Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Snakes Alive!

Part 2
Continuing on from Snakes Alive! Part 1... 

The area where we lived for sixteen years was known as “tiger snake country”. It wasn’t uncommon to have two or three in your back yard every summer, not including those outside the boundary in the forested areas. And that was just the ones that were seen.

One Summer, there was a mating pair living in our garden shed and one that resided on the verandah just outside our bedroom window. He was living, silently, within the thick ivy that covered one of the posts.
I only knew this because I happened to get a glimpse of him one morning. He was sunning himself on the ground just below his "home" - too close to where our young son played every day.
The snake needed to be removed.

A young snake catcher called Jeff came to relocate him. He told me that the snake had been living there for some time, as he had created platforms within the column of ivy. His very own condominium.
Huh. Right under our noses, so to speak. Now that we knew that he was there though…

Jeff was very patient in revealing and extricating the snake from his leafy inner sanctum. He needed time to allow the snake to "loosen up" so that he could be safely pulled free.
Eventually, he held the snake aloft, skillfully swinging him into his bag. It was clear that he was of mature size at 1.2 metres long!

So, all of the ivy was removed. A property such as ours - surrounded by natural bushland - was impossible to "snakeproof". We just did what we could to keep the gardens well maintained and try to eliminate possible snake havens close to the house.
Our son grew up well educated about them. Like most country kids.

I happened upon many snakes throughout the years on early evening summer walks, when they would come out of the bush to lie on the warm gravel back road. With little fear of disturbance, as few cars used this road, I had chances to get close and just observe. Mostly, they lay quiet and then slithered away.

My final encounter happened a month before we moved to the city.

It was early December. I took my then one year old Blue Heeler Jack for his walk in the afternoon. Past the community hall, on the wide sandy tracks and over some very low to the ground clover – same as usual. As we’d done a hundred times before.
As we walked, I checked back on Jack. He was no more than two metres, just behind me. Standing still. Looking down. Frozen.
To my horror, and as if it were a bad dream, I saw a long black slim head weave up out of the clover, stretching upwards - straight towards Jack!

The large black tiger snake connected and struck him right on the nose.

My blood ran cold. I felt weak at the realisation that my blue boy had been hit by one of the most venomous snakes in Australia.
“How could this be?” I remember thinking at the time. I was always so careful about where we walk. The clover was no more than just over an inch high – a clear view.
Somehow, with Jack behind me, I had just walked over a well concealed adult snake! Was I dreaming?

I won’t forget watching in horror as the yellow banded tiger retreated into the clover. I caught only glimpses of the large shiny black body undulating away towards the trees.
Wracked with sobs, I checked Jack’s nose, mouth, lips, gums for any drops of blood, any evidence at all. No time to waste.
Absolutely no symptoms and a thorough check by the vet concluded there was no bite.

I since learned that what happened on that afternoon was not uncommon.
Snakes generally do not and will not willingly bite anything that doesn’t represent a source of food for them.
And, if the presence of something much larger than them poses no threat, such as direct attack or is trodden on, then the chance of biting is rare. Snakes need to conserve their venom for their prey alone.

What happened to Jack was what is known as a “head butt” (some call it a dry bite). From the snake’s perspective, it was a warning.
Lucky, lucky dog.
And, referring back to my previous post where I mention the "freeze mode", I do believe that Jack posed no significant threat at that moment as he stood dead still, looking down at the snake.

Ever since that day, ten years ago, Jack has been kept on a short leash whenever we go for walks in the summer. He has shown a little too much interest in rustles in the grass.

So, I have a healthy dose of respect and awareness for much maligned, misunderstood reptiles. They are simply existing as best they can as mankind encroaches on their territory.

Reflecting back on the times I have been in the company of snakes in their habitat has been very interesting.
I found them to be fascinating, not frightening. I only worry about my dog's encounters, not my own.

If I could have my 'time' again, I would study herpetology. To be able take an active interest in the conservation of reptiles and amphibians and to understand these beautiful creatures even further.

Western Tiger Snake
 image by webecho via Flickr

 Jack, in "freeze mode"
it's OK, he was looking into the fish pond in our backyard. No snakes :)


  1. oh my goodness.
    i have all new respect for australians. because i would imagine to live in such an amazing countryside as the "bush" you all must have a special feeling for your visitors.
    and i learned so much on this post! i had no idea about the head butt!! not sure our rattlesnakes go to that trouble. but then nature provided them with a noisy warning tail.
    and i guess it's all about the warning.
    fascinating post! (i couldn't get the video to play though).
    darling jack. rustles in the grass . . .
    not good for curious puppies!

  2. Oh, sorry. No video, just a picture of Jack in deep concentration :)
    Yes, nature's creatures have their way of letting us know to stay away..or else :)

  3. my childhood dog, max would get dry bites form snakes. he never learned. i haven't seen a snake in years but saw a little garden snake the other day. it almost scared me but it was a baby!

  4. Hi Keishua,
    I'm so glad that snakes do that. I would've lost Jack long ago otherwise. A first encounter with a snake seems to interest dogs forever more after that though doesn't it? :)

    Love your blog by the way. Nice snapshots :)

  5. Whoa... When I saw there was a part two, I was almost a little afraid to find out--more snakes...gak! ;o) While they do make me skittish, it can't be denied snakes are precious creatures. As is sweet Jack... Happy Weekend, Vicki!

  6. haha! It's OK Tracy, no more posts on snakes - I promise :)

    Hope you are recovering well after your wonderful trip. Have a lovely weekend!


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