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Frequently asked questions

Snake identification

Are all snakes in Queensland venomous?

No, not all snakes are venomous.

Queensland is home to about 120 species of snakes. About 65 percent of these are venomous. Venom production is a characteristic of two groups of snakes; the front-fanged snakes (elapids) and some of the rear-fanged snakes (colubrids).

The elapids consist of 23 species of sea snakes and 51 species of land snakes, including some of the world's most venomous land snakes such as the taipan, brown snake and king brown snake (also known as mulga snake)

Five species of colubrid snakes, including the brown tree snake, produce weak venom delivered through fangs at the back of the mouth. Venom delivery is poor and these snakes do not pose a threat to human life. Five other species of colubrid snakes, including the common tree snake, lack fangs and venom altogether.

Ten species of pythons occurring in Queensland completely lack venom and fangs.

How do I tell if a snake is dangerous or not?

There is no hard-and-fast rule to distinguish a dangerous snake from a harmless one. For the untrained observer in particular, it can often be difficult to make a positive identification of different types of snakes. The general rule is always to be cautious and avoid coming into contact with any snake.

Different types of snakes do exhibit certain distinguishing features and behaviours that can be used to tell them apart. If you live in or are visiting an area where snakes are common, it is generally a good idea to become familiar with the characteristics of the different snakes you may encounter. This will help you become more aware of the common snakes you might expect to see and allow you to react appropriately if you do encounter them.

The descriptions below will help you to become familiar with some common snakes you may encounter. A variety of books and the Queensland Museum website provide additional information. Even snake skins that have been shed can be identified by matching them to descriptions of scale patterns and scale counts given in snake identification guides.

Can you identify a snake accurately by its colour?

You should not try to identify snakes by their colour alone. Snakes vary greatly in their colour and patterns between species and within species. Some experts can identify snakes by sight but the most accurate way is by looking at physical characteristics like the number of scales around the mid-body, types of scales on the head and the types of teeth. Catching a snake to identify it can be extremely dangerous and is illegal. If a photograph can be safely taken it can be compared with the snake identification pictures on this website or by going to the Queensland Museum website. If this doesn't provide an answer, the picture can be forwarded to the Queensland Museum for identification.

How do I tell the difference between a snake and a legless lizard?

Delma mitella
Delma mitella. Copyright: Qld Museum

Snakes are distinguished from lizards by the following combination of characteristics:

  • No limbs (some lizards also lack limbs or have reduced limbs).
  • No ear-opening (some lizards also don't have an obvious ear opening).
  • Long, slender, deeply-forked tongue - a characteristic shared with the strongly-limbed monitor lizards (goannas), while legless lizards have a broad, flat tongue.
  • Tail length less than one-third of body length.
  • Eye is covered by a transparent scale - eyes unable to blink (geckoes, flap-footed lizards and some skinks share this characteristic).
  • Wide ventral scales (scales on underbelly) - much wider than adjacent body scales (with the exception of 'worm-like' blind snakes and file snakes).

See snake identification for pictures

What snake is that?

The guide below outlines characteristics of the most commonly encountered snakes in Queensland. This information should only be used as a general guide and should not be relied upon to provide positive snake identification. Never approach snakes and never assume that they are non-venomous.

See snake identification for pictures and information about these and other snakes that live near you. Find out what snakes occur in your area using the Wildlife online database to create a species list of wildlife (including snakes) that have been recorded in your area.

For further information about snakes visit the Queensland Museum website, your local library or buy one of the guides to snakes or reptiles in your area.

Is it a tree snake?

A common tree snake
Common tree snake.

Tree snakes belong to the group of snakes known as colubrids. Three main species that are regularly encountered by people include the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis), common tree snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata) and northern tree snake (Dendrelaphis calligastra).

The brown tree snake, sometimes referred to as a 'doll's-eye' or 'night tiger' lives in coastal areas of the State and Cape York Peninsula, across a range of habitats from rainforest, mangroves and wet and dry sclerophyll forests, through to paperbark swamps and coastal heaths. It is a distinctive snake with large eyes, a broad head and thin neck and long slender body. Its body colour is brown to bright reddish-brown with many irregular, dark cross-bands. Its belly is cream to salmon-coloured. The brown tree snake grows to an average length of 1.5 metres, reaching a maximum of two metres. At night, this snake mostly forages in trees but will also hunt on the ground for small mammals, birds and their eggs, and lizards.

