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Snake Myths

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Introduction

We understand how difficult it can be to get information for people from the various cultures who have called Australia home. It is our hope that you will find the following information helpful and provide reassurance for you and your family.

Facts and Myths About Australian Snakes

Myth: Snakes protect their nests

Truth: snakes will lay eggs or give birth then leave the site. All reptiles typically fend for themselves. Sometimes a snake will remain around the egg site as they may have some more eggs to lay or just recover. But eggs will hatch 60-80 days later without parents being around.

Myth: Snakes and Goannas don't have forked tongues

Truth: Snakes and monitor lizards (goannas) have forked tongues. These are used to detect prey through scenting of hair, and urine.

Myth: Australian snakes eat eggs

Truth: This is a common belief with farmers of poultry birds but snakes prefer to target mice living in burrows within aviaries and chicken coops. However monitor lizards like Lace Monitor will raid chicken coops they love eggs!

Myth: Snakes will avenge their partner snakes

Truth: Snakes are not usually even selective on who their partner is. This was often an explanation for the sighting of multiple snakes in a yard. Truth is that the female snake (trailing pheromones during spring), may be foraging on a property. Subsequently it is killed or escapes and the appearance of more snakes (usually males) is more to do with the pheromone trail of the female.

Myth: Snakes are aggressive

Truth: Snakes are very shy. Where opportunities allow they retire discreetly and effectively. Nearly all snakes avoid conflict through speed, camouflage, or rarely a display to intimidate. Snakes will bite when severely harassed, provoked excessively, or injured. While the media is in error largely reporting snake or crocodile attacks. The reptiles respond to instincts and bites from snakes, almost always is either accidental or avoidable.

Myth: Snakes are not protected

Truth: Snakes are protected by the Wildlife Act 1975 and other relevant acts in Victoria. You cannot harass, harm, move or interfere with snakes and other native wildlife.

Myth: Snake bites are very common

Truth: Snake envenoming is more common in people who try to kill or injure snakes. Recent studies into the reason serious snakebites occur highlighted people who were handling the snake, playing or simply trying to kill the snake received the most serious bites. Incidental or accidental bites e.g. stepping on a snake revealed more less serious cases of bites.

Myth: Snake bites will always have venom

Truth: Snakes do not always use venom in snakebites. Where a confrontation occurs, usually accidental, snakes will be surprised and bite through a reflex without using the venom glands and as such no venom may be present in the bite. However at that point if you keep trying to injure the snake the next bite may definitely have venom. We call these bites “Dry bites” they make up more than 50% of snakebites!

Myth: You can tell a snake by the colour or shape of the body

Truth: Not on your life. It has been proven regularly that people, are bitten by snakes they believed harmless but were in fact deadly species. There is a lot of colours and variations between species and families of snakes. Even professional herpetologists make errors in identification! Treat all snakes as dangerous to be safe and leave alone.

Myth: Snake anti venom is in shortage

Truth: Anti-venom is always available in major hospitals. Smaller hospitals without a critical care unit may not stock anti venom.

Myth: Snake venom is stronger in spring after a winter period than in summer

Truth: Venom in snakes is always consistent but may vary in quantity but like saliva in people we can always produce saliva when needed. 

Myth: You can tell if a snakebite if it's serious by seeing scratch marks

Truth: People have been seriously bitten and there are no obvious marks or signs.

Myth: You will die with minutes after being bitten by a snake

Truth: The vast majority of snake bites are what we term dry bites. In serious cases signs appear within 10 – 50 minutes. It often take hours before showing depending on snake species, type of bite, frequency and size of snake. It also depends on what activity you were doing before the bite (e.g. running, walking or sitting down), and the time lapsed between first aid, ambulance arrival, and how calm you remain.

Myth: Young venomous snakes are harmless

Truth: While small or juvenile snakes lack the larger fang size, venom yield of mature snakes if the venom does enter your system via a puncture or bite it will potentially affect you and is still treated as potentially fatal in species know to be potentially dangerous.

Myth: Snakes eat their young

Truth: Only a few snakes are ophiophagus (snake eating) and may eat smaller or juvenile snakes. Potentially includes their young if encountered. However the large majority of snakes do not eat other snakes! In other cases some species like pythons (not ophiophagus) show maternal behaviour by shivering around their eggs to increase incubation success.

Myth: A saucer of milk attracts snakes

Truth: Milk is not necessarily attracting to snakes, they prefer water.

Myth: A severed head from a snake will live till sunset

Truth: When a snake head has been severed it may be able to instinctively function for a short period but will usually die quickly when the brain is deprived of blood. There have been instances of snake bites from a severed head especially with pets that are sniffing a recently deceased snake.

Myth: All snakes are venomous

Truth: Snakes are not all venomous and only species that are front or rear fanged, Elapidae and Colurbridae, the elapidae family, including the sea snakes. Snakes from colurbridae, Pythonidae and Typhlopidae are harmless and viewed as non-venomous.

Myth: Snakes travel in pairs or mates take revenge on people who kill their mates

Truth: Snakes sometimes will occur in small twos or threes in spring or rarely autumn. Breeding season occasionally have a female who incidentally when receptive leaves a pheromone trail that males will follow to fid her. This trail can sometimes move through yards or regions of human habitation. This explains why you might see another snake so soon after the first one. There are occasionally reports of 2 or 3 males that follow a trail.

The team at Reptiles Victoria Inc hope this provides you some information and some reassurance. If you have any issues always try to seek further help.

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