Animals

Snakes

PIJ #58, Mar – May 1996

Let’s have a closer look at what is possibly the world’s most maligned creature. St Patrick achieved immortality by ridding Ireland of all snakes. Well, I’m afraid I’m not that good, but here are a few tips that may help you avoid a nasty run in with our scaly friends.

Strange Tenants

Permaculturists face a bit of a dilemma when it comes to wildlife, the use of deep mulch, swales, compost heaps and the absence of toxic sprays means that often, you are not the only one who loves to dwell in your hard won paradise.

At this point, I feel compelled to leap to the defence of the serpents. Time and again I have been called to people’s homes in order to remove an inconvenient reptile, to find that there are sheets of tin lying around, straw bales stacked against the house and various other ‘engraved invitations’ for the local snakes to take up residence.

Most problems can be avoided by following a few easy guidelines. First of all we need to discover what exactly appeals to the average serpent. If you keep grains or other feeds around, it’s a good idea to keep them in a completely sealable bin. No, snakes don’t think much of cereal, unless we have some new age vegetarian snakes out there. However, cereal attracts rodents and they are a favourite prey for snakes the world over. Basically, if we don’t get our rodents under control, a snake will move in and take care of it for us, free of charge.

Straw bales, tin sheeting, and old newspapers are prime nesting places for snakes and should be stacked well away from the house, and wherever the kids normally play. When the time comes to use these materials, wear sturdy gloves, boots and jeans, or the like (even, in fact especially, if it’s hot!). Of course, the grass near the house should be kept down to a couple of inches. On warm summer nights, take a torch if wandering outside, snakes will often curl up on a path to soak up the remaining warmth.

Snake and Goanna Proofing

You’re just sitting down to a quiet breakfast on an especially warm sunny morning, when all hell breaks loose in the chook shed. There you find yourself negotiating the dining arrangements with a large and rather disgruntled reptile. Not keen? Well here’s how to avoid this scenario.

The smaller venomous snakes, like browns and taipans, are unlikely to eat chickens, or eggs for that matter.

Goannas and pythons, however, find your poultry pursuits an irresistible and easy snack. Excluding them requires heavy gauge wire mesh with one inch holes, even over the top, as goannas are expert climbers. Even large pythons can squeeze through remarkably small openings, so gaps around doors or under the sides of your shed need to be fairly flush.
Hint: rubber strips cut from old tyres can be nailed to the edges of the doors to close off the gaps. A draft and snake stopper.

Close Encounters

Should you have a close encounter with a snake at home, please remember that most bites are the result of someone trying to kill the animal or not looking where they’re putting their feet. No matter how repulsive you might find snakes, I can assure you the feeling’s mutual, the animal will just want to get away. Back away from the snake, but keep an eye on it and see where it goes. Then call a professional handler to remove it.

In the rare event that someone is bitten, it is vital that the patient be kept calm and the limb immediately immobilised. Symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulty and drooping eyelids usually begin to occur within fifteen minutes to two hours, depending on the snake and the victim’s health, weight, and so on. Do not cut the wound to let the poison out, and do not wash the wound, as venom around the wound will help identify the snake. This is important in order to administer the right antivenom.

Tourniquets are not a good idea either as they restrict blood flow so much they can permanently damage the limb. They are used only in the absence of elastic bandages, which are usually in even the most basic First Aid kit. The best thing to do is wrap the arm/leg firmly in elastic bandage from the bite site to the top of the limb and back down to the end. Then splint the limb to keep it still. The patient should be then transported to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. With the correct first aid and antivenin, the vast majority of bite victims make a full recovery in a matter of days. Take the time to identify your local snakes, besides being a fascinating subject, you may find you have several species of which only one is dangerous! The rest may provide free rodent and insect control. When all pros and cons are weighed up, snakes are a vital part of the planet’s ecosystems, deserving respect perhaps, rather than contempt. Cheers, and happy cohabitation!

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2 Comments

  1. great article!

    i don’t know much about snakes in Australia, but i know a lot about snakes in America. at least in our context it’s important to remember that while gloves are a good idea when going into snakey territory, they do not provide good protection from species with long fangs! all of our pit vipers possess the ability to readily and easily puncture a glove and the skin beneath it. i speak from experience on this! snake teeth are very sharp as they must be since they are the only thing they possess with which to grip prey.

    thanks for the wonderful write up!

    peace

  2. Miller, this is the one advantage we have in Australia. Although we have the fourteen snakes with the most toxic venom in Australia, they mostly have relatively short fangs which wont penetrate too far through gloves. This is also why a pressure bandage works with them so well: the venom initialy circulates through the lymphatic system, which is effectively blocked by such a bandage. I dont know how one would manage if the venom was injected directly into a vein.

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