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RED BELLIED BLACK SNAKE

Pseudechis porphyriacus

By Rhianna Blackthorn

Red Bellied Black Snake

The Red Belly Black Snake ( Pseudechis porphyriacus ) is one of our best known elapid (or front fanged venomous) snakes. It is wide spread throughout the Eastern Parts of Australia, preferring to live near creeks, and fixed water sources. Their diet consists mostly of frogs, although they are known to eat the occasional lizard, and smaller snakes.

Belonging to the Black Snake Family (genus: Pseudechis) they are related to the beautifully marked Collettes Snake, the Spotted or Blue Belly Black Snake, and also the King Brown or Mulga Snake. The King Brown, despite his name, is not related to the Common Eastern Brown (genus: Pseudonaja).

This snake is often misidentified if the belly is not visible. With a pure black back, the underbelly of this snake is cream to pink in colour, with the lateral edges being a bright crimson red in colour.
With specimens growing up to 2.5 meters in length, they are one of Australia's largest venomous snakes. They give birth to live young, with litters varying in size from 5 - 40 in number. The babies are independent from birth, and disperse within hours of birth. The babies bite is as toxic as the parents, with well developed venom glands from birth. They are diurnal by nature, and are often seen basking around water ways in near thick under growth.

Although they are venomous, and are classified as dangerously venomous, the toxicity is not considered fatally dangerous. The venom of this genus destroys muscle tissue, but does not effect the central nervous system. Few human deaths have resulted from a bite from this species, and no adults have died from a bite.
They are excessively shy creatures, who will evade humans rather then strike. Its also a fact that if you have red bellies in your yard, you are not likely to have Brown snakes! Red's actively chase Brown's away, as the Red Belly toxin kills Browns.

* In the Northern Rivers region, there are some 300 odd snakes per square kilometer. This is one of the richest, most diverse areas for wildlife in Australia, and is recongised as such.

* Given that stat, you will be amazed to hear (according the Bureau of Statistics) that you are more likely to be struck by lightening or die of a bee sting then you are of a snake bite.

* From the same source, between 70 - 93 % of snake bites are received while trying to capture or kill a snake.

* There has only ever been one recorded death from a red bellied black snake bite, and that occurred in the 1800's on a new born infant. Their venom does not work that way.

* Red Bellied Black Snakes will actively chase and kill Eastern Brown snakes from their preferred locations. (Brown Snakes are responsible for around 65% of the deaths by snake bite in Australia) This makes Red
Bellies good to have around!

* Red Bellied Black Snake numbers are on the decline across the northern parts of Australia. As frog eaters, they are unable to distinguish between cane toads and frogs. With out the humble Red Bellied to keep Brown numbers in check, Brown numbers will increase (as will the number of death by snake bites).

It is illegal to injure or kill any wildlife in Australia, and given the stats above, it is also unwise to do so. Snakes will always try to avoid capture and evade humans, however, when they are cornered, they will become defensive and strike with the aim of injury.

Why not think of making your garden a wildlife haven! We have some of the most amazing and diverse wildlife in the world, and that includes our reptiles. Without them, we would be over run by rats and other pests in next to no time. I do not have a simple solution to problems such as sightings in gardens. There is no ease ways of deterring snakes from entering our yards. The increase in frog numbers in your yard will contribute to your increased sightings. Red Bellies give birth to live young rather then lay eggs like other snake
species. They will disperse after a few weeks, as all reptiles are cannibalistic and once they become stable enough, they will venture off to find habitat of their own. This is good news for you as you will not have them living in your yard for life.

What I would suggest to you is that you are heavy footed as you venture around the garden. Snakes have no ears and as such, do not "hear". Rather, they sense your presence by taste and the vibrations you make as
you walk. The heavier you are on the ground, the better they are at evading you. If you should come across a snake in your garden unsuspectingly and suddenly, stand still. I know this will be hard for you to do, but snakes actually have rather poor eye sight, and your movement makes you an easy target. If you stand still, they will not see you as a threat, as you could just be a tree! Remaining motionless is the best course of action for you!

Over the years, I have heard of a number of deterants including planting herbs and using the hose to drive snakes away. Herbs seem to have no effect at keeping reptiles from gardens, and annoying snakes with a hose
can have dire consequences! (Instead of dealing with a surprised snake, you are now dealing with an angry, possibly injured snake (from burns from hot water from the hose)! I have seen some down right barbaric
practices including the illegal use of wire and netting and coke cans.
These methods can occasionally trap the snake, but the snake can take up to a month to die - a long, cruel death! Such cases are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law by DEC and private parties. I would strongly suggest staying well clear of any such "backyard" fixes for this situation, as all are nasty.

Image by Michael McGrath
Image by Melanie Barsony
   
   
   


Updated January 19, 2014

 

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