Out of control:   Corruption
www.policecorruption.com ....Previously covered-up info.

Little Whip Snake Unechis flagellum (McCoy, 1878)
Little-whip snake
The following was from a paper originally published in two parts in 1990 in Litteratura Serpentium 10 (2), pp. 82-92 and 10 (3), 122-145. Later republished in Monitor - Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society. This is a text only (no italics) version only.

Colouration: See photo. Little variation known. Average adult maximum length: 40 cm. Length of longest recorded specimens (approx. estimate): 65 cm.

Basic scalation: Smooth, with 17 (or rarely 15) mid body rows, 125-150 ventrals, single anal, 20-40 single subcaudals. Distribution: South-eastern New South Wales, most of Victoria and far south-east South Australia, (Gow, 1989b). A near identical species, Unechis spectabilis is found in adjoining areas of Victoria, New South Wales (most of that state), southern South Australia and southern inland Queensland.

Around Melbourne, the Little Whip Snake (Unechis flagellum) is most common in rocky localities to the north and west of the city, particularly on and adjacent to the basalt plains, (James, 1979; Fyfe and Booth, 1984).

Other notes: The relationship between the Little Whip Snake Unechis flagellum and Unechis spectabilis is uncertain. They may turn out to be races of the same species (sub-species) rather than differing species. Unechis spectabilis typically has 15 mid body rows, whereas the Little Whip Snake usually has 17 mid body rows. I have inspected a number of specimens of both snake types, and on external inspection have noticed little difference. Certainly their biological habits don't appear to differ either. If they turn out to be the same species, then the name used will be Unechis flagellum, as it was described first.

The Little Whip Snake Unechis flagellum was the only type of snake to be originally described from Melbourne. Like a number of other Unechis sp. that possess black markings on their head, the Little Whip Snake Unechis flagellum, is often mistaken for juvenile Brown Snakes Pseudonaja spp. (Some Pygopodids also have these types of markings on their head). Believed to be nocturnal, most specimens are caught during the day hiding under cover, or in loose soil under cover. Not a very fast moving species; when discovered it adopts a defensive pose, then moves off seeking cover (Rawlinson, 1965).

Turner (1984), describes three distinct categories of defence mode employed by this species. 1: The snake will attempt to frighten off the aggressor. It raises the forepart of it's body, expands it's head and neck, and thrashes it's body about in a whip-like fashion (hence the name flagellum). The snake may also hiss in a low but audible sound, increasing in volume when the snake moves. Lunging foreword in an apparent attempt to strike is usually bluff. 2: Usually triggered by handling, this snake will emit an 'ant-like' odour from the anus (Rawlinson, 1965; Turner, 1984). The smell may be in the form of a milky liquid, or as a penetrating gas. Both are effective and rely on the sensitivity of the predator's olfactory senses. Defecation may also occur in these circumstances, and this second method of defence is often used in conjunction with the third.

Tight coiling, twisting or knotting of the body is a posture assumed when Unechis flagellum is prodded or overturned. The ribs are expanded to assist in attaining a rigid pose and the snake superficially resembles a shallow cone (Bartell and Jenkins, 1980). The head may or may not be hidden, but by my experiences is more likely to be concealed. The snake remains motionless when in this position, feigning death, probably to appear non-edible, and minimise the risk of being eaten by a predator.

Some individuals of this species consistently utilise the same defence method while others will make use of any of the three methods on different occasions (Turner, 1984). Fyfe and Booth (1984), note that females are more likely to bite a captor than a male, although both sexes may do so.

Like some other types of elapid, there is a readily observable sexual dimorphism which may be observed, in terms of size and shape of the tail. Females have an evenly tapering tail with 20 to 29 subcaudal scales, while males have a bulging tail with 29 to 40 subcaudal scales, (Rawlinson, 1965). This dimorphism is even apparent in newborns, where males have tails 50 per cent longer than females.

The most detailed captive breeding records on this species have apparently been made by Turner, of Bundoora, Vic, although Fyfe and Booth have also kept very detailed records of captive breeding. The breeding activity of Turner's Little Whip Snakes, was not necessarily in line with wild specimens as he apparently manipulated cage temperatures and photoperiods, not strictly in line with outside (natural) variations. Mating in long term captives was consistently recorded in October, and young were born in February (Turner, 1985). Fyfe and Booth (1984) had a captive mating in May with young born in September. Connection in mating was estimated to have lasted between four and six hours,' (as observed - Turner, 1985); in excess of one hour with pre-copulation and breaking not observed (Fyfe and Booth, 1984).

Turner recorded two females giving birth to young 151, and 148 days after mating/ copulation was observed. Fyfe (1980), reported a 108 day gestation period for a single specimen of this species, and Fyfe and Booth (1984), reported a 121 day gestation period for another specimen. Turner (1985) attributed the time difference in gestation to temperature factors affecting the females, however I suspect that whilst temperature factors no doubt played an important role, the possibility of unrecorded matings by either Fyfe, Booth, or Turner could explain the huge variation in reported gestation period.

