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Red-bellied black snake

Red-bellied black snake

What are red-bellied black snakes?

Red-bellied black snakes are a medium sized snake with a black head and body, red, or crimson sides and, despite their name often has a pinkish or cream coloured belly. It was once called the crimson-sided snake and sometimes, they are just called black snakes. Their scientific name is Pseudechis porphyriacusAll snakes are ectothermic vertebrates (they have back bone). Being ectothermic means they are unable to produce their own heat and rely on the warmth from the outside environment, such as the sun or a warm rock, to heat their bodies. 

Red-bellied black snakes are found in eastern Australia, all the way from Queensland to Victoria (but not in Tasmania), and are one of the most common snakes found there.

Where do red-bellied black snakes live?

Red-bellied black snakes are usually found near water in habitats like creeks, dams, rivers, lakes or wetlands.  They like to hide in long grass, or under logs or rocks. They are good swimmers and will search for food in and under the water.

Did you know that snakes don’t really live in holes in the ground. They don’t have any limbs to dig a hole with, but they can sometimes shelter in a burrow that another animal has dug.

What do red-bellied black snakes eat?

Red-bellied black snakes love to eat frogs and small lizards. They will also occasionally eat other small vertebrates such as rats and mice.  They like to catch fish and eels in the water, and will sometimes even eat other snakes. They do not eat humans, we are far too big!

How are red-bellied black snakes adapted to their environment?

Red-bellied black snakes try to keep their body temperature between 28-31 degrees celsius. They are ectothermic so when they get too cold they try to find a patch of sun to bask in or a warm rock to heat up their bodies. The black colour of the scales on their backs helps to warm them quickly. When they get too hot, they find shelter out of the sun. They can move fast on both land and in the water to escape from predators. Being black these snakes camouflage well with their surroundings, especially when they are curled up in the shade under the bushes.

What is the life cycle of red-bellied black snakes?

Red-bellied black snakes mate in spring time when the males travel around to find a female. The females are ready to give birth in summer time.  They give birth to between five and 40 live babies. This is unusual, as most species of snakes lay eggs. After the baby snakes, called hatchlings, are born, neither their mother or father takes any further care of them.

What threats do red-bellied black snakes face?

Red-bellied black snakes sometimes get run over by cars when they are basking on a warm asphalt road. They also die in large numbers when they eat cane toads, which are a poisonous introduced pest species. When humans disturb waterways, or remove the natural vegetation around them, red-bellied snakes can no longer live there. Some humans harm red-bellied black snakes because they do not realise that they are very timid and pose very little threat to humans. It is illegal to kill a red-bellied black snake or any other native animal in Australia for any reason.

What should you do if you see a red-bellied black snake?

At the Field of Mars

If you are at the Field of Mars on an excursion, the teacher will always be at the front of your group and will tell you what to do. Usually, the snake will get away from the group as fast as it can. Sometimes the teacher will ask you to back away or walk around where a snake has been seen. Sometimes, we might be able to safely view a red-bellied black snake in the water from the safety of the boardwalk.

By yourself

If you see a snake when you are by yourself, you should firstly freeze so the snake knows you are not a threat. Secondly, you should back away very slowly then tell an adult.

In your garden

What should you do if you have a red-bellied black snake, or any other snake in your garden? Did you know it is illegal to kill a snake in Australia? Some snakes are completely harmless and will make their own way out of your garden.  But some snakes are dangerous and are better off being removed, especially with young kids or pets around.

There are lots of people and groups who will come and remove a snake from your property. They know how to do this safety and will release the snake again a long way away without hurting it.

There are wildlife rescue services such as WIRES and Sydney Wildlife that can relocate snakes.  There are also private snake removal companies. Some fire brigades also rescue snakes, but not all, you need to check.

Important facts to know about snakes

  • Snakes can feel the vibrations your footsteps make and they know you are too big to be prey.

  • Red-bellied black snakes will do everything they can to get away from you, so never back them into a corner and never walk towards them.

  • Snake do not want to bite humans. That is a waste of their energy and potentially venom. They will only ever bite when they feel threatened, so never kick, poke a stick at or throw anything at a snake.

  • There has never been a confirmed death from a red-bellied black snake, but they are venomous and their bite can make you sick.

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