What to do if you see a snake – and how to avoid them
Summer is a favourite season amongst Aussies. Clear blue skies, perfect beach weather and the fact that you can walk outside without wearing 10 layers of clothing are just amongst some of the pros when it comes to the warmer months.
But summer also brings about a deadly predator in Australia – snakes.
Snake season has well and truly begun, with four attacks in Victoria over a period of four hours, hospitals are now alert as an increase in snake attack victims is expected.
So how can you make sure you aren’t one of them? It’s important to stay cautious when it comes to the slithering reptile, so follow these tips to ensure you know exactly what to do if you find yourself in that position.
What to do if you see a snake
You may have heard of this advice, but while it may seem like a bizarre concept, there’s a reason it’s always repeated.
When coming across a snake stay still, don’t panic and move away slowly.
Victoria’s Environment Department said do not poke or prod it as that may trigger an angry response and will attack if it feels threatened.
Instead, call a professional to remove the snake for you. Licensed snake catchers are usually just a phone call away, and for a small price, will safely remove the snake for you.
Other ways to prevent snakes from entering the home are keeping the house clutter-free and making sure the lawns are cut short.
Also observe your pet’s behaviour, as when animals get bitten by snakes then they cannot verbally speak up, which is why if you see symptoms such as vomiting, salivation, lethargy, or collapsing then take them directly to the vet.
What to do if you are bitten
First things first, call triple zero.
As you wait for emergency services to arrive, it’s important you remain as still as possible, as any form of movement can spread the poison around the body.
And whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of the common myth, which is to suck the venom out of the wound.
It’s important for medical professionals to be able to correctly identify the type of venom as not only does it help with identifying the snake, but they are also able to prescribe a proper treatment.
According to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, do not wash the area of the bite, cut the bite or apply a high tourniquet. Instead, get yourself a pressure bandage and wrap it tightly around the area affected to stop the venom from spreading further.
Speaking to The Age, Dr Timothy Jackson, a venom expert from the University of Melbourne, says that the number one priority should be getting to a hospital.
“It is true many bites do not result in serious envenoming or cause life-threatening consequences. However, every bite should be treated as if it could be,” he said.
“The most important thing for people to do is get to a hospital as rapidly as possible while remaining calm. It doesn’t matter whether you have been bitten or envenomed or not – let the doctors worry about that.”
What happens when snakes bite
Snake attacks happen by the hundreds every year, but a study conducted by the University of Melbourne’s Australian Venom Research Unit discovered that only 35 people died from snake bites between the years 2000 and 2016 in Australia.
Dr Jackson said that each snake bite varies in effect.
“It depends on a lot of things, the combination of the amount of venom delivered, the physiology of the person,” he says.
“We sometimes see people collapsing rapidly, sometimes people feel fairly well and then feel sick hours later. There is a huge variation in response.”
The Australian Snakebite Project undertook a decade-long study and compiled a list of the most common consequences resulting from snake venom which resulted in:
- Coagulopathy – a disorder that causes excessive bleeding: 73%
- Myotoxicity – a toxic effect on muscles: 17%
- Acute kidney injury: 12%
- Severe complications including cardiac arrest: 2.9%
- Major haemorrhage: 1.6%
The most common area for snakes to bite is the lower or upper leg.
Which snakes bite
The Australian Snakebite Project says the most common snake bites reported come from brown snakes (41%), then tiger snakes (17%) and red-bellied black snakes (16%).
“The venoms are different,” says Dr Jackson.
“The important consequence from both brown and tiger snakes is quite similar, which is the way they affect the blood. They attack certain components of the coagulation cascade which allows blood to clot after injury. Both venoms attack in a similar way, though brown snakes do it faster and harder, and have more potent toxins in their venom.
“The end result is the blood can’t clot … then any bleeding, especially internally, can become very dangerous.
“With tiger snakes we see more neurotoxicity, so an effect on the nervous system. That’s rare with brown snakes.”
From the years 2005 to 2015, 23 deaths were reported, and out of the 23, 17 of those were due to fatal bites from brown snakes, and four to tiger snakes. The remaining two were from unknown species.
According to Dr Jackson, red-bellied black snakes are the least fatal out of the three snakes.
“It’s the much less dangerous of the three. Most people will not need anti-venom – though let the doctor decide that.”
Raymond Hoser, a snake catcher based in Melbourne, spoke to The Age about when snakes are more likely to come out of hibernation.
“People think peak season [for snakes] is summer and it’s not … snakes are more active now,” he said.
“The main thing is it’s seasonal, they come out of hibernation and are all out and about. They are eating more, they are mating, and they move to unusual places because they are mating. And because the weather is changing you have to move from cooler to warmer spots.”
It is illegal to capture, harm or kill snakes under the Wildlife Act 1975.