By: Raymond T. Hoser, 41 Village Avenue Doncaster, Victoria, 3108, Australia.
Originally published in 1991 in Litteratura Serpentium (Journal of the European Snake Society) in Vol. 11, no's 3-6, pp. 56-67, 78-87, 101-113, 125-130.
The paper has been scanned into the computer using OCR technology. Minor typographical errors from the process have not been corrected and except for the first part of the paper, no attempt has been made to italicize scientific names.
Sydney is Australia's oldest and largest city. It is the state capital of New South Wales, the most populous state in the country. It has a population of between 3.5 and 4.5 million people, the exact number depending on which outer suburbs and nearby satellite cities are included in the count. At the time of writing, 1990, the population of Sydney is increasing by about 80-100 thousand people a year as a result of natural increase and immigration from elsewhere (mainly other countries).
Sydney is about 900 km (by road) to the north-north east of Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, with a population of about 600,000 less than Sydney's. A paper on Melbourne's snakes was published in two parts in this journal (Vol. 10 (2), Vol. 10 (3), 1990). The snakes covered in that paper are included in this paper, with the exception of one species, the Little-whip snake Unechis flagellum, which is not included due to the fact that it is not found anywhere close to Sydney. The descriptions of species of snake in this paper also include distribution information strictly relevant to the Sydney district as well as other 'locally' relevant material as necessary. The two species of Worm or Blind Snakes known to occur within the Sydney region are described together due to their great similarity in appearance and known habits.
According to the 1982 YEAR BOOK AUSTRALIA, Sydney was on average 42 metres above sea level. The climate is by Australian standards relatively cool, and due to the coastal location of most of Sydney it is also very mild, being spared most of the extreme summer heat and mid-winter overnight cold experienced in many other parts of Australia.
Rainfall is by Australian standards high, averaging 1,215 mm annually, with a range between 2,196 and 585 mm. Although rainfall in Sydney is nearly double that of Melbourne's in terms of mmls, Sydney's rainfall tends to be heavier, in terms of amount of rain over a given period and hence Sydney enjoys an average of more daily sunshine than Melbourne also.
Rainfall occurs throughout the year with a bias towards more rainfall in the summer months. The year round average maximum temperature is 21.4'C, with an average minimum of 13.6'C. The highest maximum on record is 45.3'C (Sydney city), and the lowest is 2.1'C (city). It should be noted here that the 'western suburbs' which are further away from the moderating influences of the coast have recorded higher and lower temperature extremes, while the higher parts of the Blue Mountains (90-120 km west of the Sydney GPO) which exceed 1000 meters in elevation have recorded substantially colder extremes and are consistently cooler than other parts of the Sydney metropolitan area on a regular basis.
Sydney is located in the 'Sydney basin' which is flat in the centre and hilly around the edges. The basin is centred to the south of the Sydney GPO, somewhere to the south of Port Jackson, but north of Botany Bay. Hills to the north and south of the city exceed 300 meters, while ranges about 100 kms west of the city (the Blue Mountains), rise in a dissected plateau to over 1000 meters.
Virtually all of the Sydney area is based on sandstone rock formation, although some shales and clays are also found in pockets in sandstone areas. At the centre of the Sydney basin and on the Cumberland plain which occupies most of the (now settled) western suburbs, clays and shales predominate (see photo 1). The Pacific Ocean to the east of the city and the Blue Mountains to the west of the city major climate influencing factors. Rainfall is highest in the coastal suburbs, particularly the upper'north shore'area, decreasingwestwards, so that in outer western suburbs such as Liverpool, the average annual rainfall is approximately half that of the coastal suburbs. Rainfall increases again as one journeys into the higher elevations of the Blue Mountains.
Sandstone areas not urbanised tend to remain as natural bushland, with relatively invasion by introduced grasses and other weeds. Much of this natural area is included in National Parks, such as Kurringai Chase, and Brisbane Water to the north, Wollemi to the north-west, Blue Mountains to the west, Royal and Heathcote to the south, along with a number of smaller reserves and parks. The soils in these areas are well drained and sandy and characterised by large amounts of sandstone rock outcrops which provide optimal cover and habitat for most reptile species (see photo 2).
The clay and shale based habitats, particularly those of the Cumberland plain are relatively depauperate in reptile species, even in areas where the habitat is relatively undisturbed (these areas are now rare).
Due to the fact that the Sydney area acts as a convergence of subtropical and more temperate zones, the reptile fauna is relatively rich. The sandstone habitat also seems to enhance the potential richness of reptile species diversity found within the area.
Some 21 species of snake are covered in this paper, as species known to occur within 80 kms of the Sydney GPO. If one were to extend this coverage to within 100 kms of the GPO another species would be added. In this paper descriptive information about each snake species is not as detailed as in the paper 'Melbourne's Snakes' published earlier in Litteratura Serpentium. References are not cited in the text, although a bibliography is given at the end of this paper. Some of the material cited at the end of this paper was also cited in the paper 'Melbourne's Snakes'.
IDENTIFICATION OF SYDNEY'S SNAKES
Sydney's snakes can be identified by many means. One familiar with snakes can usually identify a given species at a glance. Characteristics used for identification include colour, morphology and scalation. Snake's colouration varies greatly, so the latter two characteristics are more commonly used for positive identification. Colour and morphology are easily explained to most people. For those not familiar to basic snake scalation patterns an outline is given.
Snakes have characteristic scale arrangements, such as ventral or belly scales, etc. Different species have different characteristic scale counts and arrangements, particularly on the head, although bodily scale counts are more widely used for identification purposes. Bodily scale counts most commonly used are; mid-body rows, or rows scales around the middle of the snake's body, ventrals or scales on the belly prior to the anal plate, and subcaudals or belly/tail scales past the anal plate and their condition.
When counting mid-body rows, the ventrals are excluded from the count, (the number should always be odd). When counting the ventrals the anal plate is excluded from the count. When counting subcaudals divided ones are counted as one paired or divided subcaudal.
THE SNAKES OF SYDNEY
Of the roughly 140 species of snake known to occur in Australia about one seventh are found in the Sydney region (within 80 kms of the city centre, within the Sydney sandstone basin).
The snakes of the Sydney region belong to the following five groups or families; The blind snakes (Family Typhlopidae), 2 species; Pythons (Boidae), 1 species; Colubrid snakes (Colubridae), 2 species; Elapid snakes (Elapidae), 15 species; Sea snakes (Hydrophiidae), 1 species.
Blind or worm snakes (Typhlopidae), as they are commonly called are wormlike, harmless snakes. Except on nights (usually) above 18'C they spend most of their life underground. They are Australia's only snakes known to be insectivorous.
Pythons (Boidae) are thickset non-venomous snakes which kill their prey by constriction. They have distinct heads and necks and include the worlds largest serpent.
Colubrid snakes (Colubridae), are the dominant family of snakes in all parts of the world except Australia. They comprise fangless and rear fanged tree snakes in Sydney. No Australian colubrid is dangerous.
The Elapid or front fanged venomous land snakes (Elapidae) are the dominant group of snakes in Australia. All are venomous and some species are deadly. This family has the deadliest snakes on earth and a worldwide distribution. Its' members include the Death Adder, Taipan, Tiger Snake, Mamba and Cobra.
The sea snakes (Hydrophiidae) are a marine group with keel shaped bellies and oar shaped tails, well adapted for swimming. They are all allied to the elapids. All are venomous. These snakes are usually found on land when cast up in storms or sick. They find movement on land difficult, but can still bite an aggressor.
