Walking along the boardwalk at the Tamar Island Wetlands Reserve in Launceston, Tasmania, I thought these were red-bellied black snakes, common in my home area …
… but they were in fact lowland copperheads (Austrelaps superbus). The copperhead is one of only three snakes in Tasmania; the other two are the white-lipped ( Drysdalia coronoides) and the tiger snake (Notechis scutatus), so there are no red-bellies in Tasmania.
There were about six copperheads, resting at intervals in the warmth of the sun on the ground between the reeds. The dark colour helps them absorb heat and remain active in cooler weather; they become inactive in Tassie winters and go without food for months.
Copperheads are venomous enough to kill a human, about the same as an Indian cobra. They are shy and retiring, though, so if you let them get away from you, both parties will benefit. Snakes don’t want to waste their precious venom on humans (after all they can’t eat us and venom is mostly used for catching food). Wearing good boots and watching where you walk in the bush is also good for both the snake and you. Healthy respect, not excessive fear, is the key. Remember: