History - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityAustralian animalsCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other CountriesAustralian Prehistory


Australian Environmental Issues

Blue-tongue
A true-blue battler

Box jellyfish
How to avoid the stings and what to do if stung

Crocodile
So you wrestle crocs...

Dingo
Unfairly judged in killing off the thylacine?

Echidna
The wise little gnomes of Australia

Emu
Victors of the great Emu war

Flies
Shaping everything from how Australians speak to how they salute

Funnel Web spider
Yyou'll never leave your ugg boots outside

Kangaroo
Most herbivores don't grow a spine until they are the size of an elephant. Not so the roo.

Snakes
Kill less people than cows

Shark attack Australia
How to ensure you don't go by the name of Bob

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Wombat
Keg of muscle

Quoll
The mainland's largest marsupial carnevore

Mythical creatures
Yowies and dropbears; some say they are myths but those who are not afraid to talk have shared their stories

 

 

Email

 

 

Australian snakes

Less dangerous than cows

Many English people won't holiday in Australia for fear of snakes. Perhaps this fear is understandable considering that Australia has the ten most venomous snakes in the world and the most intimidating wildlife a Pom has ever encountered is a ruminating cow. On second thought, figures released by the Health and Safety Executive showed that 74 people were killed by cows in England in the years 2000 to 2015. That's roughly five deaths a year. In contrast, on average around 2 Australians die from snake bite each year.

Admittedly, Australian snakes are venomous so there is potential for a lot of deaths, but they are not dangerous unless someone does something silly like try to catch or kill them. They are timid creatures that flee if a human gets within about five meters of them. If they are accidentally stepped on, their first reaction is to escape, and second is to bite. If they do bite after being startled, they usually don't inject venom.

But like every country, there are silly people in Australia and so snakebites do occur. One example of such sillyness occurred when a Darwin man was having a few beers with his mate while driving home from Mandorah. Along the side of the road he spotted a King Brown and decided to catch it for the Mandorah Pub's fish tank. As his right hand was being used to hold his beer, he grabbed it with his left and was subsequently bitten. He threw the snake in a plastic bag but for some reason, he then decided to stick his hand into the bag and was duly bitten another eight times.

As the poison went to work, his mate applied first aid by pouring beer over his head and whacking him across the face. It wasn't an effective treatment as he ended up in a coma for six weeks. His left arm withered and died and had to be amputated. On the positive side, he still kept the use of his right arm for holding his beers in the future.

 Snake victim's horror ordeal: 'my arm cut off, but I'm lucky to be here' by Maria Billias, Northern Territory News, Monday, December 14, 1998.

Yet despite such would-be Steve Irwins wanting to see their life flash before their eyes, and many drunk Aussies taking off their clothes and running naked through the bush after a B&S ball, only 0.13 of every million deaths in Australia are the result of a snake bite. 

For reasons that are not easy to explain, it seems that the snake lends itself to a number of silly myths. One of these is that Australia has a species of hoop snake its tail in its mouth to make a wheel and then goes bowling merrily along. Another myth is that snakes milk cows. The myth proposes that when the farmer is not looking, the snake emerges from a hole, slithers up to the cow’s udder and then has a drink or two. A third myth is that Tiger snakes hold a grudge. The myth proposes that if you kill one, its mate will track you down to get its revenge! (Just think a reptile version of terminator.) A final myth proposes that snakes hypnotise their prey. The myth seems to propose that after evolution gave the snakes the power to immobilise prey with a single bite, the snakes decided that they would prefer to use their brains and persuade their prey to stay still.

Quick bites 

  • Australia houses the world's 10 most venomous snakes. The inland taipan is the world's most venomous, with toxin 50 times more potent than the Indian cobra.

  • Most toxic venom - The most toxic snake venom on mice is the Inland Taipan (Fierce Snake). Maximum yield recorded (for one bite) is 110mg. That would probably be enough to kill over 100 people or 250,000 mice.

  • Taipan size - The Taipan's average length is 2.5 meters, although they have been known to grow to 3.3 meters. 

  • Most venomous yield - Australia's most venomous (yield) snake is the King Brown. The snake is believed to have been involved in 22 of the past 38 deaths attributed to snakebite. 

  • Most venomous Australian snakes - Fierce Snake, King Brown, Taipan, Eastern Tiger, Riesvie Tiger, Beaked Sea Snake, Western Tiger Snake, Giant Black Tiger Snake, Death Adder, Western Brown snake.

  • Some snakes are known to be able to go without food for periods of nearly two years.
    The animals' reduce their resting metabolic rate by 72 per cent - lower than their standard resting rate.

  • The keelback or freshwater snake is the only Australian species of snake which is not harmed by eating cane toads.

Questions to think about

Why the myths are silly

It seems fear allows silly myths to develop. Look at the following myths about snakes and explain why they really are ridiculous.

  • In Australia there is a hoop snake that takes its tail in its mouth to make a wheel and then goes bowling merrily along.
  • If you kill a Tiger Snake, its mate will hunt you down for its revenge.
  • Snakes milk cows.
  • The Death Adder has a sting in its tail.
  • Snakes hypnotize their prey.

Icon

Below are examples of the image of the Snake being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Snake.  

1) A NBL team is known as the Cairns Taipans 

2) The Dreaming- In Jewish, Christian and Islamic culture, the snake is a bad guy who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. But in Aboriginal cultures, the Rainbow Serpent is the creator of life. The serpent emerged from beneath the earth and as she moved, winding from side to side, she forced her way through soil and rocks, making the great rivers flow from her path. From her body sprang the tribes, the animals and the birds of Australia.

In some myths, a woman can't conceive unless the Rainbow Serpent enters her body. In other myths, the Serpent is vengeful upon those who damage the land.

The serpent is sometimes depicted as a man, other times as a woman and sometimes as a man with breasts.

Industry

Below are methods that allow some people to make money out of the Snake. How do you think working in each industry would affect attitudes to the Snake?

1)Zoos - Snakes are the prime attraction at reptile parks.

2) Meat - Although sea-snake is available for consumption and said to be delicious, it is illegal to hunt and eat land snakes.

Invasive ferals

Carp

Carp and Trout
A tale of two ferals

New hope for Cane Toads
The many unknown predators of the toad

Rabbits
A fence almost 2,000 km long to keep rabbits out of WA? Sounds like a great idea! If it doesn't work, we'll build another one!

The Willow
How a change in its status from asset to weed led to fish kills with blackwater and blue-green algae outbreaks

To bait dingos?
Should the health of the ecosystem be considered or just the kennel club registration?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

Cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Environmental values

Environmental problems
How money and ideology shapes environmental "science."

Bushfire
Australia's Stockholm Syndrome with gum trees.

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Climate change in Australia
Australia was once covered in rainforest. Could it be again?

Sustainability
The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

 

 

       

Australian environmental science is defined by an ideology that is not unlike a prison warden. There, the scientists are not seeing themselves as part of the ecosystem, but as masters over it; protecting the rights of the species that they say have rights and killing those that they say do not…but inevitably killing both.

"It was always seen as desirable to remove or cull the introduced species. We also need to ask whether it was possible to do so, how it should be done, whether it could have unintended consequences and what it would cost? I don't think anyone really asked those questions." Physicist John Reid - 2012