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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, March 02, 2012

A stunningly beautiful Copperhead Snake

If you are a bit Herpetophobic (in other words, you have a fear of Snakes), or especially if you are Ophidiophobic (having an abnormal fear - or phobia - of Snakes), then please come back tomorrow.
I don't want to cause any Readers to have any panic attacks.

The Snake had been injured, and was lying on the edge of the Illawarra Highway, near the "Famous Robertson Pie Shop", which is more famous for its advertising than its pies; and for the owner embarrassing Paul Keating, when he was wheeled in by an inexperienced candidate, during an election Campaign, without the opinions of the Owner having been researched. That tactical campaign mistake is legendary in the annals of political campaigns in Australia - and has much to do with why our modern Elections are now so "stage managed" (and boring).

But if you are still here - good, because I wish to share with you my photos of the most stunningly beautiful Copperhead Snake I have ever seen. 
I grabbed my camera and took a few shots of this beautiful creature.
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 So, let us hold hands, gird our loins, 
and examine this beautiful Snake together.
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 If you're still here, here are the images.
Highlands Copperhead Snake (Austrelaps ramsayi)
I have previously seen and photographed the local Highland Copperhead Snake (Austrelaps ramsayi) - which typically is a dark slaty-grey colour, with a few distinctive white markings on its chin, and a show of cream underneath the belly (usually just a sign of white visible).

So I was very surprised yesterday, when I noticed, as I was driving back from Carrington Falls, a reddish-brown snake beside the road. It was barely moving, and I assumed it had been injured somehow. It presumably had spinal damage, but it had not been ruptured, as sometimes happens to them if run over by a vehicle. It was alive, but while able to move its front end around (very rapidly as it turned out), it was unable to slither away, in the normal manner.

Highlands Copperhead Snake (Austrelaps ramsayi)
You can see some white marks low on the back
I believe that is where it was probably injured.
The front end could most certainly move around, quickly

but only in a sideways manner.




I have never seen such a well-coloured Copperhead Snake.
Indeed this one lives up to its name of "Copperhead". Most do not (at least not here in the Southern Highlands). 

Incidentally, the name "Copperhead Snake" is used in America for a totally unrelated snake, a Viper, with distinctive camouflaged pattern of "autumn leaves" so a Google Image Search can bring up the wrong Snake for you. Check that you have an Australian species in your Image Search.

This one is similarly coloured to mine. The Victorian Museum has both a dark form, and a brownish form.
Highlands Copperhead Snake (Austrelaps ramsayi)
This next site has a good description:
  • Copperheads can be very beautiful. Sometimes they can be soft black velvet in texture. Other times you’ll find them in the most beautiful bright or rich deep copper, always keeping that typical velvet texture of the Copperhead. Sometimes people may call a Copperhead a Brown snake because it is often brown in colour. A Copperhead will always have at least 2 different colours sometimes up to 4 colours over its body. The Copperhead can have a dark bar across its neck and its lips may have pale marks down between the labial scales. Some Copperheads may have a dark line that runs down the length of its back. Source: Snake - Copperheads.
  • Mine scores on most of those diagnostic features.
Highlands Copperhead Snake (Austrelaps ramsayi)
This shot shows the full length and the colour variation

Highlands Copperhead Snake (Austrelaps ramsayi)
This shot shows the diagnostic facial markings.
(Click to enlarge the image)
I tried to move the Snake off the roadside edge. It objected to me trying to "help it". I was not equipped with anything better than a jumper (to throw over it) and a Newspaper, to act as a baffle between my hand and the Snake. That was a bad idea. After a couple of feeble attempts, I decided not to risk getting bitten.

I have seen Snakes strike, and I know they move far faster than our pathetic human reaction times can possibly compete with.*** So, I am obliged to say:
  • Dear Reader - do not ever attempt to handle any live Snake - even if it is injured (as mine was). Snakes are programmed to regard us the Enemy, especially when they are already injured. They wish to defend themselves, especially if they cannot get away (as in my case). So, leave the Snake alone.
  • As this one was unable to move, it posed no threat to anyone, or anything.
There are Snake Catchers in most Australian regions, and their assistance can be sought via your local Wildlife Carers group, or WIRES or whatever, your local group is called. The phone number for NSW WIRES is 13 000 WIRES (an easy number to remember).

Post Script: I went back this morning, to check on the Snake's welfare, and it had disappeared. There was no sign of it, at all. I assume it recovered. That seems surprising, but what do I know? It only had to lift its head 100 mm (4 inches) to get over the shallow gutter. It was raining hard this morning, so perhaps that had enabled the Snake to slide away more easily. Anyway, whatever had happened, there was nothing I could do for it.
I would like to thank my Blogging colleague David Young for his assistance, via Facebook yesterday, in ascertaining the correct ID for this Snake. I was pretty sure it had to be a Copperhead, because of the marks on the face, and David confirmed that for me. David has much experience with Snakes, and I would rate him as an experienced amateur herpetologist (in the same way that I would never claim to be an actual Ornithologist, but accept the title of an experienced amateur).

*** David confirmed that on high speed video he has timed a Python complete a Strike within the time of two frames on a 60 Frame per Second Video (1/30th of  a second). 

Conventional Video and film works at 24 frames per second, because our eyes, (or really our minds) cannot distinguish movement faster than 16 frames per second. That means the Snake's strike is faster than our eyes can detect motion, let alone how fast our brains can sense the movement and then order the hand (or foot) to react.  

Another friend, Caroline, herself a wildlife rescuer, stressed to me on Facebook that there are trained Snake Handlers in the local area.  

So, for the record, let me state that UNLESS YOU ARE AN "EXPERIENCED SNAKE HANDLER", with appropriate tools and protective gear, do not fool yourself that your hand is capable of reaching in and grabbing the Snake's tail, and lifting it up and out of the way, without you getting bitten. 

Wrong.

A Snake's strike is incredibly fast. Far faster than your reaction time. Do not attempt to handle a live Snake, even a wounded one, NOT EVER.

4 comments:

geoff from barham said...

A snake with a back injury will soon die. An old naturalist told me that a snake's back is very fragile and they are very easily killed. He said that a snake can be run over and will have enough strength sometimes to crawl off the road but will die within a few metres - it cannot survive. He used to look for recently-killed snakes by walking up the side-cuts on the roads.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Geoff.
What you say makes sense to me.
One of the suggestions made to me was to capture it, and put it in the freezer, to quickly euthanize it.
That did not eventuate.
Thanks for your comment.
Denis

Mr. Smiley said...

I recall finding a Red-bellied Blacksnake in a similar situation near Canberra when my friend, the late Don MacNeill visited many moons ago. We thought the snake dead and moved it around with a stick to get it in a good position for the requisite photo. Some good close-ups shots were taken of the head of head of this "dead" snake. As we were getting into the car we were astounded to see the snake slither off the road! Take heed.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi David
Thanks for the wise words.
I think it translates as Never Trust a Snake (as far as handling them, anyway).
Incidentally, I have just shared a meal with Bob Mesibov from Tasmania. He is in Robbo looking for Millipedes.
He doesn't even mind that it is raining.
And he agrees that I ought go out at night with a Head Torch - just as you have recommended to me!
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Spare me from you crazy Entomologists or Arthropodologists (if there is such a term).
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Cheers, and Thanks, David.