The brown tree snake is a regular visitor to aviaries and houses in both urban and bushland environments, often seen hunting for geckos around the window sills at night and taking refuge in roofs, walls and on exposed rafters during the day. The brown tree snake is not considered dangerous to people as it is weakly venomous and rear fanged. Nevertheless, it can become very aggressive when disturbed and will often rear up into a series of S-shaped loops before delivering rapid and accurate strikes.

The northern and common tree snakes are active during the day, spending most of their lives in trees or shrubs, but hunt on the ground for frogs, birds, reptiles and occasionally small mammals. They are slender and agile snakes with whip-like tails, often encountered by humans in the bush and around the house, but will usually quickly retreat. These snakes are completely harmless and will only bite as a last resort. They often emit an unpleasant smell when threatened. Unfortunately, they are sometimes killed when mistaken for venomous black snakes.

The common tree snake is widespread along the east coast of Queensland and Cape York Peninsula across a range of coastal, rainforest, wet and dry sclerophyll forests, and riverine environments. Their colours vary in different areas from grey to olive-green through various shades of brown to almost black or even blue above. The head of lighter-coloured specimens is often grey or brown, contrasting strongly with their body colour. The belly is usually lemon-yellow, varying from white to olive, yellow, green or even bluish. The species reaches an average length of 1.2m but can grow to 2m.

Northern tree snakes are found on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula, occupying a range of habitats from rainforest to tropical woodland, especially associated with streambeds, along tracks and around clearings. This species has an average length of 0.8m, reaching a maximum length of 1.2m.

Are tree snakes the only snakes that can climb?

No. Many types of snakes are agile climbers, especially pythons and some of the ground-dwelling venomous snakes.

Is it a python?

Pythons are bulky, relatively slow-moving, non-venomous snakes belonging to the group of snakes known as the boids (pronounced 'bo-ids'). These snakes are constrictors, meaning they kill prey, mainly birds and mammals, by coiling around it and squeezing until it suffocates. Pythons are mostly nocturnal, travelling along the ground and through trees, but are frequently found basking in the sun during the day. Ranging in size from about one metre to giant specimens up to eight metres. Pythons feature a variety of colours and patterns. Pythons generally have a triangular shaped head that is distinct from the neck and body. They possess a pair of spurs, one on either side of the cloacal opening near the base of the tail: reminders that they evolved from a four-legged reptile. For sensing warm-blooded prey, most pythons have heat pits on their bottom jaws.

Carpet pythons are commonly found throughout most of Queensland and occur in a wide range of environments from the coast through to semi-arid and inland habitats. These snakes have distinctive colours and patterns that vary across their range. Typical carpet pythons are pale to dark brown with blackish or very dark brown blotches or markings that create a regular pattern. These snakes normally grow to two metres, but some can reach four metres in length.

Is it a brown snake?

Not all brown snakes are brown in colour and not all brown-coloured snakes are brown snakes.

There are a number of species of brown snakes in Queensland. The one that is most commonly seen is the common or eastern brown snake. This snake occurs over all but the western-most parts of Queensland and across a wide range of habitats (the other species of brown snake occur in western and central Queensland). Like all brown snakes, the eastern brown is fast-moving and sun-loving, and is generally active during the day. It is particularly lively when the weather is extremely hot and is often found around houses and sheds where it searches for prey including rats, mice and lizards.

Adult eastern brown snakes are usually uniform in colour, being light brown, orange or black, with a slender streamlined body and small head. When they hatch a young brown snake usually has a black head (except for a brown snout) and a black band across its neck. Some hatchlings will have black bands across the entire length of their bodies. This species grows to an average length of about 1.5m but can reach a length of 2.4m.

When provoked, the snake curves itself into an S-shape to strike, raising its head from the ground and displaying orange spots on its belly. Eastern brown snakes can strike with extreme speed and ferocity, especially if cornered, and often a series of bites are inflicted in these situations. If bitten, the initial effects of the venom appear quickly - a severe headache develops within 15 minutes. Paralysis develops very slowly and the majority of patients receive antivenin before paralysis has occurred.

Is it a taipan?

