Snakes are Friends – The Break Down to Dispel Serpent Hysteria

Snakes have a fearsome reputation for being among the worlds most dangerous animals, with numerous species being the cause of death of many human lives. This reputation has created a hysteria and has generated a far reaching snake phobia. This phobia is especially evident in Australia, which is known to be home to some of the most venomous snakes in the world. This hysteria surrounding snakes has led to many common myths and fears which simply are not true. This article will debunk common myths, identify the most common situations of how people get bitten, how to stay safe, and we will also delve into the snakes mind of how it is perceiving each situation so you understand its reactions and behaviors in response to your actions.

 

Eastern Marsh Snake (Hemiaspis signata) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Eastern Marsh Snake (Hemiaspis signata) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

Disclosure: All photos of snakes being handled were for scientific or rescue orientated purposes and were preformed by experienced snake handlers that have undergone venomous snake handling training courses. Please do not try any of the mentioned techniques of venomous snake handling. If you wish to learn the skills mentioned, please apply to do a venomous snake handling course. Email gumnutnaturalist@gmail.com for information. Even the most experienced snake handlers are putting themselves at risk when handling venomous snakes so do not handle them if there is no need to!

 

Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

The biggest myth is: Venomous snakes are aggressive.

This statement implies that the snake is out to get you. This simply is not true. Snakes are not aggressive they are defensive. They will defend themselves against a perceived threat. A snake will only strike you for one reason: If it feels its life is in danger. If a venomous snake bites you there is a chance it will give a dry bite. A ‘dry bite’ is a bite where the snake does not inject any venom as venomous snakes can control the amount of venom it injects. But once again the more in danger it feels, the more likely it will strike to envenomate. The fact of the matter is that a venomous snake will only use its venom in self defense if it feels there is no other way, as it is incredibly costly to the snake to waste its venom. The reason behind this is because venom is essential in the process of digesting food and takes a lot of time and energy to create.

The most common scenarios people get bitten by a snake are:

1. When attempting to kill the snake – Of course the snake will try to bite and envenomate you if you are attempting to kill it. It has perceived that it is in a lie or death situation and will proceed accordingly: by trying to bite and pump as much venom in you as possible. Wouldn’t you expend all the resources you had if you were faced with a life or death situation? This is the most common way people are bitten.

2. When attempting to pick up the snake – Once again the snake feels it is in a life or death situation. It isn’t aware that your intentions are to simply pick it up. How would you feel if a lion grabbed you in its paws? The lions intentions may only be to play with you and not kill you but you would regardless have a large shot of Adrenalin pumping and rightly so feel like you are in a life or death situation, and defend yourself accordingly.

Snake handling needs to be left to the professionals. If you don’t need to pick up the snake, then don’t. Even the professionals usually get bitten one day. There are techniques which snake handlers use to capture venomous snakes which include ‘heading’ or ‘necking’, ‘tailing’ and ‘hooking’. The risk is greater when heading a snake (grabbing it behind the head) than tailing a snake (grabbing it by the tail). Snakes like the Death Adders should never be tailed but can be caught with a snake hook. Catching a snake is incredibly risky and requires intensive venomous snake handling training to properly master. If you want to learn this skill it is highly recommended to attend a snake handling course before attempting to handle any venomous snakes.

 

George Madani demonstrating the heading or necking technique of snake handling. Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

George Madani demonstrating the heading or necking technique of snake handling. Small-eyed Snake (Cryptophis nigrescens) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Chad Beranek using the tailing technique of handling a snake. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Chad Beranek using the tailing technique of handling a snake. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Chad Beranek demonstrating how a Death Adder can be picked up with a hook. Please excuse the excited look on my face, Death Adders are exciting | Copyright Brooke Thompson 2015

Chad Beranek demonstrating how a Death Adder can be picked up with a hook. Please excuse the excited look on my face, Death Adders are exciting | Copyright Brooke Thompson 2015

 

3. When accidentally disturbing the snake – This one sometimes can’t be avoided but can be minimised by paying particular care when working out doors or strolling in the bush. The most common scenario of accidentally disturbing a snake is when you step on a snake. When this occurs it is often that the snake could sense you approaching and decided to stay still to avoid your attention, sometimes though the snake is oblivious to your approach. Both instances are very frightening to the snake and often warrant them to attack in self defense, often striking the object that lands on them: your foot. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to wear protective shoes.

