The marsh snake, also known as the black-bellied swamp snake, swamp snake, or grass snake, is a venomous species of snake endemic to Australia. They are commonly found in south east Queensland and share a close resemblance with other snakes in the elapid family, such as the eastern small-eyed snake and the red-bellied black snake.
These snakes are normally diurnal & crepuscular, but can also be nocturnal in hot weather, favouring moist and lushly vegetated areas. However, they have been known to wander in to homes, garages, and gardens, so keep a lookout! Usually not aggressive, the marsh snake is more likely to flee when encountering a potential threat or danger.
The marsh snake is considerably small, usually maturing at around 20cm and growing to lengths of between 50-80cm. Their body scales are normally a dark brown colour, with variants of olive and black. Underbelly colouring ranges from a dark grey to black, and they have two sets of prominent, narrow, pale-yellow stripes on each side of their face.
Juvenile marsh snakes often have darker heads than fully-matured adults. The marsh snake’s scales are smooth and unmarked. There is no clear distinction between their heads and bodies, but marsh snakes are usually identifiable by the yellowish stripes spanning either side of their head.
True to their name, the marsh snake is commonly found in wet, vegetated areas. They take shelter in undergrowth and thick leaf litter or foliage, usually staying near a water source where they can hunt their favourite prey.
Marsh snakes are sometimes spotted in more built-up areas after rainfall, falling into pools or hiding under outdoor patios. Encountering this snake is quite rare, however, as they prefer to stay within their ideal habitat, where they can easily capture prey. If you do find a marsh snake in your home, it’s more likely that your dog or cat brought them in!
Considered to be mildly venomous, bites from the marsh snake will usually require medical treatment. Their front fangs deliver a painful venom that results in symptoms ranging from nausea and headaches, to localised swelling and muscle soreness. The marsh snake’s venom contains procoagulants, meaning that bites will cause quickened blood clotting.
Despite being venomous, the marsh snake is not typically aggressive and will normally choose to flee when facing a threat. This snake is far more afraid of you than you are of it!
As the marsh snake thrives in wet, humid locations, its primary source of food is small frogs, lizards, and skinks. They are normally diurnal & crepuscular and hunt their prey near water sources, but have been known to become active on warmer nights.
While seeing a marsh snake in or near your home is unlikely, it has happened. Commonly found in regions of south east Queensland like Brisbane and the Gold Coast, these snakes rarely venture into houses or residential areas.
If you do see a marsh snake, keep small pets and children well away – bites from these snakes are rare but can happen if the snake becomes stressed or closed in. Maintain a close eye on the snake’s whereabouts while you call the Snake Rescue Sunny Coast team to safely capture and relocate the snake to a more suitable location.
When we’re looking for a snake, the first places we look are along the walls and under debris. Snakes try to avoid predators by moving along the walls and beneath cover. Unless they are going from concealment to cover or seeking warmth from the sun, it’s unusual to observe a snake moving out in the open.
We study their body language once we discover the snake, before we attempt to catch it. This tells us what the snake is thinking and indicates what it might do. We can tell when they are going to run, stand up and fight, or simply be apathetic toward our presence based on their body language. It’s critical for us to understand how to capture and handle snakes using this information.
After they’ve been captured, they’re put in a bag and kept quiet in a dark, tight space. This keeps us safe while handling the snake, as well as allows the snake to calm down.
Following the capture of the snake, they are relocated to suitable bushland and set free. Each snake is assigned its own habitat and food. As a result, we release them into areas that are ideal for each species. Keelbacks and Red-bellied black snakes enjoy frogs and lizards, so we put them in areas near water sources such as rivers or dams.
During an operation, we always want to double-check the snakes for health and remove any external parasites like ticks before they are released. If the snake is not healthy enough to be released, it may be due to injury or sickness; they are taken to Australia Zoo’s wildlife hospital for further evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation.
As snake catchers, all the snakes we catch are logged with the department of wildlife and science. This is so they can keep track of where each snake has been caught and released, to monitor and maintain the biodiversity in the area.
We have also been keeping a personal log of all the snakes we have caught on the Sunshine Coast that you can view on our website. This way you can see the species and location of each snake we have caught around the sunshine coast and in your areas.
The marsh or swamp snake is a typically small species in the elapid family whose simple appearance can bely their mildly venomous status. As this species is predominantly brown, they may be confused with other brown snakes found in the Sunshine Coast and across Queensland, such as the eastern brown snake or eastern small eyed snakes.
Here are some ways to tell if a snake you’ve encountered might be a marsh snake:
The prominent yellow stripes on either side of this snake’s head are its most noticeable characteristic.
Yes, the marsh snake is considered to be mildly venomous, and its bite can cause local pain, swelling, and redness, as well as other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and muscle weakness.
While its venom is not usually life-threatening to humans, it is still important to seek medical attention if you are bitten by a marsh snake.
No, marsh snakes are generally not aggressive and will usually try to flee when they encounter humans. However, like any wild animal, they may become defensive and bite if they feel threatened or cornered. Never attempt to catch or harm a wild snake, as this is usually when most snake bites occur!
If you or a loved one have been bitten by a marsh snake, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Call for emergency services or go to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. While waiting for medical help, keep the affected limb still and immobilised to slow down the spread of venom.
Acquiring basic snake bite first aid can be a useful skill for anyone living on the Sunshine Coast, as we have a large resident snake population.
While it is possible for a marsh snake to wander into a yard or home, it is relatively uncommon. Marsh snakes prefer to live in their natural habitat and are not usually attracted to urban areas. However, if you live near wetland or marshy habitats, it is important to be aware of the possibility of encountering a marsh snake and to take appropriate precautions, such as keeping your yard clean and clear of debris, and avoiding leaving pet food or garbage outside.
If you find a marsh snake in your home, it’s most likely that your dog or cat brought it in!
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