Turner (1985), noted that prior to giving birth the females had a distinct affinity for warmth, basking during daylight hours directly under the heat source. This behaviour continued throughout gestation, ending abruptly with the birth of the young. Feeding by females during gestation, whilst it may occur, is minimal. Fyfe and Booth (1984), Turner, (pers. comm.), report never finding a wild specimen in the open during daylight hours in spite of their collection of a large number of specimens.

Typically 2-4 live young are produced (Fyfe and Booth, 1984), although Turner (1987) records at least one case of a female giving birth to six young. Newborns at birth measure between 12 and 14 cm in total length, 10.6-12.5 cm snout-vent (Turner, 1985). Fyfe and Booth (1984), record mating in the wild for this species as occurring in Autumn and Winter (as based on location of aggregations of mated pairs and later birth of young), and newborns were found from July to early November. An aggregation of seven specimens was found under a single large flat rock, on 12th September 1980 (Fyfe and Booth, 1984). It consisted of four newborns, a thin 'hollow' female (obviously the parent of the young), a heavy still gravid female, and a large adult male. Interestingly, during winter months ' it was usual to this species in groups of two or more snakes, (average three), with both sexes usually present (Fyfe and Booth, 1984). These snakes were either found under the same rock or under nearby rocks (within 3 m). I found similar aggregations in Unechis monachus near Dubbo, NSW, in early September 1986.

On sunny days the Little Whip Snakes found under cover weren't torpid, in fact they were quite active, so Fyfe and Booth (1984), concluded that these snakes actively mate under cover during daylight hours. The small groups of these snakes found in the wild, were maintained all year, (average of two specimens in summer). This 'pairing' behaviour probably acts to minimise the risk of snakes being ambushed by predators when in the open looking for a mate. Captive and wild specimens forage about as soon as night falls. This is in line with most other small nocturnal elapids including Small Eyed Snake Cryptophis nigrescens and Golden-crowned Snake Cacophis squamulosus. The only record that I could find of this species being caught at night was, Fyfe and Booth (1984), who caught four specimens at night in mid March, on a 'typical good snake night', (that included seasonally warm air temperature, falling air pressure,. no moon).

Diet consists almost exclusively of skinks, (Shine, pers. comm.), including species of Lampropholis, Lelolopisma, Hemiergis, Ctenotus, Morethia, and Lerista, but in exceptional (captive) circumstances has been known to include frogs (Gow, 1976), new born mouse (Fyfe and Booth, 1984), and even a member of it's own species (Turner, 1987).

Cannibalism in wild specimens of this species is probably unknown, and definitely not a normal occurrence (Fyfe and Booth, 1984). Turner (1987), reported an unusual case of cannibalism in this species.

In March, 1983, after giving birth to six young, a captive female consumed, head first, a male cage mate some 8 cm shorter. The female was no doubt very hungry after her long gestation, during which feeding had been minimal. For the following fifty plus hours that the female had the male snake inside her, the cage temperature was maintained at 17-32 degrees Celsius to aid digestion. The female was observed to wriggle her body apparently involuntarily, and also to yawn for several minutes at a time. Three days later the male snake was regurgitated and still alive. Apart from superficial and minor damage to some scales, the snake was still in good health, (unharmed). This is the first such case known to Turner (pers. comm), myself and others of a snake managing to survive such an ordeal. Typically regurgitated snakes are dead. It was assumed that the male snake had somehow been able to breath when inside the female's body, and that for some reason her digestive enzymes were insufficiently powerful enough to adversely affect the male snake. The mouth gaping (yawning) by the female may have assisted the male snake in breathing.


Fortunately at this stage none of the seven species of snake found around Melbourne are seriously at risk from collecting, habitat destruction, commercial exploitation or from introduced pests. The worst conceivable threat to any Melbourne snake species is localised extinctions of populations most likely resulting from the spread of Melbourne's urban sprawl.

The Victorian wildlife authorities have enacted so-called protective legislation that effectively prevents most people from being able to legally keep specimens for any reason. People are still apparently allowed to kill snakes on sight should they so desire. The 'prohibition' on keeping the seven Melbourne snakes is counterproductive to the herpetological cause, as it discourages 'new' people from taking an interest in our native wildlife. The administering of licences, central registers and similar, for most snake keepers in Victoria, represents a gross misdirection of our 'conservation dollar', with the money being better spent elsewhere. It can be argued that the money spent by the Victorian wildlife authorities in relation to 'policing' herpetologists, should be redirected to allow further herpetological research, in the form of grants (hand outs of money to the relevant people) and similar.

The general thrust of the conservation argument, also involves removing government corruption, misinformation including lies, etc, and is covered elsewhere, including Cumming, (1981); Hoser, (1988, 1989b); Whitton (1987). (Further material on this topic (wildlife corruption and licensing laws) can be found in the books Smuggled - The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife and Smuggled-2 : Wildlife Trafficking, Crime and Corruption in Australia).