Other instances of accidentally disturbing a snake include while gardening or lifting up an object a snake is under. Both of these can, once again, be avoided by ensuring to wear proper safety apparel and being careful and perceptive in areas that are known to be home to snakes.

4. Cornering a snake – Many people often accidentally corner a snake and then interpret the snakes reaction as being aggressive. The snake in this situation feels it is a life or death situation as it is cornered, or it’s main escape route is being blocked, and feels it has to fight for its life. Once again you behave in a similar manner if put in the same situation. If you encounter a snake, ensure to step back to give it plenty of room so that the snake doesn’t feel cornered.

 




 

Southern Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Southern Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

So what should you do if you encounter a snake in the bush, or better yet, in your backyard?

In most scenarios the solution with the least amount of risk and danger is to leave it alone. If you are in the bush and run into a snake, if you keep your distance an just leave it alone it will just go on and keep doing its own thing. If a snake enters your garden, ensure that you inform all persons in the residence of the snakes presence and make sure to keep kids and pets away from the snake. Monitor the snakes movements from a distance. Almost every time the snake will leave at its own accord. Occasionally snakes can accidentally find themselves wandering indoors. If this occurs, once again inform all residents and keep an eye on the snake from a distance. Call a wildlife rescue organisation or a professional snake wrangler and be sure to show them where exactly the snake is.

Some last tips and summary

  • Don’t try to identify the snake if you have limited experience. Treat all snakes as potentially deadly and be cautious. It’s only a white facial marking that can determine a Whip Snake from a Brown Snake!
  • Don’t attempt to kill or pick up the snake if you don’t have to. These are by far the most risky actions you can take!
  • Be aware of accidentally cornering a snake or blocking off it’s escape route if you encounter one
  • In almost all scenarios it’s best to leave it alone
  • If it enters your house: alert residence, keep kids and pet away, watch where the snake is at all times and call a professional to handle it

 

Snakes are friends! Not the kind of friend you hug but they hunt pests like rats and mice, and often form an important link in the food chain. I have a challenge for you for the next time you encounter a snake: Simply keep a far distance and follow it around and watch its behaviour. They really are fascinating creatures which deserve more respect and less fear. Many of them are cute! Surely you can’t say this Bandy Bandy isn’t cute?

IMG_4213

Comment below on any close encounters you have had with snakes that tried to bite you and see if you can categorise it in the four categories above. I am confident every situation where a snake is attempting to bite you falls into one of the four categories. In a months time we shall look in depth at venomous snake identification and shed light on other less known species which are otherwise harmless and cop harsh punishment for being wrongly identified as Brown Snakes!

Birds of Broughton Island

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Broughton Island, it is a relatively small island (a touch over 100 hectares) a part of Myall Lakes National Park, off the east coast of Australia. This small island has retained some interesting natural heritage, with having the second largest population of Green and Golden Bell Frogs in the world and also one of the few places to find the critically endangered Storm Petrel. Broughton Island also boasts nesting populations of Wedged-Tailed Shearwaters (also known as ‘Mutton Birds’), and also Fairy Penguins which are occurring on the island close to the northern limit their distribution. Broughton Island provides good coastal habitat and heathland habitat which is used by a considerably large variety of different bird species. The island attracts both sea birds, raptors and even land birds which have retained their permanent positions. This makes it a popular spot for bird enthusiasts where they run annual Broughton Island ‘twitching’ events to count how many bird species are present and see if they can spot any new ones. While I stayed at Broughton conducting bell frog surveys I went to do some twitching in my spare time and this is what I found:

 

1. The first bird to great me on the island is an easy guess considering this is a coastal island: the Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) which most people just refer to as the ‘Sea Gull’. They were in a large noisy colony where the fishers huts reside.

