Although people fear snakes, most are shy animals that retreat at the approach of a human. If you are out walking in the Tasmanian Wilderness you are likely to scare any snakes away with your footsteps before getting close. Tasmania has 3 types of land snake; the Tiger Snake, Lowland Copperhead and White-Lipped snake. Snakes are cool-blooded and rely on sunlight or other external heat sources to raise their body temperature and become active. This means that they are inactive during winter and tend to come out between October and March. The Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus) is named for the yellow to cream bands on black, that sometimes appear on the snake however this can be misleading as colours and patterns are extremely varied and the tiger-like stripes may not be present at all. They can be many colours combinations from jet black, dark olive, sandy grey or cream with yellow, orange, grey or cream bands or no bands at all. The males can reach a length of up to 1.8 meters and females slightly smaller than this. Tiger snakes are found in most habitats in Tasmania. Altitudinally, tiger snakes range from sea level to above 1000 meters. They feed mainly on small mammals, birds, rodents, lizards and frogs and do not stay in the same place for more than two weeks. Mating occurs in summer and females give birth to live young, in numbers over 100 for larger females. If disturbed the Tiger Snake’s first instinct is retreat however if thy are threatened will raise and flatten their head to appear more intimidating, feign a strike or hiss, and bite as a last resort.  The Lowland copperhead (Austrelaps superbus) can be found up to 1000 m and prefers to live in open swampy or marshy areas with low vegetation near streams, dams, lagoons or drainage ditches. Their colour ranges from a reddish brown copper colour to black, grey or red with a light belly and a copper red streak running along their sides. Cooperheads can reach a length of up to 1.5 meters. They feed on frogs, lizards, insects and smaller snakes including other Copperheads. Mating occurs in summer however female stores the sperm over winter in oviducts and give birth to up to 26 young the following summer. Although males are aggressive towards each other during mating season, the Copperhead is also very shy with humans and prefer to retreat at human contact.  The White-lipped snake (Drysdalia coronoides) is the smallest Tasmanian snake and is often called a whip snake in Tamsania although it is not a true whip snake. They inhabit grasslands and open woodlands to about 1300 meters above sea level and are Australia’s most cold tolerant snake. They are a small, thin snake that grows up to 40 cm. Usually a grey or olive green colour they have a thin white line on the upper lip from which the species gets it’s name. Juveniles are often darker than adults and can sometimes be mistaken for juvenile tiger snakes. Their diet consists mainly of small skins and occasionally small frogs. Breeding occurs during spring and summer, often only every second year. Yet another shy species of snake, they have small fangs and venom glands and a bite is unlikely to cause serious harm to an adult human.  Whilst humans should respect our Tasmanian snakes, there is little reason to fear them. Most bites occur when people try to handle or accidentally step on snakes so walkers should wear proper boots and clothing and be careful where they walk. The last snake bite fatality in the Tasmanian bush was in 1966. If bitten it is important to stay calm, apply a compression bandage the bitten limb from the extremity (not a tourniquet), immobilize the limb and seek medical help. A bite from all three Tasmanian snakes is treated with the same anti-venom so capture or identification of the snake is unnecessary.

Photo credit: John Wombey CSIRO

Photo credit: John Wombey CSIRO