While Australia’s snakes have a reputation for being among the most venomous in the world, Longreach naturalist, Angus Emmott says it may be preferable to be bitten by one of them than the cobras and pit vipers that inhabit places such as the Indian sub-continent.
Angus was responding to news of a rise in Queensland Ambulance Service statistics on the number of people treated and transported to hospital for snake bites in recent weeks.
For example, on November 25 paramedics at both Hervey Range and Hodgleigh transported adult male patients to hospitals at Townsville and Kingaroy following reports of being bitten by a snake.
At Edmonton on December 2, a female in her 40s sustained a snake bite on her foot and was taken to Cairns Hospital, while the next day, a male in his 60s from Montville was brought to Nambour Hospital with a reported snake bite to his foot.
Both the QAS and Mr Emmott said this was to be expected, with the onset of warmer weather across the state, and in the case of some areas, rainfall had contributed to increased movement.
However, both stressed the number of reported bites were nothing out of the ordinary for the time of year.
For example, in the Mackay QAS region last November there were six reported bites, compared to five in October 2018.
In the Townsville region, they treated eight patients for snake bite in October, as against five last November.
More populated coastal regions have higher statistics than places in the west of the state: Cairns and hinterland reported 83 incidents of snake bite in the past 12 months, 84 in the Townsville region, 66 on the Darling Downs and 100 on the Sunshine Coast.
In contrast, there were only three reports from the central west, 10 from the north west, and five from the south west.
All the reported incidents above took place either early in the morning – 7.22am and 4.33am – or at night – 7.25pm and 9.58pm, suggesting after hours recreational confrontations.
Mr Emmott said most people got bitten accidentally stepping on snakes in the dark or when they were trying to kill them.
“Apart from taking a torch, the best course of action is to stay totally still,” he said. “They won’t attack you unless they feel a threat for their life – you’re not a prey item.”
He said the statistics given didn’t distinguish between harmless and venomous snake encounters.
Queensland is home to 120 species of snakes, about 65 per cent of them venomous.
Mr Emmott said that while Australia’s snakes were the most venomous by one measure, they were elapids and so there were minor localised effects from their neurotoxic venom.
“Somewhere between two and four people die a year from that, whereas in India, pit viper bites kill 10,000 a year, because their bite affects your limbs.
“Around the world, huge numbers of people die or are disfigured by snake bites.”
Read more: Snake bites now a global health priority