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

 

2. The second bird I quickly realised were in abundance on this island were the Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena). There were dive bombing insects and speeding around the main cabins, occasionally taking a pit stop on a twig or branch.

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena)

 

3. The next bird I became aware of was the Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae), which were cheekily and quietly jumping and rummaging around the grass and seaweed, presumably looking for invertebrate snacks.

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae)

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae)

4. After a heading out to one of the bell frog sites, many small birds were sighted in the Broughton Island heathland. One of them I failed to get a photo of which was the Silver Eyes (Zosterops lateralis) but the other common heathland bird was the Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis), which occasionally perched in the open to let out alarm calls as we approached their territory.

Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)

A Male Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)

5. Before leaving the heathlands we keep sighted small ground dwelling birds scuttling in the bushes before we got close. My 300 mm lens proved them to be Brown Quails (Coturnix ypsilophora).

A family group of Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

A family group of Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

6. When arriving to the beach, the next bird sighted was darting in and out of the seaweed clumps with fast legs. They turned out to be Red Capped Plovers (Charadrius ruficapillus), which are are common occurrence on the coasts of Australia.

Red Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

Red Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

 

7. Another bird sighted darting amongst the seaweed (albeit somewhat slower and plumper than the Red Capped Plovers) was the  Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), who took flight if approached to closely and directly.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

 

8. After patrolling making it to the rocky coastal areas of Broughton I stumbled upon a bird which frightened me probably as equally as I frightened it. This dark bird make a shreeking call and darted to a rock almost submerged by the surf. This bird turned out to be a Sooty Oyster Catcher (Haematopus fuliginosus), which were occasionally seen in pairs most likely nesting in the rocky areas of the coast of Broughton Island. https://www.flickr.com/photos/126862220@N06/15905334509/   9. I heard small tweets and chirps within a stand of Knobby Club Rush, and manged to shoot off a few photos. The specific chirps and tweets we heard along with the photo confirmed it as a Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis).

Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

 

The next few species of birds we witnessed were soaring high above where I managed to capture some of them with the long lens. 10. This comorant flying over head is most likely to be the Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Many were seen later on drying their wings on small rock platforms further out in the surf.

10.Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

The Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

 

11. The next bird saw flying overhead was the Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) which was the most common raptor we saw during this trip. One of them were even sighted harassing the gull colony which sent all the adults in the air with attempts to try and drive off the raptor. It looked like the harrier had run off with on of the gull chicks!

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

 

12. Another impressive raptor was sighted gliding overhead which turned out to be a juvenile White Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), which was identified using the specific colour arrangements of the feathers as seen from below.

Juvenile White-Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

 

 

There were other birds sighted which I didn’t manage to get decent photos of which include  two other raptors: an Osprey (Pandion haliaeetus), and a Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), plus some extra additions sighted in the heathland including White-Cheeked Honey Eaters (Phylidonyris nigra). In total (including the birds that I didn’t manage to get photos of), I saw 17 birds which isn’t bad for 3 days of twitching. If I kept that ratio of birds to days up I could get all species of birds in Australia within the year!

Australias Ancient Amphibian

Thought to have over 100 million years of independent evolution, the Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) is one of Australia’s truly unique amphibians. At first glance you may think it is just like every other frog, however when paying closer attention to the morphology of this frog, there are a few interesting features which set it a part from all other frog species. The most obvious feature is the tusks, hence its name the Tusked Frog. This frog species has small (around 5 mm long) tusks within the mouth on the lower jaw. Males use these tusks for ritual combat and territorial interactions during mating season.