Taipans have the unenviable reputation of being Australia's most deadly snakes. The longest venomous snake in the country, the coastal taipan reaches an average length of 2.5m, with a maximum length of 3.35m. The head of a coastal taipan is large, rectangular-shaped and distinct from its narrow neck. The eye is a reddish colour. Adult coastal taipans have a uniformly light or dark-brown colouration above with a creamy-yellow belly that usually has reddish or pink spots towards the front. These spots are not as distinct as on the brown snake. They mainly eat rats and mice, and taipans are commonly encountered by humans in sheds, farm buildings and waste heaps.

Coastal taipans occupy a wide range of habitats from tropical wet sclerophyll to dry forests and woodland. They are usually active during the day, but can be active at night during very hot weather. This is not a naturally aggressive snake and if disturbed, it will generally retreat. Humans are rarely bitten but, if a taipan is cornered or attacked, it will viciously defend itself, striking repeatedly with speed and accuracy. Taipans have very keen senses and are extremely alert.

Is it a red-bellied black snake?

A red bellied black snake
Red bellied black snake. Copyright: EHP

Red-bellied blacks are active during the day and night, and are often found near swamps, lagoons, streams and wet forests of eastern Queensland. Growing to two metres in length, they are iridescent black above with bright red or pink scales along the edge of the belly, fading to pink to white towards the middle belly. This species is generally shy and will only defend itself if cornered.

The small-eyed snake (maximum length 1.2m) looks similar to a red-bellied black snake, with a steely-black skin and pink belly scales that are just visible on the lower sides of the snake.

Keeping snakes away from your home

What attracts snakes into the yard or house?

Snakes are often attracted to yards and houses, when food and shelter are unknowingly provided by the human inhabitants. Brown snakes and taipans eat rodents and are attracted to garden or farm sheds to hunt rats and mice. Pythons regularly enter chicken pens and aviaries to prey on the occupants. They are also found in roof cavities hunting for rats and possums. Brown tree snakes are specialists at invading aviaries, often becoming trapped inside after they have eaten a bird. These snakes can also be found at night hunting for geckos around window sills in the home. Common tree snakes actively hunt frogs during the day and are often seen around the house and garden where frogs occur.

Houses and yards can also be used by snakes for shelter. Carpet pythons are regularly found curled up in ceilings, enjoying the security and warmth. A variety of snake species is often encountered in places such as timber piles and under sheets of corrugated iron.

How can I keep snakes out of my yard?

You can take measures to reduce the attractiveness of your yard or house to snakes. If you have a rock wall or other structure that has the potential to house frogs and rats, and in turn attract snakes, discourage these animals by blocking holes. Avoid creating habitat for snakes by keeping a tidy, well-maintained yard and shed. Actively discourage rats and mice, and snake-proof your aviaries and poultry pens.

How do I snake-proof my house?

Ensure that the yard is tidy with shrubs and gardens kept away from the house. Snakes will shelter in houses, under shrubs and in timber stacks to avoid the hottest parts of the day. It is also important to ensure that food scraps are disposed of properly to discourage rats and mice as snakes are attracted to places where they can obtain food. Bird owners should also discourage rodents by ensuring that aviaries are kept clean and hygienic and that the mesh is small enough to stop snakes entering.

Blocking off as many potential access points as possible can significantly reduce the chance of snakes entering your house. Install screens on doors and windows. Block any holes around the house including those between the roof and ceiling. Extra care should be taken during summer when the snakes are most active. In areas that experience flooding, snakes will move to higher ground during a flood. Take extra precautions at these times.

See living with snakes for more information on how create a snake-friendly environment at home.

Who should I contact if I have a snake at my home?

If there is a chance that a snake could find its way into your home you should have the number of a commercial snake catcher on hand. Snakes found on your premises can be removed and relocated by snake catchers authorised under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Contact details of local snake catchers can be obtained through the Yellow Pages or via the internet. It is important to remember that snakes are an important part of the environment and the relocated snake is often replaced by another living nearby. The best approach is to snake-proof your house.

Snake encounters

I have a snake in my house, what should I do?

It is important that you never try to kill the snake. Not only is it illegal to kill a native animal, but it places you at a higher risk of being bitten if you force the snake to defend itself.

Close the internal doors in the house and open the external doors and windows. Block the gaps underneath internal doors with rolled up towels. Place chairs and boxes under windows to make it easier for snakes to climb out. Keep everyone well clear of the snake.

