Fourteen species of snakes are found in the Canberra region, including twelve species of Elapids, one Python and one Blind Snake.
Elapids or front-fanged or fixed-fang snakes, are characterized by hollow, fixed fangs through which they inject venom into their victims. Most are highly dangerous to humans. Worldwide there are 65 genera and 325 species of elapid. The shortest is 18cm (Drysdalia) and the longest 5.6m (king cobra). There has been a great amount of instability of the nomenclature of many Australian snake taxa, particularly concerning the generic classification of the smaller elapids, some of which have been placed in several different genera in the last few decades. Further genetic research may lead to more changes.
While we may quote maximum length for snakes, they grow throughout their lives and most never reach the maximum length.
The most commonly encountered snakes are the larger species. Around Canberra the most likely encounter is a Common Brown Snake and to a lesser extent the Red-bellied Black Snake and Common Tiger snake. In higher altitudes around 1000 metres, the Highland Copperhead is more common than other species. While White-lipped snakes are a also common in higher altitudes, they are less likely to be observed because of their cryptic nature. Many snakes seem to be rare for a variety of reasons - we hope that Canberra Nature Mappers will find more examples of rarer snakes.
To obtain a better understanding of snake distribution, data on the Atlas of Living Australia, which contains many historical records, has been used.
Many of the snakes found in the Canberra Region are dangerous. Most elapids or front fang snakes and are highly venomous. Fatalities have resulted from the bite of three of the local species. Generally snakes are shy timid animals but may react if cornered or defending a nest. It is advised that when photographing snakes do not approach any closer than three metres. The vast majority of snake-bites occur when people are trying to catch or kill snakes so don’t. Wear boots and loose trousers, and possibly gaiters, when out in the bush and don’t put your hands in places that you can’t see them.