The Beauty and Deception of Serpents

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Mark David describes his experiences with the most feared creature in the Australian environment: the snake.

I NEVER exaggerate. Because there is no need.

So when I catch a hunter spider the size of a Volkswagen, I don’t indulge in embellishment. When you live where I live, the facts don’t need help. The truth is quite bizarre.

This brings me to the story of the python in the laundry room. At least two football fields long and with the girth of a school bus, I didn’t know what to do with it. I mean, it was in the damn laundry room. Are we talking cold wash or hot wash? Stains or delicate? How could I know? I come from the city.

I’m going to say right now that the reason I mow the grass around the house is to keep snakes out. Because it’s fair to say that snakes normally don’t like to travel in the open. This is why the expression “snake in the grass” has imposed itself. Notice that the phrase isn’t “snake in the open air” or “snake on the freshly mown lawn”?

And people think I mow my lawn out of civic pride! However, laundry experience has shown that there are rebellious snakes that do not follow the rules and therefore travel through open areas. Serpent Anarchists.

Despite a significant investment in time spent mowing since my move to South East Queensland, I have therefore encountered quite a few snakes. Most of them are harmless (non-venomous) pythons and tree snakes. But I’ve seen a few Eastern brown snakes too.

A carpet python shows its rows of sharp teeth (image by Mark David).

The reassuring thing about snakes is that even though we do everything we can to avoid them, snakes are quite happy to toy with this idea and therefore do everything they can to avoid us. It’s a good system. I was walking the dog once and almost stepped on a very large eastern brown snake. I just froze when I saw it. The snake passed in front of my foot and disappeared into the nearby grass. There you go, no more snakes in the grass.

Sometimes I will really go out of my way to get involved in a snake’s day. For example, I was walking around town one day and noticed a nice big Python rug start crossing the road. And there was a car coming. The car is the snake’s sworn enemy. So I ran down the road and raised my hand to stop the car. The driver thought I was a little weird stopping him “just” because of a snake. But it was such a beautiful snake. I would like to think that if the roles had been reversed, it would have done the same for me.

Another time we had a snake in the house. This time it was after buying potted plants from the markets. We didn’t realize this at the time of purchase and it certainly wasn’t marked, but by the time we got the plants home we discovered that one of them came with a free snake. Now that’s good business.

This time it was a Dwarf crowned snake: cute, small, only very slightly venomous and not aggressive. I used barbecue tongs to gently bring it into a pillowcase, then released it into a nearby bush, being very sure the snake wasn’t in the pillowcase yet before putting it back on my pillow. Now there’s something I’m not trying with the Eastern Browns.

I take this opportunity to provide some details on the pythons around my home. I’m talking about a carpet snake or a carpet python. These beautiful animals aren’t considered poisonous, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good experience to be bitten by one. Because at the back of their mouths they have rows of razor sharp teeth.

There is your first problem: you will bleed and bleed. But the next part is the real concern. The fragile tips of these teeth often break off and lodge under your skin when they bite you. This means that tiny snake fragments, covered in snake mouth germs, end up under your skin where they really don’t belong. Under these circumstances, a painful and long-lasting infection is a huge potential risk.

Most of the snakes I see are harmless tree snakes. The common tree snake, for example, is a gentle and timid creature. And pretty. Yes, I called a pretty snake. But what happens when I see one is that the part of my brain that registers the “snake” quickly dials up the part of my brain that knows about eastern browns, and so my first reaction is always the alarm.

A visitor leaving before Mark David can reach the door (image of Mark David).

I’ve seen enough now to identify them better, but I still try to be careful because a very young eastern brown can look very pretty and can be mistaken at first sight for a tree snake. A young eastern brown easily has enough venom in its bite to cause serious illness or death. A snake expert even told me once that a bite from youngsters can be worse because when they bite they tend not to let go. This gives the bite more time to fester you.

Eastern brown venom is so bad that it only takes a tiny amount to kill it, which means the young can be very dangerous. I have never personally met a young Eastern Brown. I only read the reviews.

I’ve developed a little routine for taking pictures of snakes, and the method, and my bravery, varies depending on how venomous the snake is. It’s amazing the courage I have when the snake isn’t poisonous. So, with common tree snakes, I might even attempt a photo with my macro (close-up) lens. With the Eastern Browns, my method of choice is to use a long telephoto lens, working from inside a car. On the other side of a lake. With the engine running.

The truth is there is a lot of bravado around snakes, people sometimes get bitten because they think they know what they are doing. I would say snakes know what they are doing but people not so much. The good news if you come across a snake in your home is that you don’t have to deal with it. Snake hunters are often only a phone call away. And they know what they are doing.

They will identify and catch the snake in such a way that no snake catcher, owner, snake or tumbler is harmed. And they’ll release the critters into a nearby bush but far enough away to keep you from worrying about them, as required by wildlife regulations. Snakes, and you, will generally live longer this way.

Mark David is IA’s resident designer. You can see more of Mark’s cartoons on his website Cartoons by Mark Davidor follow him on Twitter @mdavidcartoons.

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