Local Snakes and Climate Change by a Gippsland Naturalist

Highlands Copperhead (Shawn Scott)

(My blog a few weeks ago Tiger Snakes and a warming Gippsland attracted a lot of attention. Here is some feedback from a well-informed source who prefers to remain anonymous.)

Just a couple of points on your comments about snakes and climate change.

As for Tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus), they have always occurred at significant altitude in places like Benambra. But according to some researchers who have studied alpine/sub alpine moss beds, tiger snakes were never seen in these beds thirty years or so ago, but now are reasonably frequently seen. The Copperhead and the Highlands Copperhead (Austrelaps ramsayi) have always been the snake of these areas, but the changing climate has given the Tiger a helping hand.

However, the best reptile indicator of climate change in the Gippsland Plains is the Eastern Brown Snake (Psuedonaja textilis). They have always occurred in significant numbers in the gorges and higher valleys where they are out of the cooling easterlies, and have significant rock outcrops to retain the heat they need to hatch their eggs. The Tiger, Copperhead and Black snake give live birth to their young (viviparous), so the gravid female can move to find warm niches, but the Brown snake cannot do this, as they lay eggs (oviparous) and the locality becomes more important.

In the 40 years I have been in this area, I have noticed a significant increase in sightings of Brown Snakes in the past 15 years on the Gippsland plains, compared to when I first arrived in this area, and was very active in the field. Also, during this same period, I have noticed the disappearance of the Lowland Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus) from the Gippsland Plains pasture country, and they are now only found in and around wetlands.

An excellent website on snake varieties in Gippsland can be found here.