Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whipsnake not so dead(ly)

Greater Black Whipsnake (Demansia papuensis) poses reluctantly for a picture of its underside after being caught playing dead. These are among Tyto's most commonly encountered daytime snakes. Can't recall any positive sightings of the Lesser Black (D. vestigiata).

I spotted the one-metre snake idling across a track of short grass and over a patch of leaf litter at the base of a few paperbarks. A tree snake would have gone straight up a tree, but whipsnakes seem only to consider climbing when on the track of prey.

The defensive strategy is to sit it out in whatever limited cover is available, stiffen up and feign death. The pretence continues even when a stick is gently pushed under the snake and most of the body is hoisted clear of the ground.

But it seems the muscular demands of continuing the trick cannot be sustained when all the body is raised. The snake then slowly 'returns to life'. There's no aggressive reaction or sudden movement, simply a gradually easing of body off the hoisting stick.

Only when back on the ground and facing a camera close to its head will the snake rear back in defensive threat. Pull camera or presence away slightly and wary calm returns. Pull back a little more and a gentle escape is made.

Though large whipsnakes are considered potentially dangerous there's something unthreatening about them. The only snakes I've felt comfortable having close enough to 'taste' my sandalled toes with their delicate tongues have been Common Trees, Greater Blacks, and small pythons.

This from a Kiwi cyclist whose first reaction on seeing a tiny snake on a Boondall Wetlands (Brisbane) path nine years ago was to hoist both feet high off the pedals. Times change - and we can too!

8 comments:

Mosura said...

Nice snake but ummmmm,,,,,, I hope that was a looonngg stick :-)

mick said...

Huh! *shudder* I grew up in Aotearoa and definitely have not changed my mind about such things!

Tyto Tony said...

Short stick. Long arms. One-hand for camera.

Wot about wetas?

mick said...

Wetas are different! They never worried me:-)

Tyto Tony said...

Now the big test. The common cockroach v bush roaches. Can you pick up either?

mick said...

Ummm - Yes and maybe

nina said...

How pretty.

Appreciate the "positive" nature of snakes--so often killed in haste.
Our fear?

Tyto Tony said...

Thanks Nina.

Yep. Sadly, 'the only good snake's a dead snake' rule continues to hold sway with too many.