Snake season: Venomous red-bellied black snake sneaks into church
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Snake season: Venomous red-bellied black snake sneaks into church

Parents were heading with their four-legged friends into puppy preschool at Earlwood Animal Hospital on Tuesday night when they noticed another animal looking in on the class.

A red-bellied black snake - commonly found near swamps and dams - was spotted slithering towards the clinic from Bexley Road near Homer Street, before trying to enter the Greek Orthodox Church next door.

A red-bellied black snake.

A red-bellied black snake.Credit:Stuart Walmsley

Practice Principal Dr Peter Nicholl said it was the second time within a week that he had spotted this type of snake in the inner southwest Sydney suburb, having found one flattened on Bexley Road a few days earlier.

Dr Nicholl said that while he hadn’t seen a snake near the practice before, it wasn’t surprising given their proximity to Wolli Creek.

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“We are probably at the height of snake season at the moment,” Dr Nicholl said.

“Once the daylight starts to increase and the days are warmer, snakes tend to leave hibernation and start to look for food a lot faster.

“In areas such as these where we have lots of water sources - red-bellied black snakes like to be near water - it’s possible for them to be living nearby.”

Red-bellies are a medium-sized venomous snake with red, orange and pink scales across their belly.

Despite the significant number of red-belly bites received each year, very few human deaths have resulted.

They can be useful in clearing backyards of other pests, eating frogs, lizards, small mammals, and even more venomous snakes such as the brown snake.

Children and pets are at the greatest health risk from a snake bite given their smaller size, according to the Australian Museum.

In a Facebook post warning residents, the Animal Hospital suggested the recent snake sightings could be due to the work being done of the M5.

Increasing urban development has been linked to snake displacement, causing some to go to inhabited areas while they wait for the construction near their habitats to end.

Earlwood Animal Hospital posted a warning on social media after twice spotting red-bellied black snakes in the residential area last week.

Earlwood Animal Hospital posted a warning on social media after twice spotting red-bellied black snakes in the residential area last week.Credit:Facebook

But full-time snake-handler Ross Ambrose - who, in his free-time, likes to study the biogeography of Sydney - said there doesn’t have to be a reason why a snake turns up in an urban area.

“The thing I tell people is that if you have a regular Australian backyard, there is a chance you’ll see a native Australian animal,” Mr Ambrose said.

“In the Sydney basin, there is nowhere it isn’t possible to see a red-belly. Once upon a time they lived in every part of Sydney, and while a lot of species have disappeared [in urban areas] - such as the tiger snake or the death adder - the red-belly hangs on as a bit of a fringe dweller.”

In addition to Earlwood, Mr Ambrose - who has spent the last decade catching snakes in Sydney - said it isn’t unusual to see snake populations in areas built on creeks and bushland, such as Marrickville, Dulwich Hill and Tempe.

They also have a tendency of hiding in car engines and unknowingly hitching a ride into town, he added.

Mr Ambrose said if you see a snake, particularly a red-belly, it is best to leave them alone.

"Snakes are for looking, not for touching: if you see one, try not to dive on top of it and hold onto it," Mr Ambrose joked.

This can be easier said then done when it comes to pets, especially small hunting dogs like terriers.

Dr Nicholls of Earlwood Animal Hospital said snake-bitten pets in Sydney should be rushed to a specialist clinic likely to stock an antivenom. This includes the University of Sydney Veterinary Teaching Hospital, North Ryde's Small Animal Specialist Hospital, or Homebush's Animal Referral Hospital, or any local vet on the outskirts of Sydney.

Dr Nicholls also recommends tightly wrapping the snake-bitten limb, and calling ahead to make sure your closest clinic stocks the correct antivenom.

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