 

A small male Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A small male Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

This photo below shows the remarkable ancient characteristic of this frog species and is why this frog is call the Tusked Frog.

Adelotus brevis - Tusked frog

 

Generally speaking, the larger the head of the male, the more successful the male will be in combat. Head size is an easy way to tell a part males from female. Males always have a disproportionately larger and ‘boofier’ head than females , who seem to have a disproportionately smaller head! Males are usually bigger than females reaching a maximum of 5 cm snout to vent length, where females reach a maximum of 4 cm.

Another interesting feature of the Tusked Frog is the marbled belly which can have white, black and red patterns. Each individual has a unique belly pattern, and this can be used to tell each individual a part from one another.

 

Belly colouration of a large male | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Belly colouration of a large male | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

This photo emphasizes the ‘boofy’ head of the males:

Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) - Male

 

Breeding season for the Tusked Frog takes place from October – December within slow moving streams and ponds, usually associated with rainforest or wet sclerophyll forest. They occur along the east coast of Australia, from north of Sydney to about the middle of the Queensland coast. Although they are not classified as threatened in Australia, these frogs have been suffering declines, especially in the New England Tableland. Reasons for their decline in these areas are due to habitat degradation and plague minnow, hence it is always a relief to hear these guys in a water way!

These guys can be quite hard to locate as they dive bomb the water as soon as there is a disturbance. It is easier to listen for their unique double inflection call (see below). Next time you find yourself near rainforest waters, see if you can listen out for this call, and be blessed by the knowledge that you are listening to a very ancient amphibian!

 

 

 

Mining for Gold; Frogs of Quarries

Scattered around Sutherland Shire are small disused quarries. These sites echo with age from a hundred or more years ago when the generations before us were mining out shale and sandstone to build some of the very buildings we use today. During this mining extraction process, holes the the ground were created, cutting into the bed rock. The sandstone bed rock is impermeable and more often than not, these old mining spots become full of water as the mining works usually cut in a pond like shape into the earth.

As an indirect and unforeseen  consequence, these disused quarries have become perfect habitat for frogs. Some of them being large enough to sustain permanent wetlands and other smaller ones become equally as important ephemeral wetlands (A water body which dries up periodically). In fact, in this day and age, ephemeral water bodies may be especially important for frogs, as their periodic drying removes the water born fungal pathogen effecting frogs world wide called ‘chytrid’.

It’s not just frogs that are able to utilize these quarry wetlands. Water birds, snakes and freshwater macroinvertebrates are able to live and breed in these habitats. A good example of these habitats are the many sand mining quarries found along the stretch of Greenhills near Cronulla, which reach out patchily to Kurnell. There are many smaller disused quarries found scattered throughout the Royal National Park.

A few nights ago, I went to investigate how much diversity of frogs one of these artificially created wetlands harbor and I was astounded and very impressed to hear and see at least 9 species.

 

The Quarry

The Quarry

 

The first noise I heard as I approached the wetland was clicking of the Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) which you are likely to hear almost all year round in any pool of water, whether its a puddle or a wetland. The next noise I heard was unfamiliar to me at first. It sounded reminiscent of a ducks ‘quack’ but It sounded frog like to me. I followed my ears to locate one and It turned up being the Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti). It was exciting to hear them calling in such numbers (around 20 at least) as they usually begin calling in November, so a few weeks early.

 

Wallum Rcoket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rcoket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Common Eastern Froglet compared to a Wallum Rocket Frog

Common Eastern Froglet compared to a Wallum Rocket Frog

 

I did note that the water in this particular wetland was very warm and could be an explanation for the early arrival of the Wallum Rocket Frog. It could also explain the abundance of metamorphling frogs literally jumping every where. From tiny 5 mm Common Eastern Froglet metamorph, to larger Striped Marsh Frog metamorphs. In warm water the growth and development of the tadpole is spend up which is an adaptation to avoid being stuck in a water body that is destined to dry up.

