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Ornamental snake

Common name: ornamental snake

Scientific name: Denisonia maculata

Family: Elapidae

Conservation status: The ornamental snake is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a medium priority under the department's Back on Track species prioritisation framework.


The ornamental snake has a stout body and grows to a total length of approximately 50cm. The overall body colour is brown, greyish brown or almost black, while the undersides are cream, often with darker streaks or flecks on the outer edges of the belly. The entire head, and at least the fore-body, is very finely peppered with dark brown or black. Lips distinctly barred. The mid-body scales are smooth and in rows of 17.

Habitat and distribution

Lower-lying subtropical areas with deep-cracking clay soils and adjacent slightly elevated ground of clayey and sandy loams, is the preferred habitat for this species. The species is also found in vegetation of woodland and shrub-land, including some brigalow Acacia harpophylla, and also riverside woodland and open forest, particularly on natural levees.

The ornamental snake is endemic to Queensland and is restricted to the Dawson and Fitzroy River drainage system, south-west of Rockhampton in central coastal Queensland. The species is sparsely distributed across its geographic range and is not known to have experienced range declines, although the extent of habitat clearance in the region, suggests it is likely to be at risk of extinction.

Life history and behaviour

The ornamental snake is a nocturnal species which shelters under fallen timber and bark and in deep soil cracks. During dry periods, the species typically seeks refuge within soil cracks on gilgai mounds within the habitat area. It is regarded as being potentially dangerous and has a very distinctive defence posture. For example, it greatly depresses its body and holds itself in a series of stiff curves, from which it will thrash about and bite savagely if approached. It is also capable of flattening its body when aroused or when squeezing through a narrow space.

This species feeds almost exclusively on frogs. Foraging occurs at night around water and in damp nearby sites. Females bear live young and litter size ranges between six and eight.

Threatening processes

Potential threats to this species include habitat loss due to land clearing and thinning operations and grazing pressure. The species occurs in the Brigalow Belt bioregion, where the majority of natural vegetation has been cleared for agriculture, mining and urban development, and has been degraded by overgrazing of stock.

Due to its diet of frogs the ornamental snake is also susceptible to being lethally poisoned by ingesting cane toads which are abundant in its range.

Recovery actions

  • Conduct field surveys to clarify the extent of the species geographic range, its habitat preferences, and the extent of its occurrence in protected areas.
  • Identify key habitat throughout the Queensland Brigalow Belt (QBB) bioregion and priority areas for conservation in local government regions and develop management guidelines to protect these areas on private and state-controlled land.
  • Negotiate management agreements with landholders that are in line with recommended management guidelines to protect key habitat and priority areas.
  • Implement monitoring programs in key habitat and priority conservation areas.
  • Conduct community awareness of this species and other priority reptile species in Queensland.

What can be done to help this species?

  • Become involved in community-based on-ground projects (e.g. fencing remnants to reduce grazing impacts, weed and feral predator control, reptile monitoring and field surveys) and help protect habitat across a suite of land tenures, particularly on non-reserved lands.
  • Help protect threatened reptiles in the QBB bioregion by supporting integrated pest management activities which seek to address feral animal threats (e.g. pigs, cats, foxes).
  • In areas of known and potential habitat, implement appropriate grazing regimes to alleviate grazing pressure (if confirmed as a threat).
  • Report sightings of this and other threatened reptiles of the QBB bioregion to the Queensland Government by contacting the WildNet Team ().

Related information

Department of the Environment and Energy (DOEE) 2017. Denisonia maculata Ornamental snake: in Species Profile and Threats Database. DOEE, Canberra.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 2011. Draft EPBC Act referral guidelines for the nationally listed Brigalow Belt reptiles. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Canberra.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 2011. Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened reptiles. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Canberra.

Ehmann H 1992. Encyclopedia of Australian animals: reptiles. Angus & Robertson. Pymble, New South Wales.

Queensland Murray-Darling committee. WWF-Australia, Threatened Species Network (Australia). 2008. Reptiles of the Brigalow Belt: an information kit. WWF-Australia and Queensland Murray Darling Committee, Toowoomba, Queensland.

Wilson S. 2015. A field guide to reptiles of Queensland (second edition). New Holland, Sydney, New South Wales.

Last updated
12 July 2017