Gavin Fletcher of Bonython got quite a surprise when the “ball of rope rolling around” on a walking track turned out to be two of Australia's most venomous snakes locked in a deadly duel.
It was a warm evening last week and he had taken his seven-year-old son, Jack, fishing at Stranger Pond when they stumbled upon a brown snake eating a red-bellied black snake.
“It was just on the track, we’d been fishing down there for 15 or 20 minutes and we decided to change spots … when we turned around he was right behind us,” he said.
“I didn’t realise it was snakes, it was Jack who said ‘is that a snake over there’ … he’s got a bit of a fascination with snakes – we both do – so he’s always on the lookout.”
They watched on as the brown snake, which Mr Fletcher estimated to be about five-feet long, overpowered then ate the much smaller red-bellied black snake.
“The red-bellied black was obviously trying to get out and get away, but I think once the venom took hold he stopped wriggling and that was it for him – it was just a matter of time before he got eaten.
Antony Pezzella, owner of the Gold Creek Canberra Reptile Zoo, said a snake eating another snake was not all that uncommon, despite reptiles’ usual preference for mammals.
“Most of the Australian snakes are known to eat reptiles if they get the opportunity,” he said.
“The red bellies are more likely to be eating the browns; the red bellies normally eat frogs as a specialty, and so the majority of the time you would find the red belly would eat the brown snake but … if the brown is a good deal bigger than the red-belly, there’s a good chance he’ll try and eat him.”
Canberra Nature Park North District senior ranger Nina Bruns said on warm days snakes tended to seek shade and water like any animal, which can spell trouble for Canberrans heading to water holes or natural pools.
"People need to be very vigilant in the summer months regarding snakes, in particular the bush capital of Canberra," she said.
Ms Bruns urged ACT residents heading to outdoor swimming spots in the territory to watch out for overgrown areas and make sure they can see around themselves.
"Snakes might bask in the sun but on really, really hot days they seek shelter like everyone else so they might be in the grassy areas and they might go for a swim themselves," she said.
Adam Samios of Bruce found that out the hard way; he was hospitalised overnight after being bitten by a snake while fishing at Lake Ginninderra.
“I stepped back and felt a scratch on my leg. I looked down and there was red belly black snake. I took myself back to hospital and I spent the rest of the day and the next day there.
Ms Bruns warned snakes can be found throughout the suburbs of Canberra, particularly near houses with bushy native gardens or frog ponds, but she said there was still only a slim chance that Canberrans would actually encounter a snake.
"They’re very shy animals. People just need to be aware that they could be around," she said.
"Don’t provoke snakes, don’t try and interfere with them in any way because that’s usually when people are bitten; when they’re trying to kill them or move them along. They just need to leave them well alone."
In the unlikely event that you or someone you know is bitten by a snake, Ms Bruns said the most important thing is that you remain still.
"The nearest person to them should call an ambulance and they should find a cool place to lay down and stay still. Staying still is of the utmost importance," she said. "There’s no need to identify the snake either. Don’t wash the wound."