If the snake is in a place away from electricity and valuable items, try directing a gentle jet of water from the garden hose or squirt bottle towards the snake to encourage it to move away. Remember that snakes on the move will try to shelter, so hosing the snake may not always work.

I found a snake in my back yard, can I keep it?

No. Under no circumstances can you keep a snake that you have found in the wild. All wildlife in Queensland is protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. It is an offence to keep wild animals, and fines and penalties may apply. If you want to keep a snake as a pet, you can legally acquire an animal that has been bred in captivity from an authorised reptile dealer. You will also need to obtain a wildlife licence from QPWS to keep the snake. Even if you have a wildlife permit, it cannot be used to take additional snakes from the wild. For more information about wildlife licences and permits visit Permit and Licence Management.

What do I do if I encounter a snake?

Don't panic. Back away to a safe distance and allow the snake to move away. Snakes often want to escape when disturbed. Remember, all native wildlife, including snakes, is protected.

I found an injured snake, what can I do?

Do not try to handle the snake. Injured snakes are particularly aggressive. Call the RSPCA Qld to obtain details for a rehabilitation permit holder to come and collect the snake.

I am worried that my children may be bitten while playing in the yard.

If this is a concern, it is important that steps are taken to minimise the chances of snakes being in your yard. See living with snakes for helpful advice. It is important that parents, teachers and childcare providers are aware of snakes and correct first aid in the event of a snake bite.

Setting a good example around wildlife is also something adults can do. If a child sees an adult kill a snake, they are more likely to show the same behaviour in a similar situation. It is important that children learn to respect snakes and are taught the correct way to behave around them.

Do all snakes bite?

Most snakes have the potential to bite a human, but will generally only bite as a last resort. Not all snake bites are harmful. Pythons do not have venom and colubrids (rear-fanged snakes) either have a weak venom or lack venom altogether. Bites from venomous elapids (front-fanged snakes) should be taken seriously and treated appropriately. For advice on avoiding and treating snake bites see Snake bites.

Snake myths

Is it true that dangerous snakes such as taipans etc. are interbreeding with pythons, and producing 'venomous pythons'? Does the taipan cross with the king brown to produce a fierce snake?

No. It is impossible for venomous and non-venomous species of snake to interbreed. Even closely related species are extremely unlikely to interbreed in the wild.

General snake information

Are snakes slimy?

No. Snake skin is very smooth and soft, similar to supple leather. Snake skin is often thought to be slimy as the skin often has a shiny appearance. Water pythons (Liasis mackloti) have a waxy layer protecting the scales, adding to their shiny appearance and the perception that they are slimy animals.

When are snakes most active?

Snake activity patterns change dramatically over the course of a year. Throughout the cool months, snakes and other reptiles are relatively inactive. Reptiles gain body warmth using external heat sources, either by basking in the sun or in warm places including rocks, near roads and even under the fridge!

All aspects of a snake's life rely on this external heat to function, whether it is to feed, find a mate, fight off disease and infection, or even just to pump blood around its body. As a result, they are not very active during winter.

As the months become warmer, particularly around September, snakes become active and are frequently encountered by people. This is the breeding and feeding season for snakes. A good guide to when a snake is likely to be active is if the species that it feeds on are active and abundant at that particular time and place. For example, frog-eating snakes are likely to be active on warm, humid nights near streams when frogs are breeding.

Is it true that snakes are faster than humans on land?

No. The fastest snake in the world is the black mamba of Africa and it can travel at around 12km/hr. Humans can easily run faster than this. Snakes soon tire, as moving rapidly uses their stored energy. The likelihood that a snake will give a persistent chase is small.

How do snakes reproduce?

Most species of snakes produce their young in eggs, while others give birth to live young. Egg-laying snakes lay white, elongated eggs with a dry skin-like shell. Eggs can vary in size and number and are usually deposited among leaf litter or rotting logs. Sites are carefully selected, as the eggs rely on natural moisture and heat for incubation.

Pythons may coil around their eggs to protect them, aiding incubation. Female pythons will even 'shiver' to generate heat to keep the eggs warm. Young snakes emerge from eggs with the use of their egg tooth - a projection on the top of the snout. The tooth is used to make slits in the shell through which the young snake can emerge.

Live-bearing species are also choosy about birth sites. Possible areas include thick grass, among tree roots or in and around debris, all providing the newborn snakes with suitable cover and protection from predators.

Young snakes are independent from birth.

Last updated
24 October 2013