Snakes have been on our planet for millions of years, but how much do we really know about these animals?
Ian Norton has had an interest in snakes since he was a young boy and was more than happy to share his wisdom and knowledge about these fascinating creatures that he has spent the last 60+ years interacting with.
So, what should you do if you come across a snake in the wild? If you have an interest in snakes Ian says ‘Get horribly excited’.
For the rest of us, Ian said the main thing is to be respectful.
“Stand still, and let it go on its way if it’s on the move.”
If the snake is sunbathing, and not on the move however, Ian says snakes are becoming more complacent to the movement of people.
“They don’t often move out of your way,” Ian Said, “They will expect you to walk around them.”
More often than not, snakes can live harmoniously with us, and not cause any problems, however Ian says that’s “Until you get too close to them, and then they will respond accordingly.”
If you find yourself face to face with a snake in your own home, Ian’s advice is to isolate it, and call for help.
“Isolate it. If you find it in a room, then close the doors and call for help. Never try and remove it yourself,” Ian said.
If you are ever unfortunate enough to receive a bite, Ian said that first aid is a life saver.
“First aid for snake bites involves bandaging the limb with a pressure immobilisation bandage, bandaging the limb about as tight as you would for a sprain, staying still, and calling 000 for an ambulance as a matter of urgency.”
“On average around 300 people are bitten by snakes in Australia every year” Ian said.
Whilst most bites occur lymphatically, there are cases where the bite has been a direct hit to a major blood vessel, which can have a more dramatic effect.
“Signs and symptoms can include vomiting, headaches, lapse in and out of consciousness, shock and hypotension” said Ian.
“Just get help, and don’t remove the bandage!” Said Ian.
In his 60+ years of working with snakes, Ian said he has only been bitten twice.
“One of them was a tiger snake, which put me in the twilight zone for several hours, with quite a dramatic effect.”
“In the north of the state, especially in the Tamar Valley, we see more Copperheads than Tiger snakes.”
Ian said that because Copperheads are cannibalistic, they self-regulate their own population, and also help suppress the population of Tiger Snakes.
“We recommend if you have a copperhead on your property, and it’s not causing any major concerns, to leave it there.” Said Ian.
For those with pets at home, Ian said the best advice to protect you and your pets from the possibility of a snake bite is to keep your pets water bowls in the open.
“People have a habit of putting the dog dish under the tap, usually on the side of the house, and there’s a lot of bushes and shrubs.”
“Snake wants a drink, and one of the first things they’re looking for when they come to your property is water.”
“They come in, see the dish of water, have a drink and then they might curl up in the shade under the bushes. The dog comes to the dish to have a drink and gets bitten on the snout.”
Ian added that dogs are highly susceptible to venom from snakes, especially tiger snakes.
If you think your pet has been bitten by a snake, then you should react quickly, and take them to a vet.
Ian also suggested leaving bowls of water at the boundary of your property, along your fence line, so snakes don’t have to come into your yard and your house in search of water.
“And keep pests out of your yard, mice are an attractant, and if you have a garden pond, frogs will attract snakes as well, and it’s natural that they will come and feed.”
For those thinking of buying products claiming to be snake rappelers, Ian’s Advice was not to waste your money.
“They’ve been shown not to work. On many occasions I’ve caught snakes surrounded by them, and in one instant, the snake was laying in the shade of the snake rappeler while it was buzzing away, creating vibration that supposedly drives the snakes away, but it doesn’t.
“They live with vibrations and noise every day.”
“The most important thing,” said Ian, “Make sure your windows, doors and flyscreens are intact. They will come inside if given the opportunity, and you’d be surprised at the small gaps they’ll get through.”
“As we approach summer, people are going to go camping, again, always zip your tents to the top, to make sure snakes can’t get in. If you leave the flaps to your tent open, you might share your bed, and we’ve had people bitten in their bed while camping.”
“if you’re going out of a night time for any purpose, maybe going to the loo, put something on your feet and take a torch, because on summer nights, snakes can be active.”
Ian said you can expect snakes to be active in any temperatures above about 18 degrees, however 36-38 degrees is intolerable for a snake.
“The best days for snakes are rainy days and overcast days in summer”
If you need a snake removed from your property, you can call Reptile Rescue on 0499 116 690 which is a state-wide emergency number, and they will arrange for a local snake handler who can respond and remove the animal.
If you have been bitten, stay calm, still, call 000 for an ambulance and bandage the limb
How and why do snakes get on our property?
“A lot of them are brough home in cars,” Said Ian, “People go out on a picnic or might go fishing, and a snake finds a nice warm spot on top of your fuel tank under your car, you drive home, put your car in your garage, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a snake on your property.
“This happens so frequently.”
Snakes can also come to your property in search of water, which is why Ian recommends placing water bowls around the boundary of your property. “They can sense water from half a kilometre away.” Said Ian.
How sensitive are snakes senses?
“They see around about 2 metre focal length, but their movement detection is acute, from quite a distance”
“When you’re walking, if you’re wearing bright colours, clumping around and have walking poles, and waving flies away, snakes will probably pick you up and be gone in an instant.” Said Ian.
“But when you’re walking quietly, that’s when you could surprise them.”
“They don’t hear audible sounds,” said Ian, “so you can scream ‘snake’ to your hearts content, it’s not going to effect the snake.”
“Their olfactory system is acute, so they’ll taste you from a good distance.”
“That little tongue, that’s highly sensitive. It can pick up water from half a kilometre away, just by licking the air.”
“And that’s how they find their prey once they’ve bitten it,” said Ian, “Rat ones away, and they’ll use that tongue to find it.”
Advice to cyclists and mountain bikers:
“When you’re riding the trails and you see a snake, lift your feet off the pedals!” Said Ian.
“I hear every year, people that will go and do bike rides around Derby, and they’ll report how there’s been a snake on the track.”
“Lift your feet up, and try not to hit it.” Said Ian.
What temperatures are snakes active in?
“Anything from about 18 degrees up,” said Ian.
“One of the things we’ve notice from our research, is that there is a temperature at which snakes are in peril of overheating.”
“We usually find in mid-summer, when it’s at it’s worst, snakes will come out fairly early when the sun hits the ground, and hang around until about 10am,” Ian said, “then they’ll seek shelter until about 3 or 4pm, moving in and out of shade.”
“The reason is that 36-38 degrees is intolerable for a snake. They have to thermoregulate to maintain homeostasis.”
“There’s a 12 degree difference, so if the ground is at 22 degrees, the snake’s going to be around 34 degrees.”