Two types of legless lizard (Family Pygopodidae), are found in the Sydney region. Both the Scalyfoot Pygopus lepidopodus and the Burton's Legless Lizard Lialis burtonis are abundant and are commonly mistaken for snakes. They may be distinguished by their external ears, thick fleshy tongues and long tails which may be separated from the body. Tail autotomy (shedding) is practised by both species.
KEY TO THE SNAKES OF THE SYDNEY REGION
This key enables rapid identification of all of Sydney's snakes, and legless lizards. The latter were included so as to avoid any misidentification that might arise by their omission. This key will only apply to snakes from the Sydney region (within 80 kms of the City centre), and will not work if applied to Australian snakes from other areas.
KEY TO IDENTIFICATION OF SYDNEY'S SNAKES (AND LEGLESS LIZARDS)
IA. Tongue not forked, external ear openings present
.................................. (Family Pygopodidae, legless lizards) 2
IB. Tongue forked, no external car openings 3
2A. Highly distinctive pointed snout, head covered with small irregular
................................... Lialis burtonis, Burton's legless lizard
2B. Head covered with ordered shields Pygopus lepidopodus, Common Scalyfoot
3A. Eyes present as black spots only (Family Typhlopidae, Worm or Blind
3B. Eyes well developed 5
4A. 20 Mid body rows Typhlina proximus, Worm snake
4B. 22 Mid body rows Typhlina nigrescens, Worm snake
5A. Tail more or less cylindrical, not flattened and paddle shaped 6
5B. Tail strongly vertically compressed and paddle shaped
..... (Family Hydrophidae, Sea snakes), Pelamis platurus, Yellow-bellied sea snake
6A. Fewer than 30 mid body rows 7
6B. More than 30 midbody rows (Family Boidae), Morelia spilota, Diamond python
7A. One or more loreal scales present, or if absent, 23 or more mid
body scale rows and a divided anal plate (Family Colubridae, harmless or
back fanged snakes) 8
7B. No loreal scales, anal single if mid body scales in 23 or more rows .................... (Family Elapidae, front fanged venomous land snakes) 9
8A. Ventrals fewer than 225 and 13 midbody scale rows
............................... Dendrelaphis punctulatus, Green tree snake
8B. Ventrals more than 225 and 19 to 23 mid body scale rows ..................................... Boiga irregularis, Brown tree snake
9A. No suboculars; no specialised curved soft spine on tip of tail 10
9B. Suboculars; has a curved, soft spine on the tip of the tail
................................... Acanthophis antarcticus, Death adder
10A. All subcaudals normally undivided 11
10B. At least some subcaudals divided 17
11A. Anal normally single 12 11B. Anal normally divided Hemiaspis signata, Swamp or Marsh snake
. Frontal shield longer than broad; where frontal is only slightly longer
than broad, lower anterior temporal shield is shorter than frontal 13
12B. Frontal shield not ot scarcely longer than broad; lower anterior temporal about as long or longer than frontal ..... Notechis scutatus, Eastern tiger snake
13A. Scales in 15-21 mid body rows, ventrals not keeled or notched;
if 19 or more, ventrals fewer than 190 14
13B. Scales in 19-21 mid body rows; ventrals keeled or notched and over 190 ........................................... (Genus Hoplocephalus) 23
14A. Frontal less than one and a half times as broad as the supraocular
................................. Cryptophis nigrescens, Small-eyed snake
14B. Frontal more than one and a half times as broad as the supraocular 15
15A. Lateral scales adjoining ventrals not noticeably enlarged
............................................... (Genus Drysdalia) 16
15B. Lateral scales adjoining ventrals noticeably enlarged
................................ Austrelaps ramsayi, Highland copperhead
16A. No band across the nape Drysdalia coronoides, White-lipped
16B. A pale yellowish band across the nape
............................. Drysdalia rhodogaster, Eastern masters snake
17A. Usually all subcaudals divided 18
17B. Usually some anterior subeaudals single, remainder divided
........................... Pseudechis porphyriacus, Red-bellied black snake
18A. Subcaudals 35 or more 19
18B. Subcaudals fewer than 35 22
19A. Nasal and preocular scales in contact 20
19B. Nasal and preocular scales widely separated Furina diadema, Red-naped snake
20A. 15 Mid body rows 21
20B. 17 or more mid body rows Pseudonaja textilis, Eastern brown snake
21A. Diameter of eye markedly greater than its distance from the mouth
....................... Demansia psammophis, Yellow-faced whip snake
21B. Diameter of eye about equal to or less than its distance from the mouth
............................................... (Genus Cacophis) 25
22A. Colour pattern not consisting of alternate black and white bands
............................................... (Genus Cacophis) 25
22B. Colour pattern consisting of alternate black and white bands from head to tail
..................................... Vermicella annulata, Bandy Bandy
23A. Body spotted or banded 24
23B. Body without spots or bands Hoplocephalus bitorquatus, Pale-headed snake
24A. Body banded with yellow and black, the yellow usually two or more
scales in width; black bands often extending to sides of ventral scales
........................... Hoplocephalus stephensi, Stephen's banded snake
24B. Body black with numerous scattered yellow or white scales; the latter often form irregular crossbands which rarely exceed one scale in width; sides of ventral scales are yellow or white
............. Hoplocephalus bungaroides, Broad-headed snake
25A. A complete white, cream or yellow head band, belly not reddish
................................... Cacophis kreffti, Krefft's dwarf snake
25B. Paler golden lateral head marking not forming a complete head band; reddish belly .
............................. Cacophis squamulosus, Golden-crowned snake
NOTES ON DESCRIPTIONS OF SYDNEY'S SNAKES
All snake species known to occur within an 80 km straight line radius of Sydney City, and the adjoining sandstone basin have been included. Along with each description, photographs of typical representatives from the Sydney district have been included to aid identification. All lengths of snakes quoted are total lengths; that is snout-vent length plus tail length.
Excluding the worm snakes, the families of snakes and their species have been described in alphabetical order (of scientific names). The family Elapidae has been split into two parts; the innocuous and the deadly. The innocuous snakes have been placed first. The last six species of snakes described are Sydney's only deadly species, namely the Death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus), Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus), Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus), Red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyyiacus), Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) and the Yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus).
Blind or Worm snakes, Typhlina nigrescens (Gray, 1845), and Typhlina proximus (Waite, 1893). Photos 3 and 4.
Their eyes are reduced to small dark spots under the scales of the head, which act as light sensors only. The small curved mouth is well behind the snout tip making it shark like. The cylindrical body of uniform thickness has a short tail which terminates in a downward pointing spine. Worm snakes have smooth pink to brown shiny scales which are similar in size around the body (i.e. there are no broad belly shields). They may occasionally exceed 60 cm in length
Worm snakes (both species) are commonly found in all parts of Sydney including the inner north shore and eastern suburbs.
Worm snakes are non-venomous and occur in all habitats. The diet of worm snakes is believed to be ants and termites. They have been recorded as eating large bull ants. When freshly caught they emit a strong and objectionable smell from well developed anal glands. They often tie themselves into tight knots. Worm snakes are nocturnally active burrowers, and are usually only found on the ground surface in warm or wet weather, especially after rain. Most worm snakes are found during the day when dug from the ground or uncovered by moving rocks and logs. Winter hibernation aggregations and more commonly summer breeding aggregations are known to occur. The largest recorded to date was a summer aggregation found in St.-Ives consisting of about thirty five specimens under one rock. Worm snakes are oviparous (egg laying), producing about 4 to 5 eggs in late summer.
