In spite of the hysteria generated when a Red-bellied Black Snake decided to take to the water in a crowded swimming hole in Bright, in north-east Victoria, I was able to provide ABC radio’s listeners an assurance that it was the considered opinion of all the experts I canvassed that it was extremely unlikely that swimmers were at risk of snake bite – no one I talked to knew of a single case.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water!
Then along comes Simon Fearn from the Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery. Admittedly Tasmanian’s often do things a little differently, but Simon, who was conveniently absent in the field while I was researching for my radio appearance, was about to blow everything out of the water (so to speak!).
During a dietary study of Tasmanian snakes, Simon found that fish were a relatively common prey item for Tiger Snakes and included galaxids and trout up to 20cm long. Tiger Snakes are commonly observed hunting for and eating fish during the summer months in Tasmania, especially in the central highlands when locals and tourists alike flock to the thousands of trout-stocked lakes of all sizes in that area. Snakes are also commonly seen attempting to swim across very large lakes and sometimes try to enter boats. Fishermen also report Tiger Snakes taking lures and even attacking fish being reeled in through shallow lakeside vegetation. These reports go back 100 years judging by a recent search in colonial newspapers for Tiger Snake references. Given that so many people and snakes are hunting fish in the same locations it is perhaps inevitable that the odd rare bite occurs. One recent example involved a fellow seriously bitten while illegally ‘tickling’ trout in a northern river. Simon suggests that Tasmanian snakes have more pronounced piscatorial proclivities simply as a function of how well watered the state is compared to most of south eastern Australia.
You can listen to the full interview with John by clicking here