 

Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Metamorph Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Metamorph Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

 

The next noise that became apparent to me (which were also in very high abundance, approximately 30+ calling individuals), were the Smooth Toadlets (Uperoleia laevigata). These small frogs make a dull ‘arrrkkk’ sound, calling terrestrially, sometimes quite a distance from the water.

 

Smooth Toadlet calling from leaf litter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet calling from leaf litter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet (Uperoleia laevigata) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet (Uperoleia laevigata) | Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After listening carefully I started to tune into the frequencies of some tree frog species who were joining in on the chorus. Calling in much less abundances, the Perons Tree Frogs (Litoria peronii) maniacal cackle could be heard in numbers between 5-10, and also the occasional inclusion of Eastern Sedge Frogs (Litoria fallax), with about 5 individuals contributing.

 

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria Peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria Peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

I noticed huge amounts of tadpoles in the water. On closer inspection I could see multiple different species and the occasional dragonfly nymph (a common predator of tadpoles). However it seemed they were the only predator, with no appearances of fish. Perhaps this is a reason why tadpoles are in such high abundances here. I managed to scoop a large tadpole out which I thought could of been a Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) tadpole. However it was more likely to be a Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) tadpole… Speaking of which where are the Striped Marsh Frogs?

 

Probably a Striped Marsh Frog tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Probably a Striped Marsh Frog tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After scanning deciding to head home I did a quick scan of the bank as I was exiting and stumbled across a frog I’m sure you are all familiar with, the Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii). How strange it was to hear not even one calling, and only see 2 this night. Perhaps they don’t fair as well in natural sites, and utilize urban areas better?

We have covered a frog fact Friday on this common frog and can read more about it here: http://gumnutnaturalist.com/frog-fact-friday-the-most-common-frog-of-sydney/

 

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After getting ready to head back to the car, I stopped to have one last marvel at the chorus of multiple species of male frogs competing to find a mate. I took recordingg to share it with you. See if you can tease out which species of frogs are calling in the recording!

Recordings:

141011_003 141013_003

 

The Blue Mountains Stream Frog

Found near the tops of mountains in areas near Sydney, the blue mountains stream frog resides. This species of the week is on a locally uncommon frog which usually goes unnoticed with most attention being paid to the endangered frogs. The blue mountains stream frog inhabits sandstone creeks in high altitude areas where is it well adapted for this habitat. Areas it is found includes the Blue Mountains and Darkes Forest. It quite large for a frog has powerful and agile legs, perfect for jumping along rocky sandstone banks and swimming through fast flowing mountain creeks.

 

Blue Mountains Stream Frog (Litoria citropa) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Blue Mountains Stream Frog (Litoria citropa) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The blue mountains stream frog can be very varied in coloration, but will always have a red tinge under their arms and legs. Most of the time they are flanked by green (which can be almost fluro!) and have a brown top, with darker lines outlining their head. Some specimens can be almost completely green, but will maintain the head outline.

 

Blue Mountains Stream Frog | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Red coloration under the arms and legs | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Green morph of the Blue Mountains Stream Frog | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Green morph of the Blue Mountains Stream Frog | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

They begin calling usually around the middle of September with the first onset of warm weather followed by rain. They have a very soft call which can be difficult to detect when there is wind and flowing water about. They have a soft call due to the absence of a voice box. Even though they are usually hard to hear, in contrary to most other frogs, they are much easier to find when you get a creek they are present in. From September to January, they will be found all over creeks in high altitudes, usually on the sandstone banks, but may occasionally be seen perched up on ferns and branches of shrubs. If you are lucky enough, you may find some in amplexus in small pools to the sides of the creek.

 

Litoria citropa in amplexus | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Litoria citropa in amplexus | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

Blue Mountains Stream Frog (Litoria citropa) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Blue Mountains Stream Frog in a fern | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

And if you are especially lucky, you may even have one jump on your face!

 

Face frog

Face frog