A whole lotta muscle!

Things that go bump in the night are always intriguing around here. Last night it was a crash from the back deck that had me investigating. It was the local carpet python (Morelia spilota), probably the one that occasionally lives in the roof, and it had knocked over a ceramic candlestick.

Python_2This beauty is over three metres long, if the shed skin I found two years ago is anything to go by. It’s probably much bigger by now, and is easily thicker than my upper forearm.

Many people have resident pythons around here, great for keeping down the numbers of rats and mice (and possums – see here). If you have chooks, you need to protect them against hungry snakes or be prepared to lose a few.

Python_3Python_4What are you looking for, peripatetic python? Do you want to say hello to my medusa?

Python_5She’s got more snakes than you, but then she is already stone. Must have looked in a mirror.

After annoying the hell out of the python with the camera so that it crawled into a ball, we turned off the lights and let it go in peace. Happy hunting, my little lovely!

Bandy bandi bandi

I haven’t developed a tic, just an admiration for this lovely snake, the bandi bandi (Vermicella annulata). This photo was taken on a November 2011 (spring) evening by a neighbour on his property.

Bandi bandi; photo by Greg Spencer

Bandi bandis are small and grow to about 60 cm (this one is full-grown) and come out at night to feed, apparently exclusively, on blind snakes (family Typhlopidae). During the day they hide under logs or in burrows. Though venomous, they are harmless to humans. They are found throughout eastern Australia, rarely seen but not considered endangered, so I’m looking forward to one day seeing such a charmer for myself. Thanks, Greg, for the photo.

Steve lives! (part 3)

More comments from friends about the late Crocodile Hunter:

I have always thought of Steve Irwin as a likable boofhead rather than a serious contributor to our understanding of biology (durrrh!). Though his almost childlike enthusiasm was genuine and endearing, his need to jump on small animals and have them squirm in his hands was at some remove to the very much “hands-off and observe” approach of the David Attenborough school and would seem to be more in kin to the way a baby explores its environment by putting things in its mouth and tasting. He has done much to switch people on to nature and raised important issues to a new audience. The room he once filled with his huge personality is sadly empty; he is missed.

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Our opinion of Steve Irwin is someone who was passionate about what he did. He loved life and his family. He didn’t do anything half measure. This is the impression we got of him from the media and people who we know who had dealings with him.
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I watched Steve mainly for the wonderful places he visited and the interesting animals he harassed. Not so much for his personality or to be educated by him. He was a wild-eyed Australian version of Marlin Perkins (although I’ve never met a zoologist who didn’t have at least a sparkle in their eyes), the zoologist on Wild Kingdom, a similar program I used to watch as a boy. They really were much the same program: a crew on a fantastic location to film, harass and capture wild animals for an up-close and personal view in the name of conservation and public education. Both definitely had the danger and excitement elements that made the programs fun to watch but Steve was a bit more charismatic than Marlin and tended to focus on smaller, less furry and feathery animals than Marlin – the types of things I’m more interested in. Both programs were worthwhile endeavours in my estimation and highly entertaining to someone like me who maintains similar aspirations. I visited his zoo back in 2001 and almost got to meet him but grew tired of waiting for an appearance. I did enjoy the day we spent there as it was a taste of things to come as we set off to find the animals we saw in his zoo, in their natural environment on our month-long tour of coastal Queensland.
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This last post on Australia Zoo shows some of our native snakes, some of which live around my place but many of which are “outback” species. Many (except the pythons) are very venomous, and dangerous to people if people disturb them (quite rightly, too). I’ll leave you to research them individually if you are interested.

The king brown (Pseudechis australia) is actually a member of the black snake family, so mulga snake is the preferred name.

Mulga snake

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Close encounters of the snakey kind

It’s autumn, so encounters with snakes are going to get few and far between as they settle down for a season or two of inactivity.

But a news item last night, about a boy bitten by a red-bellied black snake, reminded me of our own encounters. We’ve occasionally seen browns and red-bellied blacks (the ones people are most afraid of in this area), but have had more encounters with whip snakes, green tree snakes (Dendrelaphis punctulata) and brown tree snakes (also called night tigers as they hunt at night and sleep during the day, Boiga irregularis). The green tree snake pictured was more interested in getting away than anything else.

Green tree snake on the back deck

The green tree snake has a wide colour variation - not always all-green

This brown tree snake (one of a pair) took up residence in the shed for a while last spring.

Brown tree snake just woken from its daily snooze

In a more comfy spot the next day

Close up of the brown tree snake's head

Brown tree snakes are reportedly aggressive, but I have only ever had calm encounters – even when I stepped on one!

I was walking into the bedroom early one evening looking for an extension cord. I stepped on something that felt like a cord, but was puzzled as I didn’t remember leaving it on the floor. I looked down, and the snake whipped itself out from under my foot and raised itself in a classic s-shape. We both were a bit stunned, I think, and both of us froze. It was probably frightened of this enormous beast that has suddenly appeared and stepped on it. I remembered that snakes detect vibration, and was trying to work out how to remove myself without frightening it more. I s-l-o-w-l-y raised one foot, stepped on the bed, then raised the other foot onto the bed. The snake dived under the dressing table and sat there flexing its open mouth – a last-ditch attempt to scare me off before it would be forced to bite. I didn’t need persuading.

I called out to Andrew not to come in as there was a snake. Then there was a yelled conversation between TV room and bedroom as we tried to work out what to do. I didn’t want the snake nor the humans to get hurt. Andrew decided to ring a neighbour, who offered to bring his shotgun down, but we didn’t want that. His wife suggested we ring the Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers and get advice. Andrew got onto the hotline, and then there was a three-way conversation as I tried to identify the snake using the carer’s questions relayed by Andrew. We came to the conclusion that it was a brown tree snake, to which the carer said they were ‘mostly harmless’ as they have rear-facing fangs and bites are venemous but not fatal to people. She suggested I put a broom handle out the open window and go sleep in the studio. The snake would then make its escape overnight.

A fine theory – but the snake was still in the bedroom the next day. So we rang NRWC again, and a carer came out, quickly swept the sleeping snake into an empty garbage bin with a broom and emptied it into the bush behind the house. The snake hardly budged an eyelid.

This advice was useful when, a couple of weeks later, I was editing on my computer and the curtain by the window behind it moved, apparently of its own accord. Channelling Indiana Jones, or was it Han Solo (‘I have a bad feeling about this’), I cautiously moved the curtain aside – and, yes, another Boiga. Sheesh!

This time Andrew did the honours of sweeping out the culprit. And we tracked down where they were getting in, blocked the very narrow hole and have had no problems since.

I can always tell when Andrew has unexpectedly come across a Boiga or two in the shed – he gives his special ‘oh god there’s a snake’ screech. I shouldn’t smile, but I do.