Australia’s snake seasons are coming earlier and lasting longer due to climate change
Snake season is starting early this year. Photo: Flickr
Snake season is starting early this year, with changing climate patterns bringing the slithering reptiles out from hiding sooner than is normal.
Billy Collett, a snake expert at the Australian Reptile Park, said the east coast has experienced one of the warmest winters on record.
“Normally, we start to see snakes appearing in springtime, around mid-September, but this year I think it’s going to be earlier,” he said.
“Snake catchers across the east coast are already seeing large numbers of callouts, which is really unusual for this time of year.”
Snakes normally don’t come out until September after going into brumation – a process similar to hibernation for cold-blooded animals — in April, but high temperatures are causing the reptiles to wake earlier than usual.
Bryan Fry, associate professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Environment, told The New Daily that the early appearance of snakes on the move is a real-world implication of climate change.
Snakes are out earlier in Australia this year. Photo: TND
“Snake season is going to last longer because the heat lasts longer,” Professor Fry said.
“It was 28 degrees last week and snakes are already on the move, that shouldn’t be happening.”
New South Wales experienced its fourth-hottest July on record in 2023, with temperatures over 1.1°C hotter than the average.
Snakes are not naturally aggressive and normally prefer to retreat, and usually only attack when hurt, provoked or cornered.
Australia has around 140 species of snakes on the mainland, and 100 species are venomous. However, only 12 species can kill a person.
The eastern and western brown snakes are among the most common snakes found in Australia. They possess a very potent venom and, combined with innate aggressiveness, can paralyse and kill people if bites are left untreated.
Professor Fry said most of Australia’s venomous snakes are found in remote areas.
“The brown snake is really an anomaly, and that is the reason why it’s the snake that kills the most people,” he said.
“It thrives in rural, disturbed areas. If we need a brown snake for research we don’t go out to a national park – that’s far too much work – we go to the nearest chicken farm.”
A bad year for snake-related deaths is two to three people, according to Professor Fry. Photo: Getty
Other common venomous snakes include the mainland tiger snake, known for its yellow and black colouration and notoriously fatal bite, and the coastal taipan.
How to stay safe from snakes
The most important thing to do if you see a snake is to leave it alone, but if a snake enters a home then the first thing you should do is get all pets and people out of the room immediately, shut the doors and fill the gap underneath with a towel before calling a snake catcher.
Mr Collett said knowing first aid for a snake bite can save lives.
“No one goes near the snake, do not attempt to catch it and just call your local snake catcher,” he said.
“Each year, 2000 to 3000 people are bitten by snakes. About 300 of them actually require the anti-venom that is administered for a snake bite here in Australia.”
If someone is bitten, it is imperative that the snake bite is treated as venomous, the person remains calm so the venom doesn’t spread around the body as quickly, an ambulance is called and first aid is applied.
Mr Collett said it is important to know first aid and have a snake bite bandage handy close by whenever you can.
“Remove any jewellery on that limb, get your pressure bandage, go around the bite site three times, one wrap below and then straight up that limb,” he said.
“You don’t need to worry about taking your clothes off, go straight over it, remain as calm as possible and get yourself to hospital.”
Deaths from snake bites are becoming increasingly rare, with only two to three recorded in Australia each year.