One of the most venomous snakes in the world is the Eastern Brown Snake. It lives right here, in the Eastern areas of Australia. It is generally considered to have the second most toxic venom in the world and calls this home.
Even with the Eastern Brown sharing this beautiful land with us, deaths caused by snakebite in Australia are very rare. More people get killed in this country by honeybees than by venomous snakes!
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
As is true for most Australian snakes, the colour is variable, and you can’t use its colour to identify it. Australia is home to many snakes which are brown in colour so don’t go that alone. An Eastern Brown can vary from very pale brown to reddish to almost black in colour
You should understand a little about both its appearance and its behaviours. Once you have done this you can compare what you have learnt about other snakes in the area. That will help to avoid an unwanted encounter and will deepen your understanding and appreciation of these reptiles.
The colour of the scales varies, but in general adult Eastern Brown Snakes are a uniform pale to dark brown above. In some cases, they may be black or even orange. The belly is cream, yellow or orange, with orange or dark grey blotches. These can be seen if the snake is close enough to feel threatened. It will raise its head off the ground and show you!
If poised to strike, the snake will coil its body into an S-shape.
Young snakes are even more variable in colour. The top of the head is usually black, with a red or orange stripe behind this, followed by another dark band. The rest of the body is often striped with dark grey or black. These stripes fade as the snake matures. Some juveniles have no stripes, but have darker tips to their scales, giving a reticulated appearance.
The Eastern Brown Snake has a slender body, with a short, rounded head. This is not separated from the rest of its body. This distinguishes it from the Taipan, which has a long tapering head. He has a definite ridge over the eye, and most pythons have a head distinct from the neck.
Like most other snakes, the Eastern Brown will avoid a confrontation with a large animal such as a person. You will find its natural reaction is to flee towards shelter instead. Studies both in the field and the laboratory have shown that a defensive strike is made only as a last resort and when the snake feels no other way out.
The average length is about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft), but Eastern Browns can grow up to an impressive 2.4 m (7.8 ft) in length. Males are always larger than females.
WHERE IS IT FOUND?
The Eastern Brown Snake lives throughout the eastern half of Australia, (except Tasmania). You can also find them in Papua New Guinea.
It will live in pretty much any habitat except then rainforest. It is most common in open grasslands, pastures, and woodlands. Eastern Browns have adapted easily to farmed, grazed, and semi-urban environments. As a result, they come in contact with people often and they do account for most of the recorded snake bites in Australia.
You will often find the Eastern Brown in hollow logs, rock crevices, unused animal burrows. They can also be found sheltering under rubbish around buildings. It is an agile, fast-moving snake, hunting by day and returning to its burrow at night. The removal of rubbish close to your house will cut down the risk of one inadvertently making your home his too!
WHAT DOES IT EAT?
Eastern Brown Snakes love to eat small vertebrates. They prefer mammals, frogs, birds and reptiles such as skinks and geckoes. They will occasionally enjoy other snakes as snacks too.
They have developed a preference for introduced rodents such as rats and house mice. For this reason, they have proven to be useful predators around farm buildings such as hay sheds.
ADAPTATIONS FOR THIS DIET
Eastern Brown Snakes seek out their prey by sensing movement and odour. Studies suggest that they have better vision than other snakes. They flick their forked tongue in and out of the mouth, ‘tasting’ the presence of potential prey animals.
Having a lean muscular body means that the snake can travel fast in pursuit of its prey. It strikes quickly, bites its victim, and coils around it till it dies. The extreme toxicity of its venom means that the prey animal will die quickly. That means that the danger that it could injure the snake by scratching or biting is greatly lessened.
Snakes can’t rip their food apart; they don’t have teeth to do that! They need to swallow their victim whole and sometimes that victim is quite large! A lizard or large rat can be many times larger in diameter than the snake. This is a challenge not to be taken lightly! Imagine having to swallow an entire melon without chewing it into bite-size pieces!
Snakes have adapted to allow them to swallow their prey whole. They nudge the victim until it is lined up so that they can swallow it headfirst.
The two halves of a snake’s lower jaw are not fused in the middle. Instead they are held together by flexible muscles and ligaments. This allows them to stretch far apart as the snake is swallowing.
The upper and lower jaw do not ‘unhinge’ as is commonly believed. Instead, the food passes below this joint along the bottom of the neck, which can stretch enormously around the source of food.
The snake then grips it with the fangs on alternate sides of the jaw, moving one side of the jaw and then the other along the prey. This action passes it down its throat. The snake needs to (and does) produce huge amounts of saliva to lubricate the prey as it moves along.
The ribs of a snake are not anchored to a breastbone like they are in us. That means that the tips of the ribs can stretch apart as the food moves on down the snake’s body.
The skin of the snake is also very stretchy. This allows the snakes body to expand to accommodate the food item as it is swallowed.
Understandably it can take several hours to swallow a large animal. After eating, the snake will usually spend a while basking in the sun. This helps him maintain a high enough body temperature to digest the meal. Powerful enzymes in the venom speed this process by breaking down the tissues of the prey animal.
The ability to swallow very large food items means that a big snake need not spend energy on frequent hunting activities. It may need to eat only a few meals every year.
If you see any snake, Eastern Brown or otherwise our advice is to back away slowly and leave it to do whatever it was doing! It won’t attack you for no reason so do yourself a favour!
If you spot a snake and need help to identify it, please contact Pat. He is an experienced Snake Catcher in the North Brisbane area based in Warner. He has a huge network of snake catchers across Brisbane so can put you in touch with someone close to you if need be. You can reach Pat by telephone on 0407 129 260