Diamond python, Morelia spilota (Lacepidae, 1804). Photo 5.
The heavily built Diamond python is the coastal New South Wales variation of the widespread carpet python, being the nominate subspecies. It has a large head, distinct from the relatively thin neck and thick set body. It is typically glossy olive black above, with cream or yellow spots on many of the individual scales, forming the characteristic series of diamond shaped patterns. The lips are cream barred with black. The ventral surface is cream to yellow, becoming increasingly variegated with dark grey towards the posterior end of the body. The scalation is smooth, with 45-51 mid body rows, 251-304 ventrals, 63-92 paired subcaudals and the anal may be either single or divided. The snake may exceed 3 m in length, but 2 m is usually the maximum length attained. Diamond pythons are easily the largest snake species in the Sydney area.
Diamond pythons are frequently found in all outer suburbs of Sydney, being most common in hilly and rocky areas. General: Diamond pythons are active at day or night and when not active may be found concealed in hollow tree limbs, rock crevices, beneath large rocks or simply amongst vegetation. Food of Diamond pythons is mainly warm blooded in the form of rodents and birds, and for this reason many farmers introduce them into grain warehouses to control vermin. Smaller specimens have a greater tendency to eat cold blooded food. Breeding and hibernation aggregations of this species occur. An unusual aspect of this species is the much greater proportion of males to females that seem to be caught. No reason for this has yet been found.
Mating usually occurs in early spring with eggs being laid around December, although this species has been known to lay eggs at all times of year. The average clutch size is 15 en when laid the female coils herself around the eggs to protect them from predators and incubate them. By rapid muscular contractions female Diamond pythons may become endothermic (warm blooded) (to some degree).
The incubation period is usually about three months and hatchlings usually measure about 30 cm in length. Young Diamond pythons tend to be considerably brighter in colour than older specimens. With the possible exception of some juveniles, most Diamond pythons have a docile temperament, even if freshly caught.
Recent radio-telemetry work on these species by Drs. Shine and Slip (see bibliography), has revealed much detail about the biology of the species. It is considerably more arboreal and tree-dwelling than had been previously thought. Many specimens were found to shelter in excess of 6 m in well concealed tree hollows and other well hidden places in trees.
Unlike some other pythons, which may be accurately sexed by the relative size of the pelvic spurs, there appears to be little difference in the actual size of the pelvic spurs in either sex of this snake, with individual variation being great enough to overlap any possible average sexual difference. Probing these snakes in order to determine sex is also apparently more difficult than for most other snakes. Snakes sexed as males by experienced snake probers are later discovered to be female, although there still appears to be substantially more males in captivity than females after allowing for the sexing errors indicated.
Brown tree snake, Boiga irregularis (Merrem, 1802). Photo 6.
This thin snake is brown to bright reddish brown dorsally with numerous irregular indistinct dark crossbands. The ventral surface is a salmon colour (in the Sydney area). Brown tree snakes have a large distinct head, followed by a long thin tapering body and tail. The scales are smooth with 19 mid body rows, 236-259 ventrals, 87-104 paired subcaudals and a single anal. This snake averages 1.5 m when fully grown, but may exceed 2 m.
This species is by far most common in the sandstone country to the north and north west of Sydney. It does not occur in large southern areas such as the Cumberland plain and Royal National Park. It is not common in the Blue Mountains.
This wholy nocturnal snake is a climbing species which lives either in trees, or more commonly in the Sydney region is associated with rock outcrops. During the day this species is usually found in rock crevices or the honeycomb formations in sandstone caves, in the ceilings. Studies show that these snakes move away from their day-time retreats to seek food from the adjacent bushland at night. The diet of this species is varied and includes frogs, small lizards, mammals and birds. Although Brown tree snakes are rear fanged and venomous, they are considered no threat to humans, due to the weakness of their venom. In killing its prey this species relies more upon constriction of its prey than the effects of its venom. This snake is aggressive when caught and throws the forepart of its body into a series of S-shaped curves from which it strikes with mouth agape.
This snake mates in winter and spring and minor breeding aggregations are found during these months. Eggs are produced in early summer with roughly 10-12 per clutch. These take roughly three months to hatch and the young measure between 25 and 30 cm in length at birth.
The snakes from the Indonesian archipelago known as Boiga fusca are sometimes treated as being of the same species being essentially similar in most respectives but often obtain a larger adult size. Captive adults are easily maintained on a diet of mice.
Green tree snake, Dendrelaphis punctulatus (Gray, 1826). Photo 7.
This slender harmless snake has ahead which is slightly distinct from the neck and a long whiplike tail. Dorsally the colour is green, with yellow or blue spots between the scales, which are only occasionally visible. Ventrally the snake is yellow. The scalation is smooth with 13 mid body rows, 180-220 ventrals, 90-139 paired subcaudals, and a divided anal. This snake averages 1.5 m in length but may exceed 2m.
Green tree snakes are found throughout the Sydney area being most prevalent in hilly, rocky areas.
This diurnal (day active) species is largely arboreal in habits. In rocky areas this species is commonly found in rock crevices and under rocks, particularly in winter. This snake commonly aggregates, with a number of specimens occupying the same site.
The diet of this species consists of all suitably sized vertebrates, though frogs are mostly eaten. This dietary preference leads to the presence of unsightly external skin worms (a type of tape worm) on many specimens. These worms have no adverse effects on the snake.
Though non-venomous this species is often nervous by nature and will frequently bite when freshly caught. The small needle-like teeth usually draw blood, though little pain. When preparing to bite this snake will often dilate neck and body and hiss loudly. Green tree snakes carry a stronger scent or odour than most other snakes.
Mating occurs in early spring and between 3 and 12 eggs are produced around december. The eggs usually take about 12 weeks to hatch and the young measure roughly 20 cm in length upon hatching.
Krefft's dwarf snake, Cacophis kreffti Gunther, 1863. Photo 8.
This innocuous snake is steely grey, brown or black above, with a narrow white stripe around the head, forming a thin collar around the nape. The belly is whitish with black edging. There is a black stripe along the underside of the tail. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 140-160 ventrals, 25-40 paired subcaudals and a divided anal. This snake averages 25 em in length, and is of moderate build.
The Krefft's dwarf snake occurs in coastal and near coastal areas north of Broken Bay. It does not occur anywhere near Sydney City. It is common around Gosford, Ourimbah, Wyong.
This wholly nocturnal snake is only found in wet forests and adjoining bush. Most specimens are found during the day in litter or brought into houses at night by domestic cats. This snake's habits are little known. When caught it may threaten the catcher by pretending to strike but it never bites. Though venomous, the venom of the Krefft's dwarf snake is of no consequence to humans.
The diet consists overwhelmingly of skinks. Mating is thought to occur in spring with an average clutch of three large eggs being laid in summer. The young measure roughly 16 cm at birth. Females of this species tend to be larger than males.
Golden-crowned snake, Cacophis squamulosus (Dumeril, Bibron & Dumeril, 1854). Photo 9.
This small moderately built snake has a wedge shaped head well distinct from the neck. Its colour is usually dark brown dorsally with a light fawn, brown or yellowish stripe around the side of the head enclosing the snout, head and extending well back onto the nape on each side without meeting to form a collar. The lower labials are striped. Ventrally the colour is pink to red with each ventral lined with black and the subcaudals are divided by a dark line. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 170-185 ventrals, 30-52 paired subeaudals and a divided anal. Average adult length is 50 cm although some large females may exceed 75 cm in length.
