NATURE

by VIC JAKES

Living in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland not far from Cooroy Mountain, acceptance of the presence of snakes, abundant in variety as well as number, is an absolute requirement of life. During the almost-never-ending snake season, which seems to run from early August though to June, hardly a day passes without a sighting of one snake species or another. Even in the hibernating season – for snakes called brumation – sometimes, on warmer days, one of these fascinating reptiles can be seen out enjoying the sunshine. 

Our visitors range from the timid and non-venomous green tree snake to the deadly and aggressive eastern brown. For all the obvious reasons, therefore, letting the dogs out for after-dark ablutions means ‘lights on’ followed by an inspection of the little ‘doggy lawn’ to ensure that all is safe. 

One particular evening, I noticed a strange glint from the corner of the lawn where, sticking up from the grass, a glossy hoop-like shape was reflecting the beams of the overhead floodlight. As I approached to check what it was, I realised I was being treated to a fascinating but rare sighting of an eastern bandy-bandy (Vermicella annulata), also known as a hoop snake. These striking black-and-white banded snakes with a most noticeable short, narrow tail can grow to about 75cm but I judged this one to be nearer to 60cm. 

While they are venomous to a degree, the egg-laying bandy-bandy’s natural reaction to any perceived threat is to contort its body into rigid, vertically oriented hoops, displaying black and white bands, believed to be unique to each individual snake like human fingerprints. Wider white bands are seen on the shiny underside, while black is more prominent from above. The snake then proceeds to gently wave the raised hoop backwards and forwards to confuse, or even mesmerise, any would-be attacker. This action may also help to protect the snake’s small head, which always remains on the ground. 

There are six known species of this highly distinctive snake, which are found in wet and dry forests as well as spinifex desert sand hills throughout a large area of eastern Australia. This includes parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, with a restricted presence also in South Australia. Although it is not uncommon it is, in fact, very rarely seen as it spends most of its time underground and normally only emerges after dark to feed, almost exclusively, on blind snakes (Typhlopidae). So rare are bandy-bandy sightings that my nature-loving neighbour, living here for more than 35 years, has never seen one. 

If you are fortunate enough to encounter one of these delightful, unaggressive snakes, watch quietly and enjoy the almost seductive dance as it sways to and fro. You will not be disappointed!