Various people assisted in the information gathering specifically relevant to the preparation of this paper. They include, Brian Barnett, David Carey, Neil Charles, Ted Mertens, Uwe Peters, Bill Rook, John Scanlon, Richard Shine, Grant Turner, Gary Webb, and the library staff at the National Museum in Melbourne.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (1982) Yearbook Australia Government Printer, Canberra.

Bartell, R. and Jenkins, R. (1980) A field guide to Reptiles of the Australian High Country, Inkata Press, Melbourne.

Cogger, H. G. (1986) Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia Reed books Pty Ltd, Frenches Forest, NSW.

Covacevich, J. and Limpus, C. (1973) 'Two large winter aggregations of three tree-climbing snakes in South Eastern Queensland. Herpetofauna, 6 (2) 16-21.

Cumming, F. (1981) 'Snakies feel the bite of tough new stand' The Australian, pp. 1-2. Aug, 25.

Fyfe, G. (1980) 'Breeding of the Little Whip Snake (Unechis flagellum) in captivity. Victorian Herpetological Society Newsletter no. 20.

Fyfe, G. and Booth, P. (1984) 'Some notes on the habits of the Little Whip Snake, Unechis flagellum' Herpetofauna 16 (1) pp. 16-21.

Gow, G. F. (1976) Snakes of Australia, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Gow, G. F. (1989a) Australia's Dangerous Snakes, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Gow, G. F. (1989b) Graeme Gow's Complete Guide To Australian Snakes Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Griffiths, K. (1987) Reptiles of the Sydney Region Three Sisters Productions Pty Ltd, Winmalee, NSW.

Hoser, R. T. (1980) 'Further records of aggregations of various species of Australian Snakes' Herpetofauna, 12 (1) 1980, pp. 16-22.

Hoser, R.T. (1988) 'Conservation of Australian Snakes, Other Reptiles and Frogs' Litteratura Serpentium (English edition) 8 (1) pp. 12-40.

Hoser, R. T. (1989a) Australian Reptiles And Frogs, Pierson and Co., Sydney. 238 pp.

Hoser, R. T. (1989b) 'Smuggling snakes out of Australia ... How the system works' Litteratura Serpentium (English edition) 9 (1) pp. 15-35.

James,G. (1979) 'The Little Whip Snake in the Melbourne area., Victorian Herpetological Society Newsletter no. 13, pp. 12-13.

McPhee, D. R. (1979) The Observer's Book of Snakes And Lizards of Australia Methuen, Australia.

Mirtschin, P. and Davis, R. (1982) Dangerous Snakes of Australia Rigby, Australia.

Rawlinson, P. (1965) 'Snakes of the Melbourne Area' Victorian Naturalist vol. 81, Jan, pp. 245-54.

Roberts, B. (1983) 'An observation of the Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) utilising water as a refuge.' Herpetofauna 14 (2) p. 95.

Shine, R. (1981) 'Venomous snakes in cold climates: ecology of the Australian genus Drysdalia (Serpentes: Elapidae). Copeia 1981: 14-25.

Shine, R. and Allen, S. (1980) 'Ritual combat in the Australian Copperhead, Austrelaps superbus (Serpentes: Elapidae). Victorian Naturalist. 97: 188-90.

Storr, G.M., Smith, L.A. and Johnstone, R.E. (1986) Snakes of Western Australia Western Australian Museum.

Turner, G. (1984) 'Defence mechanisms in Unechis flagellum (McCoy)' Herpetofauna 16 (1), 1984. pp. 28-29.

Turner, G. (1985) 'Captive breeding of Unechis flagellum.' Herpetofauna 16 (2) pp. 53-54.

Turner, G. (1987) 'Unusual case of cannibalism., Herpetofauna 17 (2) p. 29.

Webb, G. A. and Chapman, W.S. (1983) 'Nocturnal road basking by gravid female Cacophis squamulosus and Cryptophis nigrescens (Serpentes: Elapidae).' Herpetofauna 15 (1), 1983.

Weigal, J. (1988) Care of Australian Reptiles in captivity Reptile Keepers association (RKA), Gosford, NSW.

Whitton, E. (1987) Can Of Worms. A Citizen's Reference Book to Crime and the Administration of Justice. Fairfax library, Australia.

A number of photos of mentioned snakes as well as their habitats were published with the paper and later reprint. Excellent colour photos of these snakes and habitats have also been published in the book Australian Reptiles and Frogs. Click here for further details about that book including how to obtain a copy.

Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 100 papers in journals worldwide. He has published nine books including the definitive works " Australian Reptiles and Frogs ", "Endangered Animals of Australia" and the controversial best seller "Smuggled - The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife". Click on the text below for details about his latest book that is of major interest to herpetologists everywhere.

Click here for details about a new book that all herpetologists should get hold of ASAP.

Papers about reptiles and frogs - list of papers that can be downloaded via the internet.

Australian Reptiles and Frogs - The Definitive book on the subject.

Non-urgent email inquiries via the Snakebusters bookings page at:

Urgent inquiries phone:
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:
(03) 9812 3322 or 0412 777 211