Snakes of South-East Queensland
There is great variation between individuals within a single species of snake. The descriptions below are based on general characteristics. It can be difficult to positively identify some snakes. Never approach snakes and never assume that they are non-venomous.
Snakes of greater BrisbaneTwenty-seven species of terrestrial snake are found in the Brisbane area. The combination of native habitat and the introduction of exotic animals have influenced the distribution of some species of snake. Some snakes can be found in suburban backyards and even in the city centre. The most commonly encountered species are the carpet python, common tree snake, keelback, yellow-faced whip snake, white-crowned snake and eastern small-eyed snake.
It is important to note that a number of venomous snakes are found in and around Brisbane, including the coastal taipan, tiger snake, death adder, rough-scaled snake and eastern brown snake. Of these snakes only the eastern brown snake is regularly found in Brisbane's suburbs.
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
The common 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. It feeds on reptiles, mammals and birds, and attracts prey by using the tail as a lure. It is rare to absent in Brisbane but is known from Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious. The average size of the common death adder is 0.4 metres (m) with a maximum length of 1m.
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. It is uncommon in the settled areas of Brisbane but occasional sightings do occur. More commonly it is found in bushland and rural areas of the greater Brisbane area. The eastern brown snake grows to an average length of 1.5m.
Eastern small-eyed snake Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens
The eastern small-eyed snake closely resembles the red-bellied black snake with a shiny black back and sides and a pink belly often with a row of dark spots. The pink does not extend onto the sides as it does in the red-bellied black snake. Its eyes are minute and black and barely noticeable from surrounding scales. It favours dark areas under sheets of tin, rocks and bark on fallen logs and feeds on small reptiles and occasionally frogs. It lives in open forest, rainforest, pasture and agricultural land. The small-eyed snake feeds mainly on skinks and geckos. It gives birth to up to eight young. The eastern small-eyed snake grows to an average length of 0.5m. It is common throughout Brisbane.
Black-bellied swamp snake or marsh snake Hemiaspis signata
Warning: Venomous—treat bites from large specimens with caution
The marsh snake is olive to grey above with a grey to black belly. It has two narrow pale lines on each side of the face running through the upper lip and from the eye onto the neck. This snake preys on frogs and skinks and bears up to 20 live young. This small snake can grow up to 50cm. It is found throughout Brisbane in wet areas including rainforest, creeks and wetlands.
Red-bellied black snake Pseudechis porphyriacus
The red-bellied black snake is shiny black above with a red belly (sometimes pinkish or white). It is superficially similar to the small-eyed snake. These snakes occur in a variety of habitats near water but are more frequently encountered in wetter vegetation communities. They are active during the day and are often found basking in sunny patches in grass. Red-bellied blacks feed primarily on frogs but also eat small mammals and reptiles. They bear live young. It can grow to an average length of 2m. This species was once common across Brisbane but is believed to have decreased in numbers due to the impacts of preying on cane toads. It is now restricted to the cooler areas north and south of Brisbane.
Red-naped snake Furina diadema
Warning: Venomous/not considered dangerous
The red-naped snake has a red or orange nape that is usually enclosed by a black head and neck band. However, in some individuals, the nape is a complete band causing confusion with the orange-naped snake. The red-naped snake is reddish-brown above, with flanks lighter in colour, most scales bear a dark brown or black diagonal edging. It is common in coastal and central western Queensland and is nocturnal, feeding on skinks. It can grow up to an average length of 0.4m.
Rough-scaled snake Tropidechis carinatus
Warning: Venomous/potentionally dangerous
The rough-scaled snake is olive to greyish above with black flecks forming irregular bands or blotches and a greenish grey belly. The head is clearly distinct from its neck. Rough-scaled snakes get their name from raised lines or keels on the scales covering their backs and sides. This snake can be confused with the keelback (freshwater snake), which also has strongly keeled scales, and both can occur near water (see keelback description for differences). It occurs across a range of wetter habitats and feeds on small mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs. This species can grow up to 1m in length. This species is more common in the hinterland areas of Brisbane including the D'Aguilar Range.
Spotted black-snake Pseudechis guttatus
The spotted black snake is also called the blue-bellied black snake. It is variable in colour ranging from black and dark grey with white or cream spotting on individual scales through to a pale form where the scales are cream with black tips. The belly can be either grey or blue-grey. The spotted black snake occurs in open forest, grassland and pasture areas, particularly near wetlands, including the Mount Crosby, Lockyer and Brisbane valleys. It feeds on frogs, small reptiles and mammals. It can grow up to 1.5m in length.
Coastal taipan Oxyuranus scutellatus
Warning: Highly venomous
The coastal taipan is light to pale brown above and paler on the sides. The snout and lower jaw is paler than the rest of the body, usually pale-yellow in colour. The head is rectangular ('coffin-shaped') with a distinct neck. They have large eyes with a reddish-copper iris and round pupils. Taipans are mostly active during the day, feeding on small mammals in eucalypt woodland, grassland, grassy beach dunes, pastures and cane fields. Taipans will defend themselves aggressively if provoked. They grow to an average length of 2.6m. This species occurs outside the Greater Brisbane area and has been found at Beaudesert, Canungra, Camp Mountain, Closeburn and Ipswich. They grow to an average length of 2.6m.
Eastern tiger snake Notechis scutatus
Eastern tiger snakes vary widely in colour from light grey to almost black often with narrow cross-bands made up of lighter yellow-edged scales. Its belly is lighter in colour, ranging from cream and yellow to grey. The snake is found in a wide range of habitats and feeds mainly on frogs. It is not known from the Brisbane area but has been recorded in moist, dense rainforest including Bunya Mountains and the Lamington plateau, and wetter coastal heaths around Caloundra and Beerwah. The eastern tiger snake can grow up to 1.2m in length.
White-crowned snake Cacophis harriettae
Warning: Venomous. Not dangerous to humans
The white-crowned snake is dark grey above, with a light grey belly and a broad white band across the neck, sweeping forward around the side of the head and across the snout, creating the ‘crown’. The crown surrounds the black scales on the top of the head. It is considered to be one of the most common snakes in Brisbane, even occurring in the inner city. It inhabits compost heaps and damp areas of gardens. A similar species, the dwarf crowned snake, has a thinner white band around the top of the head and is slightly shorter in length (0.35m). This species grows to an average length of 0.4m.
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. This species can be found throughout Brisbane.
Pythons: non-venomous constrictors (family Boidae)
Most pythons are large snakes well equipped for detecting, immobilising and consuming large prey. Pythons are generally 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.
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).This species is found throughout Brisbane and has even been found in the centre of the city.
Spotted python Antaresia maculosa
The spotted python is generally light brown in colour with a series of darker brown blotches along the back giving the impression of irregular spots. It is found in a variety of habitats ranging from eucalypt woodland through to rainforest and is usually seen at night. It feeds on reptiles, birds and small mammals. The spotted python grows to an average length of 0.75m.
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. This snake occurs throughout Brisbane.
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.
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.