Snakes and Ladders

by Margie Riley


‘Whoa!’ he exclaimed, jumping backwards; for there, curled up in the box with the coils of nails for his nail gun, was a large amount of snake. It was russet-brown, beautiful, slender, muscular and very much alive – if a little sleepy. At a glance he thought there might have been two of them and although he presumed them to be tree snakes rather than the deadly eastern brown, he sensibly called Paul, our local licenced snake catcher rather than try to be Big and Brave.

Snakes at home; not an altogether delightful thought when we imagine brown snakes, red-bellied blacks, taipans etc. However, the only snakes we regularly see here in the rain-forested valley in which we live in South East Queensland are non-venomous. Yes, we have seen browns and red- bellied blacks, and our lily-livered dog Zac is always quick to tell us where any snake is with his special terrified ‘snake bark’.

The first of the snakes we saw was the bandy bandy. This gorgeous little thing is nocturnal and feeds on the non-venomous blind snake. It is mildly venomous but it has such a tiny mouth that it would be hard-pressed to bite anyone or anything. As its name suggests it is banded, and we have seen the black and white ones, although I have read that there are yellowish and black ones as well.

It happened about seven years ago when one night Zac set up a terrible barking, his hackles were raised heavenward. He quietened when we approached the snake which rose up to its fullest height – oh, about a huge ten centimetres! – as it raised its middle off the ground in an arch to make itself appear really scary. Since that night we have seen five or six bandy bandies. After the last three years of wet summers we haven’t seen any; we hope that’s because we are missing the bandy bandies, and not because the snakes and their prey are gone.

We have had a couple of encounters with the highly poisonous eastern brown snakes. We were walking one day and something brown and thick slithered off into the grass ahead of us. We gave that spot a wide berth. When we were building the house my husband found two small browns in a hole dug to take the long stumps to support the deck. He also saw two involved in what he initially thought to be a mating dance. We have since read that this intertwining of snaky bodies is more likely to be a fight over a lady.

We’ve found red-bellied blacks under timber in and around the vegetable garden. They are common in this vicinity and – while we don’t actively encourage them to stay – we don’t dispose of them as they kill the more venomous browns. (NB – all snakes are protected species here.)

One day while walking Zac I noticed him prop and give something on the road a very wide berth. On examination, I discovered not one, but two squashed baby red-bellied blacks. I reiterate, he is not the bravest of dogs and he must have heard that discretion is the better part of valour.

The snakes with which we have had most interaction are carpet pythons. They visit the chook house at night to catch the rats which feed on the chickens’ pellets. We don’t mind the pythons’ visits but they can disturb the chickens! One evening when the chooks had roosted we went to close the coop door to find them lifting their feet high up into the air as a smallish (about one metre) python wove its way along the perch.

My husband has a snake-catching kit and we usually manage to lasso the snakes with a piece of wire threaded through a plastic conduit. Once the snake’s collared, we put it into a hessian bag and move it from the chook pen. In the pouring rain this exercise takes living in the bush to another level…

On one occasion my husband was away and the dog set up his frantic barking – so I went to the back door where the tractor was parked. At first glance I didn’t notice anything, but then, when Zac kept looking upwards at the tractor, I noticed a large – a very large – python, wound round the roll-bar of the tractor. This I couldn’t deal with on my own so I rang the ever-helpful Paul.

Paul arrived with his snake-catching equipment and we both remarked this this was indeed A Big Snake. It was probably over two meters in length and very fat (all those rats). After some grappling, the gentle Paul caught it and asked me what I wanted to do with it. Should he take it away or release it into our gully? I agreed to the latter as it was, after all, the snake’s territory. So the python was freed to go on his way.

A couple of days later a neighbour, whose husband was also not at home, called me to say that there was a Very Large Snake under their children’s trampoline and what did I suggest she did! I suggested Paul who again came to the rescue. This time he moved the snake somewhere else. We haven’t seen it since.

There was another – and very beautiful python – who visited the chooks and we, as usual, moved it away from the pen. A couple of days later I found it curled exquisitely beneath the rosemary bush on a rock-wall: Monty’s sister Rosemary! We encouraged her to move away and watched with admiration as the muscles undulated beneath her flawless skin as she made her way.

We’ve noticed snake scat outside the front door it was python poo, according to a wonderfully useful little book entitled Tracks, Scats and Other Traces, by Barbara Triggs. This was a sizeable deposit, so I am pleased that we didn’t meet the culprit when we opened the door.

The first snake incident mentioned – that of the looped beauties beside the coils of nail gun nails – resulted in Paul once again being invited to come and rescue us. He arrived with the kit and we discovered that there was a pair of the most beautiful brown tree snakes curled up together, getting ready for their winter rest. Paul gently removed them and placed them into a bag. He took them away for safe keeping. We know they like living in the shed, after all that’s where we keep the chooks’ food and so there is a constant food source of vermin for them to catch and eat. They shed their skins in there too, so we have reminders of their visits.

Our latest episode happened just yesterday. My husband removed a folding ladder from the shed and brought it inside in order to change a ceiling lamp. As he erected it into its triangular shape something small plopped onto the floor of the kitchen. He looked at its glorious bronze colour and tiny arrow-shaped head and realised it was probably one of the pair’s babies. I later released it near the dam and it slithered away into the grass, immediately camouflaged. A quick Google search revealed that they usually have between three and eleven young…

I believe that snakes should be respected, not feared, and we are happy(ish) to have them around us here. We prefer that the venomous ones don’t live too close to the house but, since they don’t think much of us either, they are usually not in evidence. The pythons are our friends, however, and we love having them living here. Zac, of course, would prefer that no snake was nearby.

 


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