The Golden-crowned snake is found in all wetter parts of the Sydney area and is only absent from the driest parts of the Cumberland Plain. It is most common on the upper and lower north shore.
This wholly nocturnal snake is essentially a rainforest or wet sclerophyll forest inhabitant. When found in drier habitats it is usually found in close proximity to water. Specimens caught during the day are usually found under ground cover such as well embedded rocks. At night this species is frequently found crossing suburban streets, and caught by domestic cats. Observations have shown this species to be both a burrower and partly arboreal in habits. When caught this snake almost always adopts a fierce striking posture but rarely attempts to bite even if it strikes. Though venomous, the Golden-crowned snake is not considered dangerous.
In the Sydney area, this species feeds mainly on skink lizards of the genus Lampropholis. This snake is often active on nights considered too cold for most other snakes. Mating occurs in spring with an average of six large eggs being laid in summer. The young measure 16 cm at birth. females tend to be larger than males.
Small-eyed snake, Cryptophis nigrescens (Gfinther, 1862). Photo 10.
This moderately built snake has a small head slightly distinct from the neck. It is grey to black dorsally, and is cream to bright pink ventrally, often with blackish flecks or blotches. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 165-210 ventrals, 30-45 single subcaudals, and a single anal.
Around Sydney this snake averages 55 cm in length, rarely reaching 80 cm in length. In Queensland this species may reach 1. 1 m in length. The Small-eyed snake is commonly confused with the Red-bellied black snake and is commonly killed in mistake as juvenile Black snakes.
The Small-eyed snake occurs in most areas around Sydney with undeveloped land, although it is probably absent from the drier parts of the Cumberland Plain (see photo 12).
This wholly nocturnal snake is venomous and no less than two people are known to have died from its bite. Both deaths were the result of exceptional circumstances and this snake could not in general be called 'deadly'. A bite from the Small-eyed snake must however be treated with care. Most bites result in little more than local swelling.
Most specimens of this snake are caught during the day under cover, particularly in cold weather. When caugh this snake will usually attempt to bite and may flatten out its body whilst doing so. this snake has been found inside termite mounds, although it is assumed that it eats lizards, and not the termites that inhabit the mounds. Small-eyed snakes eat skinks, geckoes and frogs.
Winter aggregations of this snake numbering up to nearly thirty specimens are known from around Sydney. It is suspected that mating occurs in the colder months even though many winter aggregations often contain juvenile specimens. In colder months many species are found in pairs under the same or adjacent rocks, particularly in highlands to the west and south-west of Sydney.
This snake produces up to eight live young in late summer, although four to five is the average number of young produced. Youngs measure 10-12 em at birth. (See my paper, Melbourn'es snakes, published in Vol. 10 (2) of this journal for more details about this species).
Yellow-faced whip snake, Demansia psammophis (Schlegel, 1837). Photo 11.
This slender snake has a head which is distinct from its body. Around Sudney the dorsal colour is a light steely grey green above, occasionally with a reddish colouring down the neck. The head is olive green in colour with a black'comma'marking going through the eye. Ventrally the snake is grey green to yellowish with the yellowish predominating under the tail. There is frequently a green ventral stripe. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 165-230 ventrals, 68-105 paired subcaudals, and a single anal. This snake averages 65 cm in length but may exceed 1 meter.
The Yellow-faced whip snake is found throughout the Sydney area, being most common in sandstone rock bushland, where it is one of the most abundant snake types (see photo 13).
This diurnal species, though venomous is not considered dangerous. Typical symptoms of its bite are severe local stinging and swelling which lasts for several hours and an intense itch that may last for a few days.
Yellow-faced whip snakes are most commonly found under slabs of sandstone rock, and in late winter to spring adult pairs may commonly be found together, indicating that this is the mating season. Winter aggregations of four or five specimens are coomonly found. This is probably the fastest moving species of snake found in the Sydney area and has no hesitation in biting a captor.
This snake feeds on skinks and other lizards which it actively chases. Occasinally other animals such as snakes and small mammals are eaten. Sydney herpetologist Robert Croft noted a captive adult of this species consuming a Green tree snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus of similar size that was being housed in the same cage.
Males are usually the larger specimens and male combat in the form of two males twisting around one another and biting each other is known. Male combat occurs in the mating season, although often it is not directly connected with the attempted seduction of a mate. From three to nine eggs are laid, often communally, in summer by this species. These take about nine weeks to hatch and the young measure about 15 cm at birth.
White-lipped snake, Drysdalia coronoides (Gunther, 1858). Photo 14.
This snake is of light build with a head distinct from the neck. Its colour may be any shade of grey or brown dorsally. Ventrally its colour is most commonly a salmon colour although it may be cream, pink, grey or yellow in ventral colouration. A continuous or broken black streak and a white streak below it occur from the snout along the upper lip and fade out on the side of the neck. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 120-160 ventrals, 35-70 single subcaudals and a single anal. The snake averages 40 cm in length and rarely exceeds 60 em in length.
The White-lipped snake is commonly confused with the Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus), Eastern master's snake (Drysdalia rhodogaster), and the Swamp snake (Hemiaspis signata).
Around Sydney this snake is found in only a few isolated pockets in high country to the west and south. White-lipped snakes are known from Wentworth Falls/Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and from Otford, near Wollongong.
White-lipped snakes are very common where they occur. They are found in hilly country and occupy a variety of habitats. White-lipped snakes are mainly diurnal, except in hot weather when they may become semi nocturnal.
Most specimens are caught during the day sheltering underneath any available cover including well embedded rocks. When caught this snake exhibits an uneven temperament, often biting unexpectedly. Its venom is of little consequence to humans. The likelihood of fang penetration upon being bitten by this snake is remote as its venom apparatus is very small.
White-lipped snakes actively stalk their food, which consists of skinks and frogs, although studies by Richard Shine indicate skinks by far are the most important component of the diet. Mating occurs in autumn and spring and about six live young are born in late summer. These measure about 10 cm at birth and are similar in colour to the adults. Unlike most kinds of snake, the White-lipped snake feeds throughout pregnancy. Hibernating snakes have been found in water soaked logs in water soaked areas.
Eastern master's snake, Drysdalia rhodogaster (Jan & Sordelli, 1873). Photo 15.
This snake is of similar form and appearance to the White-lipped snake, (Drysdalia coronoides), with which it is closely related. The Master's snake is of light buil, with a cylindrical body and a head slightly distinct from the neck. The colouration is grey-brown to olive often with a russet tinge. Ventrally the snake is yellow with black mottling on the sides of the belly. The head is usually a dark grey dorsally speckled with black and brown markings which become darker towards the rear of the head. This is bordered by a lighter collar 2-3 scales wide on the nape. A black streak runs from the nostril to the eye and another, sometimes broken black streak runs from the eye to the side of the neck. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 136160 ventrals, 39-50 single subcaudals, and a single anal. This snake averages 40 cm in length and rarely exceed 60 cm.
The Eastern master's snake is found in a few scattered localities to the south and west of the city. It is common in Woodford and Kurrajong Heights, in the Blue Mountains, even in built up areas
The Master's snake is very abundant where it occurs. It occupies all habitats where it occurs, and is particularly common on farms and rubbish tips. It is mainly diurnal in habits, though occasionally nocturnal in hot weather. This snake is not dangerous though it is often inclined to bite when freshly caught. The fangs are so small that they rarely break the skin. Most specimens are caught either on the move or sheltering under cover, such as sheets of tin.
The actively chased prey consists almost entirely of skink lizards. Mating occurs in the cooler months, with an average of three to five young being born in the summer. The young measure about 8 em at birth and are considerably darker in colour than their parents, and have a much brighter collar. In NSW the young are reproductive at three years old.
