Snakes of the Mt Isa region
There can be great variation between individuals within a single species of snake and the descriptions below are based on general characters. It can be difficult to positively identify some snakes. Never approach snakes and never assume that they are non-venomous.
Front-fanged venomous snakes (family Elapidae)
This family includes front-fanged, venomous land snakes. Although this encompasses the highly venomous snakes of Australia, the venom of most species is harmless to humans. The venom injected by these snakes is used to immobilise or kill prey - sometimes a combination of toxic venom and constriction is used. These snakes are known to feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles (including other snakes) and amphibians.
Common death adder Acanthophis antarcticus and northern death adder Acanthophis praelongus
Warning: Highly venomous
The death adder is variable in colour, usually with contrasting cross-bands and has a large, almost triangular head and stout body. The thin rat-like tail ends in a curved soft spine and the tip is cream or black. Its shape and colouration mean that it could initially be mistaken for a blue-tongued lizard or one of the larger ground-dwelling skinks (and vice-versa). During the day they can be found buried in sand, soil or leaves, often at the base of a tree. When disturbed, they remain where they are and rely on their camouflage for protection, resorting to a lightning fast strike when the threat becomes too great. It feeds on reptiles, mammals and birds, and attracts prey by using the tail as a lure. The average size of a death adder is 0.4m with a maximum length of 1m.
King brown snake Pseudechis australis
The king brown snake, also known as the mulga snake, ranges in colour from coppery to reddish-brown and dark olive-brown with a cream to salmon-coloured belly, often with orange blotches. They occur in most areas of Australia. At night they feed on small mammals, frogs and reptiles, including other snakes. It is a member of the black snake family and is not a true brown snake. The king brown snake grows to an average length of 1.5 m (reaching a maximum length of 2 m).
Eastern brown snake Pseudonaja textilis
Warning: Highly venomous
The eastern brown snake varies widely in colour from light tan to almost black. The belly ranges from cream to orange with darker orange blotches. To add confusion, hatchlings may have a darker head and neck band or can have dark cross-bands along their entire length. These patterns gradually disappear with age. The eastern brown snake occurs in a variety of habitats ranging from grassland through to eucalypt forests. It is distributed throughout all but the western parts of Queensland. Active during the day, the eastern brown snake feeds on frogs, birds, mammals and reptiles. If provoked, the snake will rear up and adopt an S-shape strike posture, and will bite if cornered or provoked. The eastern brown snake grows to an average length of 1.5m.
Ingram's brown snake Pseudonaja ingrami
Ingram's brown snake is grey-brown to rich-brown in colour with a dark grey or blackish head. This species is usually active during the day but can be active at night in hot conditions. It is generally found on black soils and tussock grasslands and will shelter in crevices on Mitchell grass plains. Ingram’s brown snake grows to an average length of 1 m (reaching a maximum length of 1.5 m).
Western brown snake Pseudonaja nuchalis
Warning: Highly venomous
The western brown snake, also known as the Gwardar, is a highly variable species ranging from light brown to almost black in colour above, but typically having orange spots on the belly. They are active primarily during the day, but may forage at night during the summer months. This species occurs in a variety of habitats ranging from dry forests and woodland to central deserts. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals and reptiles. Western brown snakes grow up to 1.5 m in length.
Ringed brown snake Pseudonaja modesta
Warning: large individuals should be treated with caution
The ringed brown snake varies in colour, ranging from pale grey-brown to reddish-brown with a black band on the head and neck. There are also four to seven narrow bands on the body that may fade or disappear as the snake gets older. Ringed brown snakes usually move around during the day but can also be active at night in warm weather. They shelter under ground debris or in spinifex. The ringed brown snake grows up to a length of 50 cm.
Speckled brown snake Pseudonaja guttata
The speckled brown snake is variable in colour and pattern from uniform pale fawn to bright orange- brown above, while some specimens can have blackish-cross bands or blotches on the body and tail. The belly is creamy orange to bright orange with brighter orange spots. It occurs in tussock grasslands on black soil plains. The speckled brown snake grows to an average length of 50 cm (reaching a maximum length of 80 cm).
Bandy-bandy Vermicella annulata
The bandy-bandy can be distinguished from other Australian snakes by its alternating black and white bands (note some juvenile eastern brown snakes can also have black banding). It is a burrowing snake and feeds mostly on blind snakes. When alarmed this snake forms one or more loops held high off the ground to make it appear larger than its actual size. Bandy-bandy’s grow to an average length of 60 cm (although some specimens have reached 1 m in length).
