Look out! Snakes surface as another hazard of flood waters

More rain in the forecast for SE Australia

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

In a nightmarish development to the floods ravaging much of Australia, snakes have been spotted in flood waters.

Experts say the reptiles have been flushed out of their terrain by heavy rainfall and flooding.

Extreme weather events like La Nina can affect when the reptiles emerge from brumation (hibernation for snakes), but springtime is still when we would typically expect to see them, reptile expert and Macquarie University postdoctoral research fellow Chris Jolly told The New Daily.

Snakes bask, hunt and search for mates during spring more than other times of the years, so this is the season when people are more likely to encounter them.

Survival instincts kick in

The reason for increased sightings is likely because snakes’ survival instincts are kicking in, compelling them to seek higher ground, Dr Jolly said.

“Snakes are shy and will try to stay unseen, but when they’re just trying to survive that goes out the window,” he said.

“They will flee and seek shelter at higher ground, and that’s when people might see them.”

Authorities have warned people to be wary of snakes around flood waters, with New South Wales SES Far West Command unit issuing a warning.

“Snakes … get flushed out of their riverside winter nests during floods and are looking for something to cling to in the water – including people,” it said in the Facebook post.

Reptile experts say heavy rainfall and flooding have flushed out snakes. Photo: AAP

“The river is still rising and will be up for a few weeks yet. So be careful, don’t be a goose, stay dry and out of trouble.”

Dr Jolly warned people to give the reptiles a wide berth.

“All snakes are potentially dangerous if you don’t know what they are.  So it’s worth just giving them space,” he said.

Climate change

Climate change increases the risk of heat stress and death in cold-blooded animals, a recent Nature study suggests.

The study predicted that even modest rises in global temperatures could have extreme consequences on vulnerable animals, with heart failure rates potentially increasing by 774 per cent in cold-blooded animals on land.

Reptiles like snakes and turtles are “super vulnerable to changes in temperature due to climate change”, Dr Jolly said.

“Snakes and other ectotherms are extremely vulnerable to changes in temperatures they cannot behaviourally avoid,” he said.

The subtle, gradual increase in global average temperatures has affected species populations over decades, he said.

“There’s only so many behavioural changes a species can make before they run out of options: Animals have been evolving to changing climates forever.”

It’s unclear whether species can adapt quickly enough to overcome the effects of climates change.

“The rate of change that’s currently happening is unprecedented,” Dr Jolly said.

“It very much seems like it’s happening at a pace that will cause the extinction of some species that just won’t be able to change rapidly enough.”

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