Red-naped snake, Furina diadema (Schlegel, 1837). Photo 16.
This snake is of very light build and has a head distinct from its neck and body. The dorsal colour is shiny light to dark brown, often reddish. The head and neck are shiny black with a red patch on the nape. The ventral surface is white to cream. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 160-210 ventrals, 35-70 paired subcaudals, and a paired anal. This snake averages 45 cm in length and rarely exceeds 60 cm.
The Red-naped snake is found throughout the Sydney area, except for the heavily built-up areas.
This species is nocturnal in habit, although it is strongly crepuscular (active at dusk). This snake rarely attempts to bite and its weak venom apparatus makes it effectively harmless to humans.
Specimens caught by day are found under ground litter, whilst at night they frequently cros roads. In bushland areas this snake is particularly common around disused rubbish tips, and several specimens may be found sharing the same site. This snake has been known to occupy the same site as the Yellow-faced whip snake (Demansiapsammophis), for hibernation purposes.
Red-naped snakes are coomonly found in termite mounds and for years it was believed that this species fed on termites. Captive observations proved that this snakes' true diet is skinks, geckoes and possibly small frogs. Termites and other insects taken from the stomach of this snake are now presumed to have been incidentally taken by the snakes after prey lizards had fed on the insects.
Four to ten eggs are produced in summer which hatch to produce young measuring about 8 cm in length. Little is known of the breeding biology of this species.
Red-naped snakes are one of the more common snakes to reach museum collections on account of their unusual colouration. The exact relationship between the Red-naped snake and similar Moon snake Fuiina omata found over a wide area of northern and inland Australia is not certain.
Swamp or Marsh snake, Hemiaspis signata (Jan, 1859). Photo 17.
This species is of moderate to stout build and has a smallish head only slightly distinct from the neck. In Sydney this snake is olive brown dorsally, with a black or dark grey belly. The throat is lighter than the belly and the head is often darker than the body, especially in the juveniles. There is a narrow white or yellow streak, dark edged, from th eye to the side of the neck, and another narrow streak of the same colour but usually flecked with darker colour along the upper lip. Melanistic specimens occasionally occur, particularly near Wollongong. The scalation is smooth with 17 mid body rows, 153-170 ventrals, 41-56 single subcaudals and a paired anal. Average length is 50 cm although some large females may attain up to a metre in length. The Swamp snake is commonly mistaken for the White-lipped snake (Drysdalia comoides).
The Swamp snake is found throughout the Sydney area with the exception of the driest parts of the Cumberland Plain. They are found in many inner suburbs including Belleview Hill (Coopers Park), Artarmon (near the railway line), Northbridge (golf course), and Cammeray (Primrose and Tunks Parks).
Swamp snake are usually found in marshy country, wet forests or adjacent ot sand dunes. This species will aggregate in large numbers in areas of suitable habitat such as rubbish tips. This snake is mainly diurnal in habit and most specimens are caught during the day either on the move or under any suitable cover.
The food of this snake is skinks and frogs, which it kills by the use of its venom, which is not dangerous to humans. Bites from this relatively non-aggressive snake only cause local swelling.
Mating occurs in late autumn, winter and spring and live young are produced in late summer. Although the average number of young produced is about six, up to twenty young may be produced from larger specimens. The young which measure about 10 cm in length are brightly coloured and have velvety black or dark heads. Females are usually the larger snakes, attaining much greater lengths and girths than males.
Pale-headed snake, Hoplocephalus bitorquatus (Jan, 1859). Photo 19.
This moderately built snake has a uniform light brown or grey body. It has a broad white or cream band on the nape. This band is bordered behind by a narrow blackish bar, which may be solid or broken in the middle. The top of the head is grey. The belly is creamy grey, sometimes with darker flecks. The scales are smooth with 19 or 21 mid body rows, 190-225 ventrals, 40-65 single subcaudals and a single anal. This snake averages 50 cm in length but may attain 80 cm.
Comes within 75 km of the Sydney city centre, on the north side. Found in the coastal rainforests north of Ourimbah. The only secure population in this area is that which inhabits the Ourimbah/Wattagan Ranges state forests (See Photo 19). Common in parts of Queensland, including savannah country to the west of Rockhampton.
The Pale-headed snake is rarely found anywhere near Sydney. Like all snakes in the genus Hoplocephalus it is highly aggressive and moderately venomous, though not considered dangerous. Symptoms of the bite are usually only local, or if general, are not severe.
This nocturnal species is usually located when spotted at night moving on tree trunks with flashlights, by people looking specifically for them. By day it resides in tree hollows which are effectively inaccessible. Pale-headed snakes feed on any available vertebrates, which they kill with their venom.
This snake mates in the cooler months and produces from five to ten live young in mid summer. The young measure 16 cm at birth. Captive specimens have been known to live in excess of ten years and readily take mice if the snakes are large enough.
Broad-headed snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides (Schlegel, 1837). Photo 20.
This snake is of moderate built with a head distinct from the body. Dorsally it is jet black with a series of yellow scales forming a beaded pattern of irregular crossbands across the body. The ventral surface is greyish to bluish black. The labials have vertical yellow and black stripes. The scalation is smooth with 21 mid body rows, 200-221 ventrals, 40-60 single subcaudals, and a single anal. This snake averages 60 cm in length but may exceed a metre. This snake is coomonly confused with the harmless Diamond python (Morelia spilota).
This snake is confined to the sandstone formations to the west and south of the city. It is absent from apparently suitable habitat to the north of the city, and this species is in decline in most areas close to Sydney, due to habitat destruction. It is most common around the upper Blue Mountains and Wollongong.
This highly aggressive snake bites with little provocation. When disturbed this snake immmediately raises its forebody in an S-shape and will strike at anything coming within range. Although not deadly this snake should be treated with caution, as typical symptoms from its bite include local swelling, sweating fits, dizziness and nausea.
During the summer this snake appears to be arboreal, living in tree hoolows. In the cooler months, when most specimens are caught, the Broad-headed snake is usually found under large slabs of sandstone on rock outcrops or in rock crevices. This snake is most common on top of large cliff formations in isolated areas.
Broad-headed snakes are mainly nocturnal, although they are diurnal in mid winter; a reflection of the fact that they usually occur in cold places, such as the upper Blue Mountains. Broad-headed snakes are opportunistic feeders, mainly feeding on I-esueur's geckoes (Oedura leseuri), in the wild. This snake mates in the cooler months and produces from five to twelve live young, (usually about six) in mid summer. The young measure 16 cm at birth.
Stephen's banded snake, Hoplocephalus stephensi Krefft, 1869. Photo 21.
This moderately built snake has a head distinct from the neck and body. It is usually brown to yellowish dorsally with a series of irregular broad dark cross bands two to three times as broad as the lighter interspaces. Some specimens may occasionally lack bands. The head is black with a brown crown and a yellowish patch on either side of the nape. The belly is black towards the tail. The scalation is smooth with 21 mid body rows, 220-250 ventrals, 50-70 single subcaudals, and a single anal. This snake averages 50 cm in length, but may exceed 70 cm. 'Unbanded' specimens may be confused with the Broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides). 'Unbanded specimens are found in parts of the New South wales central coast about 100 km north of Sydney GPO.
The Stephen's banded snake is found in coastal rainforests north of Gosford. Near Sydney it is most common in the Ourimbah/Wattagan Ranges state forests. Although found essentially wherever suitable habitat occurs to south-east Queensland the species is probably most common in south-east Queensland in National Park areas such as Mount Glorious area near Brisbane where it is common.
