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Peter and the Snake

Peter was a Cat belonging to the Littlehampton Vet, Dr. Catherine Motter. Peter liked to be outside a lot of the time and Catherine felt it would be cruel to keep him in the clinic all the time, so he was allowed some freedom despite the known dangers of being outside.  Peter was the only one of the clinic’s animals allowed outside.  Peter was a friendly cat and would come to see us in our shop, next door to the clinic.  He would sometimes lie on the shop counter.  He was a good talking point for the customers.

One day I was carrying a bag of Horse food for a customer and saw Peter with what I first thought was a Mouse’s tail hanging out of his mouth.  I realised it was too long for a Mouse’s tail.  It was the tail of a Snake.  I had my hands full but I told Peter to drop the Snake.  Much to my surprise, he dropped it immediately and ran off.  I had never used that tone of voice to Peter before.

After putting the bag of food in the customer’s car I went into the vet clinic and told the nurse that Peter had dropped a snake which had gone under her car.  Sam, the vet’s son, told his mother and we all went outside. 

Peter had come back and wanted to get the snake again, so Sam picked Peter up and took him into the clinic.  The snake had been injured and had to be euthanized.  Peter had been bitten, but prompt veterinary attention saved his life.
Deadly Snakes

The snake was a young Brown Snake, Pseudonaja textilis.  This common snake is considered to be the second most venomous land snake in the world, based on LD50 values.  The bite of even newly hatched baby Brown Snakes can kill a Human or an animal.  All the snakes found in South Australia are venomous and the common ones are all potentially deadly.
The only land snake in the world whose venom has been tested and has a more powerful venom than the Brown Snake is the Inland Taipan.The Inland Taipan lives in arid areas with few people.
Some sea snakes have even more dangerous venom.
The biggest Brown Snake I've measured was 101 centimetres long, but I've seen much bigger ones. The biggest reliably measured and recorded was 2013 centimetres, but anecdotal evidence suggests that a few night grow even bigger.
Small Brown Snakes eat mainly small things like insects and frogs. As the snake grown larger it eats bigger things especially rats and mice. They kill the prey animals both with venom and by constriction.

The Death of Little Liberty

One of our cats, Little Liberty, was killed by a Brown Snake.  I found her dead body next to that of the snake.  Little Liberty had been bitten on the lip and probably died quickly, because the poison would have gone into her blood stream almost immediately.  She must have also killed the Snake quickly.  It was over 3 feet long.

Snake Bite

Any Dog, Cat or other animal that has been bitten by a snake needs urgent Veterinary attention.  Any Human who is bitten needs urgent Medical attention.  Vets and Doctors can successfully treat snake bite, and although a lot of domestic animals are killed by snakes people usually get treated in time and survive.  The Human death rate from snake bite in Australia is low.
Red Bellied Black Snake
The Red Bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus, is the second most common snake in the Adelaide Hills, and the only other type of snake I've seen near our shop. This snake has a dangerous bite and could kill either an animal or a human, but they are less likely to bite than a Brown Snake and human deaths from their bite are extremely rare.
They are also a very beautiful snake.
This Snake grows to about 2.5 metres. It hunts both on land and in the water and will eat a variety of food including fish, tadpoles, frogs, lizards, snakes  and mammals, including rats and mice.
Tiger Snakes
Tiger snakes,  Notechis scutatus, are less common in the Adelaide Hills than either Brown or Red Bellied Black Snakes. If threatened they become aggressive but otherwise avoid people if possible. They have a very dangerous bite and as with all snake bites medical or veterinary attention should be sought immediately.
Their colouration is variable and not all of them have the stripes that gave them their common name.
Pygmy Copperhead
The Pygmy Copperhead, Austrelaps labialis is found in the Mount Lofty Ranges and on Kangaroo Island. There are related species in other cool parts of Australia. The Australian copperheads are not closely related to the American snake of the same name.
Copperheads mostly eat animals like skinks, other lizards (and lizard eggs), insects, frogs, tadpoles and snakes, including other copperheads . They can also eats birds and mammals.
These snakes are not aggressive but if provoked sufficiently will bite. Their bite can be fatal and immediate aid from a doctor or vet should be sought. One of their predators is cats which means than cats are also likely to get bitten.

Protected Animals

Snakes, like most native Australian animals, are protected by law and it is illegal to indiscriminately kill them.  In certain situations it is allowed.  It is dangerous to try to kill a snake, especially if you are not trained, and the majority if snake bites on humans happen when they are attempting to kill the snake.  Few Australian snakes attack people without provocation.  If you see a Snake well away from houses, leave it alone.  If it is near your house, get a trained snake catcher in to remove it.
I once saw a group of ten year old boys killing a brown snake. They had thought it was not a venomous snake until I told them. Their surprising ignorance of snakes could have resulted in one of them being bitten. I could not even understand why they killed it if they thought it was harmless.
I have also twice seen men who were old enough to know better killing snakes in the bush well away from any houses.
Snakes in the Ecology
Snakes have been part of the natural ecology of the Australian continent and islands for millions of years. Some species have been threatened by the changes caused by the influx of Europeans; some have adapted. Now the snakes are an important predator of the introduced rats and mice.
Poisonous Australians
Australia and the surrounding seas have an amazing variety of poisonous and often potentially deadly animals. Very few of these potentially deadly creatures will attack a human being and the human death rate from bites and stings is very low.

Adult Brown Snake below. The one on the left below the title is a young snake showing the stripes often seen on the juveniles.
Inland Taipan, picture from the Australian Museum
Red Bellied Black Snakes
Tiger Snake. Picture below from Adelaide Snake Catchers
Western Tiger Snake, Picture below copyright Australian Museum

 Picture of a Pygmy Copperhead from Snake Catchers Adelaide.