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The visiting snake was first found in the engine of the dinghy.
Photo: Rebecca Clark

November 15, 2001
A Venomous Visitor
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

Snakes in Australia receive a lot of bad publicity. As a result, most people fear them. It is true that this country is home to more poisonous snakes than any other, with 115 of the 172 species being venomous. However, snakes in general are not particularly aggressive with the majority of snakebites caused by people trying to kill the snake, rather than simply avoiding it or leaving it alone. Snakes are not interested in attacking humans and will only do so when disturbed or threatened.

Of course all of this was in the forefront of our minds yesterday when Odyssey First Mate, Joe Boreland climbed into the dinghy and was surprised by the presence of a small snake, weaving its way up the leg of the engine in what appeared to be an effort to escape the sea. Initially, we assumed it was a curious sea snake, animals well known to be fatally toxic. Joe very carefully used a pole to assist the snake back to where we assumed it would prefer to be, in the water.

After being placed in the water, it found its way to the 'bobstay' chain.
Photo: Chris Johnson

After a few moments, it once again went straight for the dinghy engine. Again we gently returned it to the sea. By this time we were afforded more of an opportunity to observe the snake and noticed that rather than having the flattened oar-shaped tail of a sea snake, an adaptation to an aquatic lifestyle, this snake's tail had a tapered end akin to terrestrial species.

Next, the snake swum along the starboard side of the Odyssey and was now entwined in the chain of the bobstay, furling itself around the links, until it was well out of reach of water. With several boats using the harbor for both recreational purposes as well as confiscated illegal fishing boats, it seemed highly likely that their had been some sort of human intervention which landed a terrestrial snake over a mile off shore.

Not wanting to disturb or risk injuring the snake, we notified the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) to come out to the Odyssey to collect and hopefully identify the animal. The snake was placed in a large plastic container with some vegetation and was taken back to head office by Michael Greenhalge of AQIS.

Michael Greenhalge of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services.
Photo: Chris Johnson

However, the exact species and origin of the snake remained a mystery until this afternoon when we took some images of the reptile to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The reptile curators recognised the animal as being a White-Bellied Mangrove snake. Darwin harbor is surrounded by mangrove forests where this snake is known to shelter and forage among the mangrove roots and intertidal channels. The snake moves across the mud flats at low tide, usually at night where is searches for small fish and crabs. The many variations in color and pattern, and the fact that it was found some distance from its usual habitat made this animal quite difficult to identify. We were advised by Paul Horner of the museum that it was definitely one of the 115 species of venomous snake, with relatively large fangs situated toward the back of the upper jaw. Although very small, size does not seem to play any role in the level of toxicity where many snakes are concerned.

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Darwin.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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