Most people know Australia has nine of the 10 most dangerous snakes in the world.
It also has some fairly venomous spiders such as the funnel web and the red back so throw in the most fearsome of our predators, the saltwater crocodile and Australia becomes a pretty scary place, right?
Well, yes and no.
Most Australians will never see a snake and if a spider appears, well, just step on it or leave it alone, they usually don’t bite unless you pick it up or annoy it somehow.
There are snakes in the cities but it is rare to see one and often, those which are seen turn out to be the fairly harmless diamond python.
Even regional towns don’t see many snakes unless you walk in long grass along a riverbank, looking in rubbish or keep mice as pets.
It’s in the country where snakes are most prevalent.
Creek banks of course, snakes need water, anywhere there are chooks (fowls) because grain attracts mice and snakes love mice or around old or unused buildings, rabbit warrens or under sheets of iron.
Australia’s and the world’s most venomous snake, the inland taipan, known as the fierce snake or western taipan, is so remote even the experts have trouble finding it. If it is found, be wary. One drop of its venom is sufficient to kill 100 men (Wikipedia).
The eastern brown snake has venom rated as the second most venomous snake in the world and worryingly, it is common in rural Australia.
The eastern brown is legendary for its bad temper, aggression and for its speed.
I have plenty on my place if you’d like to see one.
This species is responsible for more deaths every year in Australia than any other group of snakes however, it must be noted Australia reports on average well under 10 snake bite deaths per year.
Next comes the common death adder, the fastest striking snake of them all. It can go from strike position to strike and envenomation of its prey and back to strike position in 0.15 seconds. They don’t flee from approaching humans, rather, they lie quietly, risking being stepped on and strike almost only when they are stepped on or interfered with.
In my army training days we were on an exercise in the Mittagong area when the platoon set up a harbour position and dug in. Shortly after settling in, three death adders were found within the perimeter, an area of less than 30m X 30m and they had to be dealt with quickly before someone stumbled on them during the night.
No-one else would go near them and ‘yours truly’ was given the task of removing them.
I should finish with the tiger snake; again a dangerous and fairly common snake in Australia with venom containing neurotoxins, coagulants, haemolysins and myotoxins and the venom is quick acting with rapid onset of breathing difficulties and paralysis.
It is well-named because of its stripes but they can be dull and not seen unless examined closely.
While some people in Australia encourage the diamond python in their sheds or outer buildings to counter rats and mice, the only industry I know of to employ venomous snakes is the pig industry.
When my son was managing piggeries, they often left the red-bellied black snakes alone for their mouse and rat catching ability and relative harmlessness.
One really good behavioural antic of the red-bellied black snake is – it eats brown snakes and will keep numbers down to some extent.
The red-bellied is a venomous snake but is not aggressive and generally retreats from encounters with humans but will attack if provoked.
Ophidiophobia – what?
Those I’ve mentioned are just a few of the snakes in Australia and world-wide, there are about 350 species of snake. Many of those are extremely dangerous with the cobras and kraits of India and Africa causing 1.2 million deaths in the last 20 years.
We humans have an inbuilt fear of snakes or, by its proper name, Ophidiophobia, and science can tell us why.
Humans have an innate tendency to sense snakes and to learn to fear them. Psychologists found both adults and children could detect images of snakes among a variety of non-threatening objects more quickly than they could pinpoint frogs, flowers or caterpillars.
Satan and the Serpent
In traditional Christianity, a connection between the Serpent and Satan is created and in Genesis 3:14 God curses the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all the cattle and more than every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go and dust shall you eat all the days of your life.”
I wonder, before God cursed the snake, did it move upright?
Fear of snakes is one of the most common phobias, yet many people have never seen a snake in person. So how is this fear generated?
The answer is probably determined by whether you are an evolutionist or a believer in creation and a young earth, as I am.
Evolutionists believe our hatred of snakes comes from a millennia of avoiding them, those who were bitten died and did not pass their genes on to descendants.
As Christians, we know God cursed the snake and perhaps therein lies the answer. We’ve always been afraid of them.
John Skinner is a retired journalist who has written ten biographies on famous campdrafting competitors. He was an Australian infantry soldier wounded in Vietnam, served six years as a Police Officer, was CEO of the then Australian Rough Riders Assn (Pro-Rodeo based in Warwick, Qld). He and his wife Marion retired to a small farm 25km south of Warwick 20 years ago. They have three children and now seven grandchildren.