I was recently subjected to a story about a snake in a suburban backyard that frightened the home owner so much that it required the immediate removal of it's head via a shovel. After all, it's a boring story that ends with, 'and so after I saw the snake I proceeded to go about doing whatever it was I was doing before I saw the snake.'
When I tell people that I'm passionate about reptiles, it's quite shocking to me how often a person will then proceed to describe the manner in which they most like to butcher snakes. My subject today is the Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus. It's as likely a candidate as any, as one of Australia's most familiar snakes and too often, the victim in many of these grizzly stories. It's crime? It likes the climate here, and is distributed throughout the regions where unfortunately for them (the snakes) Australia's population is highly concentrated.
Red-bellied Black Snakes have a reputation that is unfounded and highly exaggerated, their venom toxicity is nothing to write home about, and they're truly docile snakes; rarely showing aggression, mostly bluffing, and keen to flee when harassed. Despite the fear that some people foster for it, there have been no confirmed deaths resulting from a bite from this snake. That's not to say they aren't dangerous; they're considered to be dangerously venomous, and should be left well alone.
In those areas where the red-bellied black snakes' distribution overlaps with the introduced cane toad, as is the case in coastal South East Queensland, considerably fewer are seen. Whilst some people may rejoice in this knowledge, it may also be of interest to note that red-bellied black snakes are known cannibals and will eat their own kind and other snakes, namely juvenile Eastern Brown Snakes. The latter pose a significantly greater risk to human life accounting for half of the snake bite fatalities in Australia. It might then be argued that red-bellied black snakes do us a service by eating these far more dangerous snakes.
Irrespective of your feelings towards snakes, there is no denying they play a very important role in the ecosystem, especially in Australia whereby there exists no large terrestrial predators. So if you're lucky enough to be sharing a backyard with a beautiful red-bellied black snake, instead of reaching for the shovel, perhaps give thanks instead because they take good care of our environment, and we too often repay them with bullying and abuse.
Red-bellied Black Snake at Christmas Creek, QLD