What kind of snake is out and about to bite a hiker in winter?
It was a question many asked after hearing reports a man who was bitten by a snake in Mount Kosciusko National Park had been airlifted to The Canberra Hospital on Saturday, June 13.
It turns out, just like your average Canberran, snakes will creep from their cosy winter burrow for the chance to bask in the winter sun.
A NSW Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said snakes were generally inactive during winter.
Sunny weekend weather combined with the low elevation of in the Geehi Valley meant the walker must have come across a snake basking for warmth, she said.
“Common species in that area of Kosciusko National Park include red-bellied black snake, eastern brown snake, tiger snake and copperhead snake.”
Australian National University herpetologist Dr Damian Michael had a leaner list of suspects.
He warned winter bushwalkers to tread carefully, saying snakes were more likely to feel threatened in nippy conditions.
“A cold snake doesn’t have the ability to move away quickly so it feels threatened straightaway,” he said.
“If it is not up to its preferred body temperature it is more likely to give a bite.”
Below their optimal body temperature snakes were sluggish and likely to strike inaccurately.
But which one was it? Here are the candidates: The brown snake
“I don’t think it was a brown snake,” Dr Michael said. “Being an arid adapted snake it feels the cold first and it will go underground first.”
Eastern brown snakes’ venom is ranked among the most toxic of any Australian land snake and with a high level of neurotoxins it causes progressive paralysis and stops the blood from clotting. The copperhead snake
Given Geehi Valley’s elevation of 410 metres this was also unlikely, he said.
“I am sort of ruling out that one,” Dr Michael said. “They are a typical alpine species and tend to be more common above 700-800 metres.”
The copperhead snake is the only Australian venomous snake found above the snowline, and is active in weather usually considered too cold for snakes. The red-bellied black snake
Dr Michael said red-bellied black snakes were the second-most cold-adapted of the four.
“The red-bellied particularly will bask all year round,” he said.
They were not particularly aggressive and will escape from humans if possible, but when threatened will flatten their bodies and hiss loudly, he said. The tiger snake
“Tiger snakes don’t usually bask in the midwinter,” he said.
Mainland tiger snakes are responsible for the second-highest number of bites in Australia, as they inhabit highly populated areas of the east coast. The verdict
Dr Michael says it’s a toss-up.
“I think it would really be between tiger and red-bellied black snake, but to tease those two apart would be difficult now,” he said.
Both snakes were known to give dry venomless bites, but Dr Michael said each had a dangerous venom that acted very differently on the body.
In every case pressure bandaging and immobilisation were vital and gave victims of snake bites time to wait for help.
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