Traveling Snake Seeks Suburban Home

"You can take the snake out of the backyard, but you can't take the backyard out of the snake."

Some snakes appear to have a distinct preference for living in suburbia - and are skilled at disguising their presence among us.

Research by a La Trobe University zoology student has revealed these unexpected findings, and other unusual facts about Melbourne's Tiger Snakes.

Tracking translocated Tiger Snakes implanted with transmitters, Bachelor of Science (Conservation Biology and Ecology) Honours student, Heath Butler found that some prefer suburban to rural life.

Four of eight snakes tracked after translocation from suburban backyards to a regional park between August last year and March this year headed straight out of the park into other suburban backyards about a kilometre away.

And when taken from their new backyard home back to the park, they again turned up in the same backyard.

All snakes are protected in Victoria. Under Department of Sustainability and Environment policy, snakes captured in 'inappropriate' locations are translocated to a suitable habitat within five kilometres of their capture point, or euthanased.

"It seems that snakes were so used to the good life in suburbia - with readily-available water and food - that they headed straight back into a similar environment when relocated into the unfamiliar landscape of parkland," Mr. Butler said.

There was another surprising result. By monitoring the snakes' daily habits, Mr Butler believes he may have debunked the old idea that snakes are active only in very hot weather. "The Eastern Tiger Snakes (Notechis scutatus) I worked with appear more likely to be active on relatively cool, sunny days. They disappear, at least between 12 noon and 2 pm, on days when temperature exceeds 30 degrees Celsius," he says.

Curious about snakes since his adolescent years at Port Fairy, Mr. Butler conducted his research, sponsored by three interested parties - Parks Victoria, Australian Geographic and the Melbourne Zoo.

He worked initially with several of the 45 Victorians licensed to catch snakes in 'inappropriate' - read urban and suburban - areas and to release them on public land.

Melbourne Zoo veterinarians surgically inserted tiny transmitters into eight snakes captured in suburban backyards within five kilometres of Westerfolds Park, Templestowe.

These snakes were then released in the park. Six snakes resident in the park were also implanted with transmitters then released at their site of capture. Mr. Butler then electronically monitored their movements and other activities.

"Translocation had such significant effects on the behaviour of the snakes that the relevant authorities may wish to re-examine its success as a strategy to reduce human-snake conflict," he said.

"The two groups of snakes - residents of the park and those translocated - behave differently. Although the health of translocated snakes remained similar to the local snakes, they exhibited home ranges about six times that of the locals and half the translocated snakes headed off to suburban backyards within a kilometre or so of the park.

"It seems that they are quite happy in suburbia, probably because of well-watered gardens and sufficient food, possibly frogs. Most people were unaware of a snake in their backyard until I informed them."

Over the eight months he captured snakes on 70 occasions, noting their location and monitoring their condition. His catching method was simple. Locate the snake with his tracking equipment, seize it by tail - with bare hands as gloves are too cumbersome - and drop it into a bag.

Mr. Butler was bitten only once, on the hand, but recovered fully after an anti-venom injection. He says his research findings may have been influenced by the drought, which could have made well-watered suburban backyards unusually attractive as snake habitats.

But the season would have had little effect on some other findings, such as the bigger the snake, the better it was at concealment. 1.2 metres long are some of the snake he handled.

Western Tiger Snake


Notechis scutatus occidentalis or the Western Tiger Snake

Western Tiger Snake is common over most of its range in south-western Western Australia. The stunning yellow pattern is typical of the Western Tiger Snake. The Western Tiger Snake shelters in or under fallen and rotting timber, in abandoned animal burrows, and under rocks and dense vegetation. Like all members of the Tiger Snake group, this subspecies is capable of delivering a fatal bite to a human.

Adults hunt for frogs, lizards, small mammals, and nesting birds during the day and evening, and are known to hunt for frogs on wet nights. The Western Tiger Snake can get up to about 1.6 metres in length. When they feel threatened they flatten their neck out to make themselves look bigger. Like the other Tiger Snake subspecies, Western Tiger Snakes produce live young. Up to 90 young can be produced in a single litter, but between 10 and 30 is a more common litter size.

Did you know...

  • The stunning yellow pattern is typical of western tiger snakes.
  • Like all members of the Tiger Snake group, this subspecies is capable of delivering a fatal bite to a human.
  • When the Western Tiger Snake feels threatened they flatten their neck out to make themselves look bigger.
  • Like the other tiger snake subspecies, western tiger snakes produce live young.

Where in Australia Western Tiger Snake are found:

  • Up to 90 Western Tiger snake young can be produced in a single litter, but between 10 and 30 is a more common litter size.
  • Slithering and Biting: The Tiger Snake Files


    Australia's tiger snake has a broad head and heavy built.

    This snake is a venomous specie that had its fair share of mortality incidents in Australia, primarily in the southern areas. Tiger snakes  have a variety of colours, and there is a wide difference of characteristics of tiger snakes depending on where they dwell. They are also classified according to the island or region where they live.

    When annoyed or under the sun, tiger snakes flatten their whole body. Tiger snake are a venomous snake specie. One of the many distinctions of Tiger snakes from its snake relatives is that they give live birth, usually between 12 - 40. Tiger snakes also dwell in suburban areas. Treating snakebites

    Tiger snake's potent neurotoxin (notexin) makes it on the world's list of most deadly snakes. Symptoms of a bite include pain in the foot and neck region, tingling, numbness, and sweating, proceeded by rapid onset of breathing difficulties and paralysis. Death rate for this species is over 60% if not treated.

    The Pressure Immobilization Method is used to stop the flow of venom through the lymphatic system. Medics employ broad thick bandages applied over the bite site, and down and back along the limb to the armpit or groin. The victim's affected limb is immobilized with a splint. In the event that traces are left near the wound, the medics can identify the type of venom. If you're bitten in Tasmania, you do not need to name the specific type of snake, for the same anti-venom is used to treat all Tasmanian snakes' bites. The availability of anti-venom in most centers has resulted to the great reduction of fatal tiger snake bite incidents.

    Identifying tiger snakes

    Identifying a Tiger snake means you should keep in mind that color will not likely to take you further because it's not a very reliable method of identifying such snake. The reason for this lies in the large number of acceptable colors for tiger snake species. The best way to identify the Tiger snake is with a scale count or venom test kit, which is, unfortunately, One need to have contact first with the cold slithering and rubbery creature (and biting, if I may add). This is why, for most people, colour-identifying is much preferable.

    Tiger Snake