Eight species of snakes are known to inhabit the ACT, with five regarded as potentially dangerous to humans. However, while all snakes in the ACT are venomous, except the blind snake, they are shy, nonaggressive creatures that will quickly retreat if not provoked.
The Eastern Brown Snake is the most frequently seen in suburban gardens. The Red-Bellied Black Snake, Tiger Snake and the Black-headed Snake are seen only occasionally. In the ACT, the Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) varies from brown to grey and can even be blackish, dark brown or orange. Young snakes may be entirely brown or may have a black patch on their head and a black band on their neck. Black bands across the body may or may not be present.
Snakes are important in the web of life and food chain, consuming smaller animals, some of which are introduced pests such as mice. Snakes in turn provide food for other animals like birds and reptiles.
Living with snakes (PDF 2MB)
Protected By Law
Snakes are protected by law in all states and territories of Australia and may not be killed unless they threaten life. Offences under the Nature Conservation Act 2014 carry severe penalties. Snakes cannot be taken from the wild, kept without a licence, or traded without a licence.
What To Do
Snakes will sometimes enter suburban gardens in search of water, particularly during long, dry periods. In the ACT, snakes are most active from October to March when they sun themselves or when they move in search of food or water.
If you see a snake, move pets and children away for an hour or until the snake moves off. To reduce the chance of snakes staying on or returning, and in preparation for times when snakes are most active (spring and summer):
- keep lawns and gardens well maintained
- remove piles of wood or other debris from the yard or store it off the ground
- ensure pet food and water bowls are not accessible to wildlife
- enclose compost heaps to reduce mouse populations (a food source for snakes) and
- tidy up aviaries as these attract mice and, in turn, snakes.
Snakes are naturally shy and their first form of defence is to move away from danger, including humans. If provoked or cornered, a snake may attempt to protect itself by striking. People are most likely to be bitten when attempting to kill or handle a snake. Snakes can strike very rapidly if aroused. To avoid being bitten:
- move away and let the snake go on its way
- never try to kill or handle a snake
- be alert at all times in the bush, especially in the early morning when snakes are more likely to be sunning themselves
- cover up with trousers and enclosed shoes when bushwalking and gardening in overgrown places
- avoid walking through long grass
- avoid putting your hand into hollow logs or rock crevices
- keep pets well away from snakes and lizards.
If someone is bitten by a snake:
- Do not wash the wound. Medical staff can use excess venom to identify the snake.
- Venom travels through the lymph system, which is close to the surface. Apply a firm pressure bandage over the bitten area and around the affected limb, using a crepe or conforming bandage or other suitable material such as pantyhose.
- Bandage from the bite to the fingers or toes then up to the armpit or groin.
- Apply a splint to immobilise the limb.
- Do not give alcohol, food or drugs as these will stimulate fluid movement.
- Keep the patient still by having them lay down.
- Reassure the patient.
- Call an ambulance or take the patient to hospital.
If you find a snake in your property and have concerns for your safety there are licensed services available that can assist you. The following organisations are is currently licensed to undertake the activity of taking and releasing locally occurring native species:
- Canberra Snake Rescue and Relocation - 0405 405 304
- Canberra Snake Catcher and Reptile Removals - 0421 281 439
- ACT Snake Removals - 0450 210 090
Please note licensed organisations may charge a fee. It is an offence under s132 of the Nature Conservation Act 2014 to take a native animal whether dead or alive without a nature conservation licence.
The blue-tongued Lizard is common in Canberra gardens and is recognised by a stout body, stumpy legs and fleshy blue tongue. It is not venomous but is often killed in the mistaken belief it is a snake. Unfortunately, many are also badly injured or killed by dogs and cats.
Blue-tongued Lizards are an asset to any garden, as they feed on snails and other invertebrates. Several species of legless lizard, which are also harmless and look like snakes, also live in the ACT. Remember snakes and lizards are native wildlife and are protected by law in the ACT and throughout Australia.
For more information or to report injured native wildlife please contact Access Canberra on 13 22 81.