23 January 2011

Sunday visitor

Allen spotted it first. By the time I got to the kitchen window, our little visitor was happily sunning himself on the stones. But I think Allen said he had come down from the top of a nearby gas canister. I say 'I think' because it's very difficult for Allen to give a detailed, accurate account of any scene he's witnessed. He just can't find enough words to explain himself clearly. And if I ask too many questions to try and elicit information, he gets confused or upset. Then he's likely to tell me anything just to stop my questions.

Tree snake? Whip snake? Taipan??? (2011)
Whether this snake was climbing over the gas canister, or wound around the base of the canister is an important distinction. 'Climbing over' would mean this is probably a harmless tree snake. 'Wound around the base' means it could be a ground snake. In Queensland, snakes that climb up into trees and other structures are usually safe (unless the tree snake is a python and you're a baby or a little dog!) Snakes that only slither over the ground are best avoided, because they're more than likely to be poisonous. And even though this visitor was on the ground when I photographed him, I think he's either a tree snake (harmless) or a little whip snake (only slightly poisonous, and not very aggressive). (See * & ** below.) Whatever it is, you have to admire the wonderful camouflage. You could walk right by and never notice it.

Keelback on terrace steps (2010)
I don't think today's visitor is one of the little keelbacks who emerged from a nest under our terrace steps last year. The keelback had quite different markings, as you can see by comparing the top photo with this one of a keelback taken last year, when we seemed to have them all over the place for a few weeks during their breeding season. And even though keelbacks are ground snakes, in fact they aren't poisonous. Moreover, they are the only snake that can successfully eat small cane toads – those introduced pests that are slowly outcompeting our native frog populations. The cane toad is itself highly poisonous to any animal that tries to eat it. But the keelback somehow grabs the toad from the rear, and kills it before the toad can trigger its poisonous glands. Today's visitor didn't have the keelback's distinctive feature – those vertical black markings under the mouth.

Looking up our road, from our driveway entrance.
In our fourteen years of living up here in the coastal hinterland, I have never yet seen one of the lethal eastern brown snakes. Most snakes seem to me to be to be brownish in colour anyway, but the genuine brown snake is one of the largest and most deadly of the venomous snakes. My neighbour tells me that my predecessor on this block, the man who built this house and lived here for ten years, did occasionally see a brown snake on the property. But at that time, this was the only house on this side of the road. Adjacent one-acre blocks and blocks across the road had not yet been built on. Now there are houses up and down the road on both sides, and what were formerly neglected fields of tall grass and bushes are now lawns and gardens. Also, many people have dogs and though a brown snake can easily kill a curious dog, snakes generally prefer to avoid big animals and humans rather than attack, though we all have heard horror stories of aggressive brown snakes chasing people when they could easily have got away instead.

Oh dear. I didn't set out here to discourage friends and family from visiting. Honest. But I have learned to live with snakes, or with the knowledge that they're around. And let's face it: they're a lot less lethal than the gun-toting neighbours I might have had if I'd settled in some rural area of the USA instead of Australia!

An elegant carpet python making his way to the hidey-hole over Allen's office, where he spent two consecutive winters just a few years ago

I sent photos of today's visitor to someone whose opinion I respect. He consulted all his snake books and came back with a tentative suggestion that our snake could be a juvenile taipan! That's not a good result (for us). He suggested I send the photos off to a local snake-catcher for a more definite ID. Watch this space!

** The snake catcher has replied: "The lovely snake you have is not a taipan or a brown snake. It IS a yellow-faced whip snake . It has front fangs but is not considered dangerous to humans. It will however cause some effects. As always seek medical advice." But my friend is not convinced. He's sent the photos to the Qld Museum for a second opinion! In any case, if I see it again I plan to treat it with great respect, whatever it is.


Anonymous said...

That snake looks a little suspect :) The floods have bought out a lot of snakes around here as well - only harmless tree snakes, but I still don't like them in the garden - nearly stood on one the other night (thought it was a stick and decided to turn the light on in the garage - it slid away) - we have a resident snake in the frog pond (must make the froggies a bit nervous).

Stafford Ray said...

Hello Chartreuse, haven't visited you for a while so popped over for a look and read your snake stories.
People laugh when I say it, but the truth is; I can smell snakes.
Unfortunately however, that skill has not developed so far that I can tell the difference between a taipan and a whip snake by its odour, or I could get over to your place and identify it for you!
I really came to say I hope you are both enjoying yourselves. xx

Chartreuse said...

Thanks for visiting, SR. Qld museum has confirmed: it's a yellow-faced whipsnake. (I don't know where the yellow is, but I'm relieved anyway.) I've been lax in posting, but really hope to correct that soon. Cheers.

About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.