NATURE

by VIC JAKES 

Glancing out the sitting room window recently, a large snake was stationary on the ‘doggy lawn’ just short distance away. Fortunately, both dogs were inside. Being early afternoon, the sun was reflecting off the snake’s skin, appearing to show a variable pattern. As such, I was pretty confident it was a carpet python (Morelia spilota) as we have seen sizeable specimens of these close to the house from time to time. Confidently, I went out to take a closer look. My movement outside immediately caused to snake to slither away towards the retaining wall at the back of the lawn but, with sun still reflecting from it, I was determined to follow it to see more. When very close, I suddenly realised it was not a carpet python but the biggest eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) I have ever seen – about two metres long and the maximum size they attain. My enthusiasm for a close inspection suddenly waned!

The largest of nine species of brown snakes found in Australia, the eastern brown, which can live for up to 15 years, is the second most venomous land snake in the world, varying in colour from pale fawn to almost black, with the darker ones always retaining a pale brown head. Largely diurnal, they are believed to use their eyes to hunt prey more than most snake species and have a diet almost exclusively of vertebrates, with mice and other small mammals particularly favoured. Interestingly, during winter, they eat very rarely, as do the females when they are pregnant with eggs. The eggs can number between 10 and 35 and will be laid in a protected position such as inside a rotting log or in a burrow.

Before moving to Australia almost 20 years ago, my knowledge of snakes was virtually zero. I had, of course, seen frightening television footage of the likes of Steve Irwin being lunged at by one type of deadly snake or another, leading to the conclusion that they were such aggressive creatures, any inadvertent proximity of less than 20 metres would result in the snake pursuing with evil intent. It is, however, hard to beat practical experience as a way to acquire knowledge and that education was provided with the early realisation that the ‘perfect’ location of the home we purchased here in the Sunshine Coast hinterland was also regarded as the perfect location by more species of snakes than I knew even existed. As that first summer unfolded, almost every single day would deliver an encounter with one type of snake or another, gradually making me realise that, perhaps, my perception of the danger from snakes, created by the TV shows, was overdone. Invariably, the ‘snake of the day’ would try to make itself scarce as soon as I neared. Indeed, it seemed there was no wish, on the snake’s part, for confrontation – which suited me greatly.

With this latest encounter, rather than retreating in blind panic, I felt confident enough to watch as the eastern brown raised its head about a foot off the ground, ‘tasting’ the air as its tongue flickered in and out. Clearly it was sizing me up and judging whether I posed a threat. Suddenly, and with incredible speed, it did an about turn and dashed under the gate to exit the doggy lawn, rapidly disappearing down the slope away from the house. 

It was a most memorable experience I will remember forever. Respect for these fascinating reptiles is vital but, in the main, they will make sure they get out of your way if you simply allow them to do so. 

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