Black whip snake Demansia vestigiata
Warning: Venomous/large individuals should be treated with caution
The black whip snake is grey or dark brown to black with each body scale marked with black. The belly is greyish, with the underparts of the tail reddish. When disturbed, the black whip snake expands its body revealing a distinct pattern of black spots and white dashes. It occurs in a range of habitats from open woodlands to dry forests and is active during the day feeding on small animals such as lizards. It grows to an average length of 1m.
Collett's snake Pseudechis colletti
Collett's snake is rich-brown to black above with irregular cross-bands of cream, pink or salmon-coloured scales. It is restricted to the black soil plains of central Queensland. Little is known of its habits. Collett’s snake can grow to a length of 1.5m.
Myall snake Suta suta
Warning: Venomous/bite can be painful
The myall snake (or curl snake) is pale fawn to reddish brown in colour with a darker brown or blackish hood on the head. A lighter brown stripe runs from the nostril over the eye. It is venomous but not regarded as dangerous although the bite can be extremely painful. Myall snakes can be found under fallen trees or rocks during the day. At night they feed on small lizards and mammals. They give birth to live young. Myall snakes grow to an average length of 40 cm (reaching a maximum length of 60 cm).
Little spotted snake Suta punctata
The little spotted snake is rich reddish-brown above with a white or cream belly. It has a short dark brown or black streak from the nostril through the eye with black flecks and spots on top of the head and neck. It is nocturnal and gives birth to two to five live young. The little spotted snake grows to an average length of 40 cm.
Marble-headed whip snake Demansia olivacea sensu lato
Warning: venomous/large individuals should be treated with caution
The marble-headed whip snake, also known as olive whip snake, is grey-brown in colour above. The sides of the head are distinctively marked with a dark, purplish-brown streak from the lower hind corner of the eye to the angle of the mouth. It occurs in semi-arid stony ranges in north-western Queensland. The marble-headed whip snake is similar to the yellow-faced whip snake in its behaviour and it feeds on lizards. The marble-headed whip snake grows to a length of 80 cm.
Orange-naped snake Furina ornata
This snake is light or dark orange or red-brown above with a cream belly. It has a distinct brownish to black head with an orange-red band across the nape. It lives in open forest where it feeds on skinks using weak venom. It grows up to 40cm in length.
This snake belongs to a group of small snakes, none exceeding 60 cm. They share a characteristic pair of black bars on the head - one between and including the eyes, and a broader one across the nape. This particular species is pale brown to dull pink with individual scales sometimes with darker edges. It is creamy white underneath. Simoselaps incinctus grow to an average length of 30 cm.
Yellow-faced whip snake Demansia psammophis
Warning: Venomous/large individuals should be treated with caution
The yellow-faced whip snake has a dark yellow-edged bar around the front of the nose and a dark comma-shaped streak from the eye to the mouth. Whip snakes are slender with whip-like tails. They are active during the day, very agile and usually escape quickly when disturbed. It can grow to an average length of 80cm.
Non-venomous and rear-fanged venomous snakes (family Colubridae)
This family includes a small group of snakes with a range of specialised characteristics and habits. Some of these species are arboreal while others favour semi-aquatic habitats. These snakes are either solid-toothed and non-venomous or rear-fanged and weakly venomous. They eat small prey including frogs, lizards, birds and rodents.
Brown tree snake Boiga irregularis
Warning: Venomous (rear-fanged). Bites from large individuals should be monitored carefully.
The brown tree snake is sometimes known as the 'doll's eye' or 'night tiger', names referring to its doll-like yellow eyes and banded body. It is usually brown to reddish-brown with irregular darker cross-bands. The brown tree snake is mainly found in eucalypt woodland but also occurs in rainforest. It is nocturnal and is generally found in trees. The snake eats mainly birds and their eggs, but will also prey upon small mammals, frogs and reptiles. The species is rear-fanged with weak venom. It can grow up to 2m long.
Common or green tree snake Dendrelaphis punctulata
The common tree snake is highly variable in colour and is also known as green tree snake, yellow-bellied or blue-bellied black snake. The body is extremely slender and can be either grey, olive-green, various shades of brown, black, even blue and turquoise. When disturbed it can inflate its body to show patches of bright blue skin between the body scales. The underside is usually cream or yellow or light blue in some individuals. Common tree snakes are found in a variety of habitat types, but are usually seen in eucalypt woodland or rainforest areas. They are active during the day in trees and on the ground, feeding mostly on frogs and birds. They grow to an average length of 1.5m.
