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Frequently asked questions and snake myths busted

Here we will put to bed some snake myths and answer some frequently asked questions about snakes of our region.



Can venomous snakes and pythons interbreed? What about venomous snakes and Tree Snakes?

The short answer here is no.

Most venomous Australian snakes belong to the Elapidae family while pythons belong to the Pythonidae family and Tree Snakes to the Colubridae family. For them to cross would be at the same level as a dog making puppies with a Grizzly Bear or a domestic cat making kittens with a Hyena. As you can imagine, there are a number of reasons this won't work.  There are physical as well as behavioural differences that seperate the familes. An example of physical differences is pythons have two lungs while elapids have one functional lung and one that has reduced to almost nothing.  More closely related species such as some pythons can interbreed though this is limited in the wild. 


Venomous snakes have eliptical pupils and non-venomous snakes have round pupils.

False. This information is true to most species of native American Snakes but does not apply in Australia.



The non venomous Keelback (left) has a round pupil but so to does the venomous Lesser Black Whipsnake (right)

The non venomous Carpet Python (left) has an eliptical pupil but so to does the venomous Death Adder (right)

Can venomous snakes climb?

Yes. Although some species are less likely to be found climbing than others snakes can climb whether venomous or not. Some species of venomous snakes are very good climbers and spend time hunting or sheltering in trees. The mildly venomous Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis) is a good example.


Putting down a rough rope, salt or strong smelling oils will repel snakes from the fence line.

False. The best way to keep snakes away is not to offer the three things they are looking for. Water, food or shelter. Keeping grass short and yards tidy takes away their feeling of security. They are vulnerable to birds of prey when crossing open ground and so are more hesitant to move into cleaned areas. Keeping a tidy yard also makes it easier to spot a snake if one is present.  Mice and rats are attracted to spilt grains around aviaries and can burrow in under the walls. Bigger snakes might be intersted in poultry or bird life living in cages outside. Make sure you use "Snake and Mouse" proof mesh on all outdoor enclosures holding animals that may be consumed by snakes. Standard wire pet shop cages, hutches or aviaries are not snake proof.


Pythons have triangular heads and venomous snakes do not.

False. The Blackheaded Python has a head which is not entirely distinct from its neck whilst the Death Adder has a large triangular head but is dangerously venomous. Head and head scale shape can be used as a part of the ID process but not as a rule of thumb for telling the two apart. For example, when comparing the head of the Carpet Python and Scrub Python they are quite distinct in scalation number and shape. Scrub Pythons have large head scales while Carpet Pythons have many small scales.


Are snakes territorial? If I have a resident snake will it keep other snakes away?

Snakes are not territorial. They tend to inhabit a home range where they can access all of their needs but will not chase other animals out of this space. Snakes can be cannibalistic but seeing one species or another does not make it less likely that you will have other snakes on your property.

In some species males will fight over females, this happens when two males encounter each other while following the smell of a receptive female. Snakes fight by coiling over each other and trying to push their competitor to the ground. This is commonly mistaken for mating. Snakes are not more aggressive to other animals in breeding season.


What is a dry bite?

A dry bite refers to a bite from a venomous snake species where no venom is injected. The term is also sometimes used to refer to bites from non-venomous species where the species could not be identified. All bites should be assumed venomous and emergency medical assistance should be sought immediately.


Can a snake be identified by its shed skin?

Yes in many cases it can or at least enough clues can be gathered from the skin to narrow it down to a few likely owners.


The first clue given is from the width of the belly scales (also known as ventral scales). When the skin is laid on its back and pressed flat if the scales are approximately 1/3 or less the total width, the skin is from a python. If the scales take up most or all of the width the skin is not from a python.
NOTE: It doesn’t automatically make it a venomous snake as species such as Keelbacks and Tree Snakes also have wide belly scales.

Scale counts should be done from the mid-body of the snake (approximately half way down its length). Scale counts are used in both skins and live snakes to ID correctly and can help as a clue to ID and differentiate between similar looking species.
There are two main ways to count scales, starting at the belly you can count up to the centre back scale and then back down to the belly in a V shape (green) or you can start at the belly and go along in a diagonal line (orange). Only scales touching sides should be counted.
Scale counting alone will not give you an ID but it is another clue that helps. Scale counts vary within a species and sometimes on the same snake but will slot them into a range eg 19-23 Mid-body scales.
Some scale shapes are immediate give aways as to what type of snake the skin might have come from. The scales highlighted here in purple are enlarged, hexagonal and at the centre of the spine. This is a feature found in the Tree Snake species here in Australia. To differentiate between which species the mid-body scale count is used. Common Tree Snakes have a lower count about 13 (sometimes 11-15), while Brown Tree Snakes have a higher count about 19-23.


Sometimes there are a lot of scales to count! Pattern can also help with identification. Melanin (black pigment) is constantly generated and regenerated in the upper layer of the skin (the layer that gets shed off), while the other colours occur deeper in the scale and therefore are not shed out with the skin leading to remanents of pattern on some skins.
Other features about the scales such as whether they are keeled or how many keels they have can be used also.

To have a skin identified, provide clear photos of the mid body section as per the two shots above.



Have more questions you'd like answered? Head on over to the Townsville Snake Catchers Facebook page by clicking here.




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