Australian Reptiles: Red-bellied black snake

Australia is the only continent where venomous snakes (70%) outnumber non-venomous ones. However, Australian snakes are not the most deadly. Only about 20 species are capable of killing adult humans, the others are too small or their bites are not life-threatening. Also, Australians tend to wear protective footwear and have better medical treatment, including effective anti-venom, than in places such as Africa or India where the incidence of snakebite is much higher. Also, Australian snakes are comparatively shy, retreating from confrontations with humans. No venomous snake wants to risk its life in self-defence or waste venom that could be used to kill prey.

Red-bellied black snakes play a valuable role in the environment by controlling the numbers of other wild creatures and rodents, this is a venomous snake that most people would never want to see on their doorstep, but it’s one of the most frequently encountered snakes on the eastern coast of Australia and is no stranger to urban areas. Fortunately is rarely aggressive, and will usually make a slithering retreat if anyone comes within its comfort zone, but if cornered or threatened, the red-bellied black snake will vigorously defend itself and can give a painful and potentially fatal bite. Although several people are bitten every year, the number of fatalities is very low.

Red-bellied black snake appearance

This snake is sleek, shiny and black with an obvious red ventral colour that extends onto its lower flanks. Whether moving or at rest, the bright red is clearly visible.

Red-bellied black snake behaviour

They are extremely placid snakes, they prefer to move away if humans approach. As the warm weather of spring makes its welcome return, males are out and about searching for females that will give birth to 5-20 young that, in the earliest days of their lives, are vulnerable to attacks by predatory birds and reptiles, as well as by cats, foxes, and dingoes.

If you do encounter a snake, the most sensible thing to do is step back and watch it go about its business.

Red-bellied black snake diet

This snake hunts on the ground, where its prey includes mammals, lizards, rodents, and other snakes. It has no reservations about eating members of its own species. It is also able to remain submerged in water for more than 20 minutes, where it can feed on fish, frogs, tadpoles, and yabbies.

Frogs are a favourite, and unfortunately, the species’ numbers have crashed due to attempted predation on the poisonous introduced cane toad. Any species that habitually takes frogs are at serious risk as toads continue to spread.

Red-bellied black snake habitat

The red-bellied black snake can be found in several separated regions of mainland Australia. The species’ distribution extends from the south-eastern mainland to north-eastern Queensland, mainly near watercourses and in moist habitats.

It is a species that’s not particularly fussy about the type of habitat in which it resides, for it’s as content among the vegetation on the banks of waterways, wetlands and farm dams as it is among that of forests, woodlands, and grassy plains.