While I don’t pretend to be an expert herpetologist, I do have a lot of experience in snake bite treatment of pet animals over these past 30 years or so now.
It is a pity really that snakes get such bad press because they are in many ways remarkable creatures. How often do we hear people say with conviction that the only good snake is a dead one? The truth is that by and large snakes are more “sinned against than sinning”. We humans are ambivalent creatures. It is a strange thing that the same people who chop up every snake they lay eyes on will often tell you how bad it is to keep a cat because it might harm the local wildlife!
Fact is that most snakes here abouts are actually harmless - and all of them pretty much just want to be left alone and not be hassled by pet animals (or people for that matter also). I think it is true to say that if we keep out of their way, they in turn, will keep out of ours.
Snakes found in the Townsville region can be arranged into the following THREE groups.
- Harmless snakes in our part of the world include Children's Pythons, Water Pythons and Carpet Snakes
- Other “non-dangerous” snakes here include Green and Brown Tree Snakes, Black Whip Snakes, Keelbacks, Orange Naped Snakes and Northern Crowned Snakes.
- Dangerous venomous snakes include Taipans, Eastern Browns and Death Adders
First thing to say is that all the “harmless” snakes are not really harmless – some are even in fact venomous, though not dangerously so. Second thing to say is that there are lots of “experts” out there who think they can reliably identify any kind of local snake and mostly get it wrong. I mention this just so people can be a little cautious of the advice they may be given by the uncle of the guy next door who used to used to work in the bush somewhere and who has known all about all kinds of snakes since childhood.
We do have lethally venomous snakes in the Townsville district and as that description suggests, these snakes can kill you or your pets no trouble at all if they can get a good bite in.
Of the lethally venomous snakes we see Taipan bite cases from Mt Louisa and also from up on Herveys Range. These cases are really not common and your pet dog or cat will probably have to go and find one to get in trouble. I have never treated a Taipan bitten pet – they are always dead on arrival.
I understand there are Death Adders on Magnetic Island and in the locality of Castle Hill. Death Adders are very shy snakes and I have never seen a Death Adder bite case – in fact I don’t know anyone who has even seen one of these snakes in the paddock.
It is the Eastern Brown snake that we need to be watchful for around the Townsville itself. These are the most common dangerous snake we see. These fellows are brown in colour (surprise, surprise), they don’t have a neck like the Taipans do and they do have nice little orange / pink spots /patches underneath that really show up against the otherwise creamy coloured belly scales.
Browns turn up all across the suburbs. It is an error to think they will only be found out around the edges of town. These snakes will definitely attack if crowded and a bite from them can easily kill. By and large Brown snake bites are treatable, though it can be difficult in the early stages to discern what has happened and what is going on.
Of course it helps in the diagnosis if somebody witnessed the event and it helps even more if there is a dead snake to be identified. Having said that, it is also very important to say that nobody should ever be risking a bite just to be sure we have a dead snake for identification purposes. Remember, Brown Snakes are quite aggressive when stirred up. They may come after you with a surprising turn of speed and they can strike very swiftly. In pets the type of venom in a snake bite case can be identified a urine tests provided it is 6 hours after the bite. It is an expensive though reliable test. However, most often we are not wishing to wait that long to make a treatment decision and we rely instead on symptoms of envenomation.
The principle presenting sign with Brown Snake envenomation is a typical kind of flaccid (weak) paralysis… Later comes a subsequent and more serious haemorrhagic disorder with rectal/oral/nasal bleeding. The antivenene for Brown Snake bites is expensive but it is also effective and most cases can make a relatively quick and complete recovery (provided they get their treatment before it is too late).