The Stephen's banded snake is aggressive by nature attacking anything that disturbs it. Its venom causes symptoms such as double vision, cold sweats and nausea, and therefore the Stephen's banded snake should be treated with caution.
The habits of the Stephen's banded snake are similar to those of the Pale-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bitorquatus). This arboreal nocturnal species is usually found by day sheltering in logs or under bark on trees, or if found at night, crossing rainforests roads. The true abundance of the Stephen's banded snake is not known.
Stephen's banded snakes feed on assorted vertebrates, killed by their venom. They mate in the cooler months producing about six live young in summer. The young measure 16 cm at birth.
Bandy Bandy, Vermicella annulata (Gray, 1841). Photo 22.
This snake is readily identified by the alternating black and white bands completely encircling the body; the black rings normally being the wider of the two. The Bandy Bandy has a short obtuse snout and a head not distinct from the neck. It has a short blunt tail and is of fairly even thickness throughout its length. It is of moderate build.
The scalation is smooth with 15 mod body rows, 180-230 ventrals, 14-28 paired subcaudals, and a paired anal. This snake's average length is 60 cm although it occasionally attains 90 cm.
The Bandy Bandy is found throughout the Sydney region. It is very common in the National Parks to the north, west and south although rarely seen.
The Bandy Bandy is found in all types of habitat. It is usually found during the day under cover or on mild nights moving around above the ground surface. Its preferred night surface activity temperature appears to be 22'C, around Sydney. When caught this snake is usually nervous, knotting itself around one's hand like a worm snake (Typhlopidae), although it rarely attempts to bite. The venom is of little consequence to humans. If suddenly alarmed this snake may flatten its body and elevated parts in loops in a bluff display. This display position can be maintained for some time.
The diet consists of worm snakes (Typhlopidae) and small skinks. This snake seems to require relatively little food over periods of time, presumably in reflection of its slow metabolic rate. Dissection of a large number of museum specimens by Richard Shine revealed little in terms of food remains in the guts of specimens.
The breeding biology of the Bandy Bandy is virtually unknown, except for the fact that it is oviparous, producing four to five eggs in the warmer months. Young measure 17.5 cm at birth.
DANGEROUS SNAKES (FAMILY ELAPIDAE)
Death adder, Acanthophis antarcticus (Shaw & Nodder, 1802). Photo 23.
The Death adder is distinctly shaped with a broad triangular head, distinct from the body and extremely thick set body, and relatively short tail terminating in a small curved spine. In Sydney this easily identified snake is either red or grey dorsally, (base colour) with alternating darker and lighter crossbands. Red specimens have a mainly salmon coloured belly with darker flecks, whilst grey specimens have a whitish belly with much grey mottling. The red colour phase is the result of a dominant allele (type of gene). The tail tip may be black, brown, grey, yellow or white with orange and white flecks. The scales are slightly keeled with 21 mid body rows, 110-30 ventrals, 40-55 subcaudals of which nearly half are paired, and a single anal. Male Death adders average 60 cm in length but large females have been known to exceed a metre in length.
The Death adder is restricted to virgin bushland throughout the Sydney area. They are most common in National Parks. The closest to the city centre that they occur (at the time of writing 1990), is North Head and Bantry Bay.
The Death adder has the most effective biting mechanism of any Australian snake, and has a highly neurotoxic venom. Before the development of suitable antivenom roughly 60% of all recorded Death adder bites were fatal. Although not aggressive as such, Death adders will strike with great accuracy at anything coming within range. If irritated this snake may flatten its body to an amazing degree.
This solitary snake occurs in a wide variety of habitats although it is most common in low shrub localities with plenty of leaf litter. This species is mainly nocturnal, and is most active on hot nights preceding cold southerly changes. Most specimens are found crossing roads on nights when the air temperature is in excess of 23'C, particularly when high and dropping rapidly.
Most specimens caught are mature males looking for mates, although studies indicate that equal numbers of each sex are born, and males probably have higher mortality rates when adult due to their increased mobility.
The food of this snake consists of all suitable vertebrates, including birds, which it often catches by wriggling its tail as a lure. The food item such as a bird will swoop in for its worm or insect (which is actually the snake's tail), and be caught by the snake whilst doing so. Death adders can catch low flying birds in mid air.
Mating occurs at any time of year, although mainly in spring and autumn. From three to thirty live young are born in late summer every second year by most females. Occasional females reproduce every year.
The young which are brightly coloured replicas of their parents may be both red and grey within a single brood and average 15 cm in length at birth. The determination of which base colour the snakes are is determined by the presence of the relevant alleles. Red is the dominant allele, therefore all snakes heterozygous for red and grey are red. Contrary to popular belief, there does not appear to be a strong correlation between ground colour and most common base colour around Sydney. Most areas seem to have roughly even percentages of each base colour, with few areas seeming to have more than 70% of snakes of one particular base colour (based on samples of more than twenty snakes).
Captive breeding results of this species seems to indicate some sperm-storage ability of at least a few months and perhaps up to a year to a limited extent, although further investigations are needed to confirm preliminary findings. (Based on 1984 breeding results of snakes held by myself and those of others).
Highland copperhead, Austrelaps ramsayi (Krefft, 1864). Photo 24.
This heavily built snake has a head which is only slightly distinct from the neck and body. Near Sydney its colour is highly variable, even in the same localities. It ranges from brown black to reddish dorsally with either yellow, red or orange lateral scales that may be edged with a whiteish checkering. The belly is yellowish to grey becoming darker towards the rear. The labials have thin white stripes. At birth, Sydney Copperheads are nearly black in colour, usually becoming lighter with age. The scalation is smooth with 15 mid body rows, 140-160 ventrals, 40-55 single subcaudals, and a single anal. Copper-heads average a metre in length and rarely exceed 1.3 m near Sydney.
Near Sydney, Copperheads are only found in the high country to the south and west of the city at altitudes above 600 m. They are common at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains.
The Copperhead is frequently confused with the Black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) and Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus), and its venom is similar in constitution to that of the latter, being neutrialised by the same anti-venom. Fortunately the deadly Copperhead is not aggressive and will always flee if given the opportunity.
This snake is most common near swamps and marshes where large numbers may occur within comparatively small areas. This snake spends most of its time concealed in vegetation and its presence is frequently undetected by both residents and herpetologists.
The Copperhead feeds mainly on frogs, which are abundant, where it occurs. Because the Copperhead feeds on all suitable vertebrates including other snakes, areas with Copperheads often lack other snake species.
In hot weather the Copperhead is crepuscular or nocturnal, otherwise it is diurnal. This snake has a stronger resistance to cold than other snakes, having shorter periods of winter dormancy than other snakes in the same areas.
Mating occurs in early spring with an average of fourteen live young being born in late summer. The young average 20 cm in length. Further notes on Copperheads are given in the paper Melbourne's Snakes Part I, which appeared in Vol. 10 (2) of this journal.
Eastern tiger snake, Notechis scutatus (Peters, 1861).
This snake is heavily built with a blunt head only slightly distinct from the neck. Even within the Sydney district this snake's colouration is highly variable dorsally being brown, olive, grey or green, with yellow or cream crossbands formed by lighter edged scales. The belly colour ranges from cream, through yellow and greens to grey, often woth a darker colour under the throat and tail.
The scalation is smooth with 15, 17 or 19 mid body rows, 146-185 ventrals, 39-65 single subcaudals, and a single anal. Around Sydney this snake averages 1.2 m in length, rarely exceeding 1.5 m.
