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Natural History

Snakehandler was established for a number of reasons, but began snake catching to prevent confrontations between home residents and snakes. Our aim is to save meaningless snake deaths and enable the community to have an option to have snakes removed safely.

Australia is home to an amazing and diverse array of wildlife, all are fascinating and deserve our respect and understanding from the cute and cuddly koala to the more unique and sometimes dangerous reptilians.

Notable Snake Features

  • They lack any ear openings or appendages. Hence they are quite deaf.
  • They very noticeably have no limbs such as legs or arms.
  • Snakes have forked tongues and in lizards only goannas have forked tongues.
  • Snakes have no eye lids.
  • Snakes have scales
  • Snakes can dislocate their jaws significantly
  • Snakes like most reptiles are ectothermic (rely on external sources to maintain their body temperature).

False Stories about Snakes.

Snakes only die after sunset.
Snakes are easily bruised and die when injured however because their body is elongated (long) , it can painfully take longer (up to several hours) before death occurs. It also does depend on the type of injury.

Snakes roll down hills with their tails in their mouth.
They can slither down a hill.

Snakes drink milk or snakes milk cows.
Snakes may smell a strange smell and come to investigate, but they certainly would not drink it, or milk cows. In India, the snakes of snake charmers have been known to drink milk, this is because they are dehydrated and desperate for a drink.

Snakes are aggressive.
Snakes like any animal can become defensive when provoked, injured or attacked whether incidental or not. To suggest a snake will deliberately get excited and attack an animal tenfold its size is ridiculous. Only the Eastern Brown Snake is easily excited and readily charges humans. Most stories about aggression comes from rural areas where the image of an animal being clobbered to death are justified by its supposedly terrible nature.

If there are baby snakes mum and dad are also around.
Snakes have little parental concern over young, care is taken to incubate live young although areas chosen to give birth is probably haphazard. Once young have been birthed the female moves away to feed and replenish lost fat stores. Egg layers usually lay eggs in a burrow, holes or under logs and then depart. If a baby snake hangs around too long it can quickly become food for larger snakes including siblings or parent snakes.

Baby Venomous snakes are harmless or less toxic than adults.
All venomous snakes, no matter the age or size have the exact same type of venom as their adult counterparts; the only difference is the quantity they carry and the ability for their smaller fangs to penetrate through thick skin. To assume any snake is harmless is in itself a very dangerous idea.

You can tell harmless from venomous snakes by their colour or shape.
Most people cannot reliably identify snakes by colour or shape safely and accurately. It is common for misidentifications to occur amongst professional herpetologists as to what species of snake they are seeing. For the lay person to identify a snake usually only seen briefly by colour or size is misleading and very dangerous.

While some snakes e.g. Eastern Tiger Snakes can be often obvious by their distinct banding, they often can have faint or no banding. There are several snakes that are similar or share characteristics with other species.

Blue tongue lizards around the house will keep snakes away.
Both reptiles occupy a similar microhabitat and can be seen on occasions near by to each other basking. These lizards are very common around homes for similar reasons to snakes ; p lenty of shelter, food (snails) and good basking sites. However some snakes will prey on Blue Tongue Lizards e.g. Eastern Brown Snakes which will prey on Blue Tongue Lizards of all sizes.

Snakes defend their nests.
Snakes either egg layers or live bearing will leave their young to disperse independently. Exceptions are for some pythons which incubate their brood by remaining coiled around the eggs. Crocodiles certainly will defend their nests.

Snakes lie down beside their prey to measure it!!

This is a myth not only perpetuated by media, but recently we have even heard it at a snake display. Snakes are not measuring sticks, they do not lay down beside their prey, some such as pythons have heat pits, these assist in sizing up their prey, but even then, some snakes will take prey too large for them to eat, so they simply regurgitate it. 

Basking

Traditionally called 'cold blooded' snakes are essentially 'ectothermic': they rely on external sources for heat and cannot maintain their own body temperatures. This means if they are cold they cannot warm themselves up, and if they are hot they cannot cool themselves down. This is the reason they need to bask, as they cannot perform many normal functions without being sufficiently warmed up.

They try to maintain what is called a 'preferred body temperature' (PBT). This is the temperature a snake needs to maintain to search, prey on and digest food.

PBT can vary with physical states of snakes e.g. A snake that is gravid (carrying eggs or live young) will bask more often and longer. The PBT varies a reasonable amount between snakes, some snakes are specifically adapted to cooler regions and others to arid or dry regions.

Shelter

Snakes can be found in grass tussocks, among rocky outcrops, under rock slabs, inside dense vegetation such as vines or ivy, thickets of bushes (eg blackberry bush), amongst reeds along creeks or rivers, under or in logs, in dense leaf litter around trees or along rocks.

In disturbed habitats, sheets of iron are an excellent place at the right time of the day to see snakes. Sheets of plastic, fibro, wooden planks or sheets, and stacked firewood are all well favoured areas. Snakes are also fond of a good hole , and sometimes stay after eating previous tenants (rats, mice and sometimes rabbits).

Food

Food is an essential part of all living things. Diet in snakes can vary between species, age, size, habitat and season. Juvenile snakes will often eat skinks or small frogs, sub adult snakes eat bigger frogs, skinks and small mammals and adult snakes eat mammals, nestling birds, lizards and frogs. Snakes especially elapids (Venomous Land Snakes) and pythons would not normally prey on invertebrates (insects).

Victorian Species

SpeciesJuvenileAdult
Eastern Tiger Snakesmall frogs/skinksfrogs, lizards, mice, rats, baby birds and sometimes small rabbits
Lowland Copperheadskinks, small frogs, lizard eggsskinks, frogs, snakes, lizard eggs and rarely mic
Eastern Brown Snakeskinks, small frogsmice, rats, small rabbits, lizards, baby birds
Red Bellied Black Snakefrogs and lizardsfrogs, lizards, snakes, small mammals

Other types of snakes found in other states eat a similar diet. The thing to consider is the size of the snake, and the types of food found in their natural habitat.

For example if the maximum size of a snake is only 1.5m, it would rarely if ever eat anything larger than a small rodent such as a mouse, and probably prefers a frog and small lizard diet.

If the maximum size of a snake is 3m (i.e. Coastal Taipan or Mulga Snake), they will more likely predate on small mammals and larger rodents.

Prevention of excess food

To prevent many snakes from entering a residence, it is essential to eliminate pest species such as mice. Investigate why rodents are breeding in your yard. You may find they feed on compost because of access holes, scraps given to pets or easy access to dog food and more importantly stored animal feed.

Excess amounts of hay, lucerne or chaff must be cleaned up and stored away from rodent access. Sometimes there is little that can be done except to use baits or traps to remove rodents.

Pest or exotic birds like starlings, sparrows, and Indian Mynahs can be easily moved by destroying the nests before they lay eggs. This may seem cruel but necessary; additionally these birds compete with our native fauna.

Possums or rats may occasionally be preyed on by pythons in the roof of residences: this can be elimanted by baiting (for rats and rodents), or contacting a possum catcher to remove and relocate possums.

Reproduction

In snakes there are two ways of babies being born. Like birds, snakes can lay eggs (oviparous), which hatch after 30 - 80 days. Some snakes, commonly species in the cooler southern states give birth to developed young in thin membranes (viviparous).

Around Melbourne only the Eastern Brown Snake lays eggs and the others are live bearers. Also in Melbourne all snakes mate in spring (September - November) and give birth in summer (January - March) usually around 100 days.The actual timing of both events depends strongly on the weather pattern as each year can vary greatly .