During Spring and summer in southern Australia we start to see snakes again. We might encounter them in the country, bush walking, whilst working or in our suburban gardens. No matter where we live in Australia, there are some snake species living with us. Each year, a small number of people will be bitten by snakes and be faced with life threatening emergencies. For most of us though, encounters with snakes will be brief and uneventful, and, depending on your outlook, will be rewarding or frightening.
About 2 to 3 people die each year from snakebite throughout Australia. Up to 500 could be bitten and receive some form of treatment in our hospital system. In cases where clear envenomation is demonstrated, antivenom is used to treat bites. Nearly 7,000 of our pets, mainly dogs and cats, are bitten and are treated by veterinary practices each year. The survival rate isn’t as high with our pets mainly because they are not discovered as quickly and many of the life threatening symptoms have advanced further before treatment. Cats have a higher resistance to snake bite than dogs.
Coupled with a deadly potential, many myths surround snakes and consequently they have an image problem causing them to be despised by many people. There is emerging though, a higher level of tolerance toward snakes. A growing percentage of people calling our venom laboratory are prepared to learn to live with them in close proximity. Ultimately, in most cases, this is the best option. When snakes are removed from an area, they quickly repopulate because of high breeding rates. Brown snakes have about 15 eggs in a clutch, tiger snakes can produce many young with over 30 live babies in a clutch being common. Some of the survival criteria of the babies are the availability of food and available refuge sites. Survival is usually very low and on avergae, a female snake of any species only recruits 2 of her offspring into the wild in her whole life.
In and around the Adelaide Hills, the Adelaide Plains, Fleurieu Peninsula, the Barossa Valley and Gawler belt, brown snakes are extremely common. They have been a highly successful species in modified habitats. In a veterinary survey carried out recently, brown snakebites amongst domestic animals in and around Gawler were the highest in Australia. Brown snakebites across Australia, over the last 30 years, have surpassed tiger snakebites as being the number 1 cause of snakebite accidents in humans. This is due to the degradation of many watercourses and loss of wetland habitat and the decline of frogs which are their favourite prey.
In the southeast of South Australia, common tiger snakes and copperheads abound but are declining in numbers. They are species preferring wetlands.
Along South Australia portion of the River Murray, tiger snakes, brown snakes and red-bellied black snakes occur at various locations.
In the Inland, king brown snakes, common brown snakes, western brown snakes, desert death adders and inland taipans occur in certain environments.