Spotting them in amongst the jumble of sticks and leaves that make up the floor of the bush is tricky as you can see!
Here’s another one, this time sunning itself on the dam wall of Trawool Reservoir up on the beautiful Tallarook plateau. We were walking across and luckily Felix spotted it before one of us trod on it – there’s nowhere to run up on top of that dam wall!
So how dangerous are Australian snakes? Well, you should certainly treat them with respect, and you should also try to avoid getting in contact with them – no walking through long grass, no hands in holes etc. But few people are bitten (~3000 a year), fewer still actually have venom injected (<450) and extremely few are killed (2-3). This compares very favourably to other countries, and indeed is the same as the number of deaths due to wasp or bee stings. So be sensible, but watch out also when you cross the road or go swimming! Top tip – if you are unlucky enough to get bitten, don’t clean the wound – doctors can use any venom left around it to identify the correct anti-venom. And don’t try sucking the venom out – you may feel like a hero but it doesn’t work.
The other thing to be aware of is that most snake bites happen as a result of people attempting to capture or kill a snake. So don’t try! It’s easy really…