Keelback Tropidonophis mairii (also known as freshwater snake)
The keelback or freshwater snake’s head and neck are grey-green or brown with the body grey-green to brown typically with cross-bands of darker flecks. Upper body scales are strongly keeled or ridged. A loreal scale is present (a scale situated between the nasal scale and scales directly in front of eye), distinguishing it from the venomous rough-scaled snake. The keelback is found in and around creeks, rivers and marshlands. It feeds largely on frogs (including cane toads) that it actively pursues during the day or night. It grows to an average length of 0.5m. Caution: this snake closely resembles the venomous and dangerous rough-scaled snake.
Pythons: non-venomous constrictors (family Boidae)
Most pythons are large snakes well equipped for detecting, immobilising and consuming large prey. Pythons are mostly nocturnal, but are known to bask in the sun during the cooler months. They are non-venomous, with backward curving solid-teeth (no fangs). Pythons kill by coiling around their prey and squeezing until suffocation occurs - a technique known as constriction. Pythons feed largely on mammals, reptiles and birds. Most have heat-sensing pits along the lower jaw to locate warm-blooded prey. These pits can detect temperature changes of less than one-thirtieth of a degree.
Black-headed python Aspidites melanocephalus
The black-headed python is dark brown above, often lighter on the sides with numerous brown or blackish cross-bands. Its head, neck and throat are black. It is generally found inland. It is mostly active at night but can be diurnal during the cooler months. It feeds largely on reptiles, including venomous snakes although small mammals and birds are occasionally taken. This species does not have the heat-sensing pits on the lower jaw that are found in other pythons. It grows to an average length of 1.5m (reaching a maximum length of 2.5m).
Carpet python Morelia spilota
The carpet python has many colour variations ranging from pale to darker greyish-green or brown. It has black-edged pale blotches enclosing pale yellow spots and markings. The belly is cream or yellow, variegated with dark grey scales. The scales on top of the head are granular (there are no large head shields between the eyes). It is often found in trees, sometimes living in another animals' burrow. These pythons are often encountered on the road on warm spring and summer nights in all habitat types within their range. They are mainly active at night, feeding on mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs. They grow to an average length of 2m (specimens are known to exceed 4m).
Children's python Antaresia childreni
The Children's python has no distinct pattern but they can have brown blotches over a lighter brown upper surface. They are nocturnal and feed on small mammals, birds and reptiles. Although mainly terrestrial, they can be found in trees, caves and rock crevices. Children’s pythons grow to an average length of 75cm (reaching a maximum length of 1m).
Olive python Liasis olivaceus
The olive python varies in colour from pale fawn to rich brown or dull-olive brown. Like most pythons, it feeds on small mammals and birds. They are active at night but can be found basking in the sun during the day. They are most common in rocky hills and ranges. Olive pythons grow to an average length of 2.5m (reaching a maximum length of 4m).
Stimson's python Antaresia stimsoni
Stimson's python is rich, light brown in colour with a pattern of darker blotches, often giving it a banded appearance. In arid environments Stimson's python can be found on rock outcrops and stony ranges. On sandy plains they are found in trees, large termite mounds and clumps of spinifex. They feed on small mammals and birds. Stimson’s pythons grow to an average length of 75cm (reaching a maximum length of 1m).
File snakes (family Acrochordidae)
Arafura file snake Acrochordus arafurae
Although mostly found in freshwater, file snakes do enter estuarine waters and the sea. This snake is very agile in the water but virtually helpless on land. Their skin is very loose and covered in fine, pointed scales giving it the appearance and texture of a file. They feed mostly on fish and give birth to live young. The Arafura file snake grows to an average length of 1.5m (reaching a maximum length of 2.5m).
Blind snakes (family Typhlopidae)
Blind snakes are small, smooth, worm-like burrower with glossy, close fitting scales and their tails are bluntly rounded, ending in a short spur. They have small, dark spots for eyes which probably only sense light and dark. These snakes feed on termites and the eggs, larvae and pupae of ants and are often encountered foraging on the surface at night following rain. Blind snakes are non-venomous and the structure of their mouths makes them incapable of biting humans. However they do have well developed anal glands that secrete a strong smell when disturbed.
Legless lizards (family Pygopodidae)
Some backyard reptile encounters may involve a small snake-like creature that could be a legless lizard. Unlike snakes, legless lizards have external ear openings, broad fleshy tongues and belly scales that are the same size as those on their upper body. Remnants of hind limbs (flaps) can be seen. Legless lizards are non-venomous burrowers that live in moist, dark areas. They feed on insects and small reptiles, and are usually found in or near compost bins and vegetable gardens or under leaf litter.
Some skinks (family Scincidae) that live in leaf litter or burrow in the ground also have reduced or absent limbs. These skinks share many of the characteristics of legless lizards.