Snake in the Garden

The original “Snake in the Garden” story is of course one of the world’s oldest stories and still widely told. What follows is a pictorial account of several of the snakes that have appeared in our Australian garden over the last 40 years. Now, I know some readers suffer from ophidiophobia (not good but better than homophobia!); however, if you can stand to read the third chapter of Genesis, you should be able to manage this account (about another snake in another garden).

This is the dreaded Brown snake, really, really, really venomous and can be aggressive. All photos by DWC.

Snakes, of course, love hiding behind rocks and even over-wintering there. So you may well ask why anyone in Australia would even consider adding 50 meters or so of dry stone walls to the garden landscaping, all in close proximity to the house. Ah, well . . . we live and we learn.

There are no snakes showing in this photo, but I took the shot just after seeing a meter long Tiger Snake disappear into the crevices of the poorly constructed dry stone wall of which I was inordinately proud forty years ago.

Australian snakes are not slouches when it comes to the toxicity of their venom. Many ‘top ten’ dangerous snake lists include at least 5 Australian species, three of which we have seen in our seaside garden. If you have a phobia about snakes, then this story is probably not for you. But if you don’t mind some close human/snake encounters or seeing our local snake catcher in action, then you may find this tale of some interest.

One fine day, in our back garden within a few meters of the house, I noticed an unmistakable slithering motion disappearing into the very stone wall you saw above. Let me introduce you to our intrepid local snake catcher, Ross, who responded to my phone call in five minutes flat.

After moving ten to fifteen good size stones, Ross caught a glimpse of the tail just disappearing deeper into the wall. Quick as a flash, he had it, a young Copperhead, perhaps a little over a meter long. Copperheads are listed (by the Australian Geographic) as only the 7th most dangerous Australian snake, although they are significantly more toxic than, say, the American Rattlesnake.

A small Copperhead. When I saw Ross’s stick on the ground, I mistook it for a second snake and almost called out for him to watch out.

According to the Australian Museum: “Copperheads tend to be secretive and prefer to avoid encounters with humans. If cornered a Copperhead will hiss loudly, flatten its body and thrash or flick about, but usually without biting. Further provocation will cause the snake to lash out and bite. The venom is powerfully neurotoxic, haemolytic and cytotoxic, and a bite from an adult of the species may be potentially fatal without medical assistance.” See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Copperhead#sthash.IDsfdPmC.dpuf

Easy does it.

Above, Ross is carefully transferring his grasp from the tail to the neck to enable transferring the snake to the dark blue catcher’s bag.

Once the snake is deposited within the bag, it will be taken several miles away and released into an appropriate environment in the Great Otway National Park. Except in certain circumstances, it is illegal to kill Australian snakes which are highly important to the Australian ecology.

About to open the bag.

Later that winter, I opened the door to the back porch only to discover another such creature at my feet. Ross arrived again in minutes and quickly had the young Tiger snake in his faithful bag. Tiger snakes are Australia’s 3rd most dangerous. Their bite is frequently fatal if untreated.

The house is carefully constructed to keep out snakes and rodents but if you happen leave the door open . . .

Our next snake arrived in early summer about 18 months later. It too was a Tiger but quite a lot larger and more clearly marked with the characteristic stripes.

By now my beautiful dry stone wall is looking a bit the worse for the wear.

Notice that the neck and upper body can be flattened to a degree when performing a threat display — not unlike the Indian Cobra.

Read more about the Tiger:(http://australianmuseum.net.au/Tiger-Snake/).

All in a day’s work for our local snake catcher who actually makes his living mainly as an arborist.

Skip forward this time five years. My partner, sitting on the patio on the phone, suddenly spots a snake curled behind a large pot plant.. He calls out to warn us.

My daughter and I join the fun. The snake, now clearly identifiable as an Eastern Brown, has made his way to the top of the stone wall. The Brown, by standards of toxicity is the second most deadly snake in the world. It is often aggressive and known to strike repeatedly.

Being at least 4 or 5 metres away, we decide to stand our ground. By this time we spot a little skink that the snake seems to have his eye on. The skink, out of camera view, remains frozen directly between us and the snake.

Suddenly, although this is still a matter of dispute among the family, the snake seemed almost to leap from the wall to the ground level, heading for the skink and, of course, incidentally towards us. Breaking ranks we all turned to run back to the front door. In that last second I took the above snap, butthe fate of the little skink remains unknown.

After a few moments of being safely inside (I’m ashamed to say that I may have actually locked the door behind us), I realized that I either needed to call our reliable snake catcher or at least see where the snake was heading. As I came out, he was leaving the garden bed, so I followed him at a safe distance until I saw him cross the boundary from our place into the National Park. We have seen only one other Brown since. As you can see from the pic below, it was much smaller.

If you have good eyes, you can spot the tail of the Brown, just slithering away on the garden bed.

Read more about the Eastern Brown: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Eastern-Brown-Snake/

or: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2012/07/gallery-australias-10-most-dangerous-snakes/10-most-dangerous-snakes-in-australia_image1

Aussie snakes: how dangerous are they really?

Australians love to talk about their deadly snakes, but in all honesty, it’s a bit of a myth! The toxicity figures are correct, but each year, twice as many Australians die from the sting of the European Honey Bee than from all Australia’s snakes put together. Asia, Africa, South America, even the US, all have more snakebite deaths per capita than Australia by a considerable margin.

Read more: http://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/australian_venomous_snakes.html

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