Tasmania has an ‘enormous’ snake population but low bite risk

It’s been more than 70 years since the last fatal snake bite in Tasmania.

QVMAG natural sciences collections officer Simon Fearn said the risk of being bitten this snake season was very small considering Tasmania’s “enormous” snake populations.

He estimated less than 10 people a year would be bitten and it would mainly be from people trying to kill or handle the snakes.

The state is home to three species of snakes – Copperhead, Tiger and White-lipped snakes.

“They’re really shy, they just don’t want to bite people so if you leave them alone, they’re not much of a threat,” Mr Fearn said.

When European settlers first arrived in Tasmania, they thought there was several different species of snake, but they all were Tiger snakes, which varied greatly in appearance.

The White-lipped snakes only grew to 50 centimetres and close to 100 per cent of their diet was skinks, while Copperheads mainly ate frogs and stayed around dams and swamps, he said.

“Tiger snakes are more of a generalist predator.”

It’s also the only snake that has claimed a life in Tasmania.

But as Mr Fearn was quick to point out, the last regular person to die from a snake bite was killed in 1946.

“The risks of snakes is so small, you shouldn’t even worry about it. Jack jumpers [ants] are a much more of a risk,” Mr Fearn said.

But if you were bitten, Mr Fearn said people should use three to four broad bandages to wrap the whole limb from foot to groin or hand to armpit, which stops the venom moving.

Call for help, stay calm and in the shade, “get the help to come to you”.

If you saw a snake, stand still and it would likely move away of its own accord, Mr Fearn said.

While snakes might enjoy basking in the sun, Mr Fearn said they could die quickly if their body temperature rose to 34 degrees so they moved between shade and sunny spots on hot days.

Their preferred core body temperature is 28 to 30 degrees.

Mr Fearn’s book Snakes of Tasmania is available from the QVMAG Inveresk site.