The Tiger snake is found in all outer suburbs and major bushland areas. It is found around the sand dunes of Botany Bay and Kurnell.
This snake has highly toxic venom, being among the deadliest known. Death from its bite can be rapid; even within an hour in exceptional cases. In the last 200 years more people have probably died as a result of Tiger snake bites than from any other type of Australian snake. This snake is only aggressive when agitated. When aroused this snake will flatten its neck and body and lunge forward in various directions striking when possible.
The Tiger snake inhabits most types of habitat, but is most common in swampy country and dandy heathlands. Though usually diurnal, the Tiger snake may become nocturnal in warm weather; particularly juveniles.
Most Tiger snakes are found either active during the day, or under cover such as rubbish, rocks and logs. Tiger snakes feed on most vertebrates small enough to be eaten, particularly frogs.
Mating occurs in early spring, with live young being produced in late summer. Litter sizes range from 19 to 109 but average 35. Young when born measure roughly 18 cm and are occasionally well banded with thick brown and yellow stripes which fade inlater life. These bands are thicker and not as well defined as those in young Eastern brown snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) (See Melbourne's Snakes Part 11, in Vol. 10 (3) of this journal for more details about this species).
Red-bellied black snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus (Shaw, 1794). Photo 25.
The Red-bellied black snake has a thick set body with a small head that is only slightly distinct from the neck and body. Dorsally it is a shiny jet black, except for the snout tip which is usually brown in colour, whilst the belly itself is a duller red, pink or white in colour. The underside of the tail is black. The scalation is smooth with 17 mid body rows, 180-210 ventrals, divided anal and 40-65 single and divided subcaudals. This snake averages 1.5 m in length, although 2 m specimens are common and 2.5 m specimens are known.
The Red-bellied black snake is found throughout the Sydney region, including built up areas such as Lane Cove, Malabar and Parramatta. It is very abundant on the Cumberland Plain, and common elsewhere.
Although the Red-bellied black snake has killed people, its venom is not nearly as deadly as is widely believed. Typical symptoms of this snake's bite are much local pain and swelling, nausea and general sickness. The bite of this snake is a very unpleasant experience. Fortunately this snake is very inoffensive and rarely bites. When agitated and cornered it may flatten its neck and raise its head not unlike a Cobra (Naja naja).
This diurnal snake is most commonly found associated with water in the form of creeks, rivers and swamps where it catches most of its food. It feeds mainly on frogs although other vertebrates are eaten. This snake commonly crosses waterways and specimens have been caught swimming in Botany Bay.
Springtime breeding aggregations of this snake occur, as does male combat. When fighting one another male Black snakes are effectively oblivious to all that goes around them. Rarely, if ever do they harm one another when in combat.
In summer from eight to thirty live young are born in membranous sacs, from which they emerge within minutes after birth. The young measure about 18 cm at birth. Male Black snakes are usually larger than females.
Common or Eastern brown snake, Pseudonaja textilis (Dumeril, Bibron & Dumeril, 1854). Photo 26.
The Eastern Brown snake has a deep head, distinct from the neck, and has a thin racey build. Dorsally the colour ranges from tan, brown, grey or black. The belly is cream, to light brown or orange, with orange, brown or grey spots in a pattern. Melanistic specimens may be blackish in colour all over. In the Sydney region juveniles have a distinct black and brown banded pattern, which fades within the first few years after birth.
The scalation is smooth with 17 mid body rows, 185-235 ventrals, 45-75 paired subcaudals, and a paired anal. The average adult length is 1.5 m, although 2 m specimens commmonly occur.
The Common brown snake is found in all outer suburbs and bushland areas. It is most abundant on the Cumberland Plain, but common everywhere.
This species has extremely toxic venom, but fortunately its biting apparatus is not as well developed as in most other deadly snakes. It injects relatively little venom in most bites and its fangs are relatively short, although they can easily penetrate the skin. Brown snakes are very fast moving and highly aggressive. When aroused a Brown snake will hold its neck high, slightly flattened in an S-shape and strike repeatedly at its aggressor. This snake will occasionally chase an aggressor away, striking at it at every opportunity. This diurnal snake is common in dry country but occurs in all habitats. When resting it utillises any available cover, particularly man made cover in the form of sheets of tin and other such cover. The Brown snake is an opportunistic feeder,'feeding on any suitable vertebrates it comes into contact with. This species has large winter aggregations, with one consisting of thirty individuals being found by Gary Webb at Rooty Hill. These aggregations are maintained in spring for mating purposes. Male combat occurs between rival Brown snakes, and males are generally the larger sex. After spring mating, 10-35 eggs are produced in early summer which hatch some eighty days later. The banded young measure about 27 em upon hatching. (See Melbourne's snakes, part II, this journal Vol. 10 (3) for more details about this species.)
FAMILY - HYDROPHIIDAE
Yellow-bellied sea snake, Pelamis platurus (Linnaeus, 1766). Photo 27.
The Yellow-bellied sea snake has a long narrow head, a vertically flattened body and a flat paddle shaped tail. It is of moderately heavy build with the striking colouration of black above with yellow below, with a clear demarkation line. The tail tends to be spotted. The scalation is coarse, with 264-406 ventrals and 47-69 mid body rows. It averages 0.7 m in length.
The Yellow-bellied sea snake is the only species of sea snake 'commonly'washed up onto the Sydney beaches. It is occasionally found on all Sydney beaches, although the odds of finding one on a given beach at a given time is very remote.
This venomous snake has killed a number of people, although to date no Australians are believed to have died from the bite of this snake. It is closely related to the land dwelling elapids just described, and its venom is also strongly neurotoxic.
No sea snake can cross land well, but this species is better at doing so than most other sea snakes, and because it is deadly it should be treated with caution. Fortunately no sea snake is normally aggressive. The yellow-bellied sea snake is the only true pelagic or ocean going type of sea snake, and has a wider distribution than any other serpent on earth, being found throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans. Only occasionally are specimens found on Sydney beaches, usually sick specimens or specimens washed up in storms.
The yellow-bellied sea snake, though similar in many respects to elapids, differs strongly in its adaptations to a marine existence. Respiration is by long which only fill with air when the snake's snout is above the sea surface. A special valve-like flap prevents entry of water while the snake is submerged. Sea snakes are able to rapidly dive deeply and surface without getting that human affliction called 'the bends' caused by air bubbles forming in the blood stream. The Yellow-bellied sea snake feeds on fish and small eels.
Sea snakes often occur in large aggregations in some areas, numbering hundreds or even thousands of individuals. The purpose of these aggregations is not certain. Little is known of the breeding biology of the yellow-bellied sea snake except for the fact that it is a live bearer, having an average brood of four to ten young. The size of new born young is not known.
SNAKEBITE FROM SYDNEY'S DANGEROUS SNAKES AND ITS TREATMENT
Snakebite should always be taken seriously. Most snakebite deaths in Australia result from the victim not taking the bite seriously or not treating the bite properly. Even if a snakebite is only suspect, or there was a chance that the snakebite was not from a harmless variety, it is better to go to hospital rather than wait for symptoms to occur, at which stage it may be too late to save the person. Hospitals store anti-venoms as well as c4her valuable aids to the survival from snakebite.
Snake venoms give varying symptoms to different people and often their effects are not felt for over 24 hours. Snake bites are not always visible and it is dangerous to assume than when no punctures are visible that no bite has occurred.
A snakebite victim should never be given a sedative such as alcohol or a stimulant such as strychnine or coffee, nor should they be allowed to move unless totally necessary as all of these will increase the rate at which the venom reaches the heart. If one is bitten while alone, walk, do not run for help.
Australia's deadly snakes have neurotoxins as the principal deadly component of their venoms which means they attack the voluntary muscles and the nervous system. Death is usually the result of suffocation caused bly blockage of the respiratory passage by some means. One should remember that nowadays death from snakebite is very rare.
Snakebite treatment has changed significantly over recent years. The
treatment most commonly recommended by experts now in the event of snakebite
is the following:
- Apply a firm, broad constrictive bandage at the site of the bite.
- Immobilise the limb and if possible, the whole person.
- Reassure the patient, as stress is an unwanted harmful factor.
- Get medical treatment, in particular anti-venom if required. If possible alert the local hospital of the impending arrival of the patient.
DON'TS ABOUT SNAKEBITE AND ITS TREATMENT
- Do not cut the wound, or use condy's crystals (potassium permanganate)
- Do not use a tourniquet, unless you do not have access to something that can be used as a broad constrictive bandage.
- Do not suck the wound.
- Never amputate the limb as the risk of infection will be greater than that from the actual bite.
- DO not try to catch or kill the snake for identification purposes, as the risk of further bites is an unwanted factor. The use of a polyvalent snake anti-venom does not make positive identification a crucial factor in snakebite treatment.
- Do not restrict free chest movement or breathing activity by the patient.
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1982. Mating behaviour of Australian Death Adders, genus Acanthophis (Serpentes: Elapidae). Herptile 7 (3): 20-26.
1985. Genetic composition of Death adders (Acanthophis antarcticus) (Serpentes: Elapidae) in the West Head area. Herptile 10 (3): 96.
1985. On melanistic tendencies in Death adders Acanthophis antarcticus (Shaw). Litteratura Serpentium 5 (4): 157-159.
1985. On the question of immunity of snakes. Litteratura Serpentium 5 (6): 219-232.
1985. The truth about pelvic spurs on reptiles. The Herptile 10 (3): 96.
1987. More about pelvic spurs in Australian snakes and pygopids. Herptile 12 (2): 65-67.
1987. Notes on the breeding of Death adders Acanthophis antarcticus. Herptile 12 (2): 56-61.
1988. Conservation of Australian Snakes, other Reptiles and Frogs. Litteratura Serpentium (Engl. ed.) 8(l): 12-40.
1989. Australian reptiles and Frogs. Pierson and Co., Sydney.
1989. Smuggling snakes out of Australia ... How the system works. Litteratura Serpentium (Engl. ed.) 9 (l): 15-35.
1990. Melboume's Snakes (Part 1). Litteratura Serpentiurn (Engl. ed.) 10 (2): 82-92.
1990. Melbourne's Snakes (Part 2). Litteratura Serpentium (Engl. ed.) 10 (2): 122-145.
1990. Pairing behaviour in Australian snakes. Herptile 15 (3): 84-93.
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1977. Reproduction in Australian elapid snakes, 2. Female reproductive cycles. Australian Journal of Zoology 25: 655-666.
1977. Habitats, diets and sympatry in snakes: a study from Australia. Canadian Journal of Zoology 55: 1118-1128.
1978. Growth rates and sexual maturation in six species of Australian elapid snakes. Herpetologica 34: 73-79.
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1980. Reproduction, feeding and growth in the Australian burrowing snake Vertnicella annulata. Journal of Herpetology 14: 71-77.
1980. Ecology of Eastern Australian Whip snakes of the genus Demansia. Journal of Herpetology 14: 381-389.
1980. Comparative ecology of three Australian snake species of the genus Cacophis (Serpentes: Elapidae). Copeia, 1980: 831-838.
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PHOTOS PRODUCED WITH THE ARTICLE - ALL BY RAYMOND HOSER - CAPTIONS.
Foto 1: Three Sisters, + 100 km west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains, Katoomba. Copperheads and White-lipped snakes are found here. Koperkoppen en witlip slangen komen hier voor; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 2: Kurringai Chase habitat, Tericy Hills, + 25 km north of Sydney. The rocky sandstone habitatwith crevices and exfoliations provides optimal habitat for many types of reptiles including snakes. Het rotsachtige zandsteen gebied met zijn spleten en gedrodeerde rotsen vormt een optimaal biotoop veer veel reptielen soorten, inclusief slangen; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 3: Typhlina nigrescens (Gray, 1854), blind snake, blinde slang, Cottage Point, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 4: blinde slang, Terrey Hills, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 5: Morelia spilotes (Lacepede, 1804), diamond python, 18 month old male, 18 maanden oude man, Kenthurst, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Photo 6: Brown Tree Snake from West Head, NSW., + 1.2 m, bruine boomslang, West Head NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 7: Dendrelaphis punctulatus (Gray, 1826), green tree snake, groene boomslang, St. Ives, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 8: Cacophis kreffti (Gunther, 1863), Krefft's dwarf snake, Krefft's dwergslang, Ourimbah, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Photo 9: Cacophis squamulosus (Dumeril, 1854), golden snake, goudenkroon slang, St. Ives, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 10: Cryptophis nigrescens (Gunther, 1862), small-eyed snake, kleinoog slang, Port Douglas, Qld; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto ll: Demansia psammophis (Schlegel, 1837), yellow-faced whip snake, geelkop zweepslang, West Head, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 12: Nepean River habitat, + 60 km south-west of Sydney, on the outer edge of @he relatively flat Cumberlaind plain, aan de rand van de relatief vlakke Cumberland vlakte; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 13: Kurringai Chase habitat, 25 km north of Sydney, bushland, 5 km north of Salvation Creek (West Head). Woeste streek, 5 km ten noorden van Salvation Creek. foto R.T. Hoser
Foto 14: Drysdalia coronoides White-lipped snake, witlipslang, juv., Snowy Mountains, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 15: Drysdalia rhodogaster (Jan & Sordelli, 1873), eastern masters' snake, Lithgow, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 16: Furina diadema (Schlegel, 1837), red-naped snake, roodnek slang, West Head, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 17: Hemiaspis signata (jan, 1859), swamp snake, moerasslang, male, man, Northbridge, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 16: hoplocephalus bitorquatus pale-headed snake, bleekkop slang, Moonie, Qld; foto R.T. Hoser.
There were no photos 17-18 printed.
Foto 19: ourimbah State Forest, + 80 km north of Sydney; Stephens' banded snakes are found here. Stephens
Foto 20: Hoplocephalus bungaroides (schlege!,!Sjij, broad headed snake, breedkop slang, Lawson, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 21: Hoplocephalus,. 1869), Stephens' banded snake, Stephens' gebandeerde slang, ourimbah, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 22: Vermicella annulata, bandy bandy, west Head, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 23: Acanthophis antarcticus (Shaw & Nodder, 1802), death adder, red male, doodsadder, rood mannetje, West Head, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Photo 24. Austrelaps ramsayi (Krcfft, 1864), cc)pperhead, koperkop, Tarana, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 25: Pseudechis porphyriacus (Shaw, 1794), red-bellied black snake, roodbuik zwarte slang, Seven Hills, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 26: Pseudonaja textilis Brown snake, oosterlijke bruine slang, juvenile, Saint Clair, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Foto 27: Pelamis platurus (Linnaeus, 1766), yellow-bellied sea snake, geelbuik zeeslang, Manly Beach, NSW; foto R.T. Hoser.
Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 150 papers in journals worldwide and nine books.
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