SnakeSense: Conserving Australian Snakes and Lizards through Education

Sharing knowledge, conserving reptiles: snake catching, education, research, conservation.

The Reptilian Role

Brown Tree Snake Boiga irregularis

Brown Tree Snake Boiga irregularis

We humans need reptiles for our own survival. Why?

Ecosystem Services

The Earth is comprised of interconnected ecosystems.  An ecosystem consists of a web of organisms … a collection of living links … each of which is essential to the whole.  Think of it as a bicycle wheel, with many spokes connecting the outside to the centre.  If just one spoke is broken, the wheel is weakened - and if more than one is lost, the entire structure buckles.

Ecosystems ‘make the world go round’ - providing humans with food, water, oxygen and medicines - by maintaining a balanced flow of energy.  Energy is produced by the sun, captured by plants and converted into a form which is usable by other animals.  These animals eat the plants; other animals eat those animals; and so the cycle continues.

Whilst everyone is busy eating the next organism along the line, ecosystem services are provided.  Plants are pollinated, oxygen is created, water is filtered, soil is enriched, prospective pests (like locusts) are eaten … meanwhile, somewhere in the nearest big city someone is enjoying a nice loaf of bread from a crop grown thanks to the efforts of these busy little critters out bush.

However, if one species is lost from this, the entire ‘chain of command’ changes.  If the species lost is a predator, its usual prey will explode in number and eat too much of their food source, causing further problems.  On the other hand, if the species lost is a prey animal, its predators will have less to eat and start eating too much of other things, which in turn, will soon be too few and far between to do their job.

Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis

Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis

In short, the loss of one species triggers a domino effect with potentially catastrophic results.

Now, in many habitats, snakes and other reptiles are both predators and prey.  Hence, if they are lost from a local ecosystem, or even simply reduced in number, two things will happen:  first, their usual food - let’s say, mice - will increase, causing havoc amongst nearby crops.  Second, their usual predators – let’s say, the local pair of Swamp Harriers – will resort to eating more lizards, meaning the insects the lizards normally eat increase … and well, that crop isn’t looking too good anymore, so people might have to start going without those nice loaves of bread.  And that’s just the simplified version.

Medicine

Research into snake venom is uncovering more and more potential for new and more effective medicines.  Already, several drugs concocted from snake venom are being used in the treatment of high blood pressure and other cardio-vascular disorders;  whilst the blood-clotting capabilities of Coastail Taipan venom are currently being developed for use in stopping excessive bleeding during vascular surgery and major trauma.

Even more exciting are studies being conducted in South Australia, whereby scientists are using snake venoms to develop a new treatment for cancer tumours, thought to be equally or more effective than chemotherapy without any of the harmful side effects.  Meanwhile, others are discovering new, venom-derived treatments for arthritis, epilepsy and more.  Maybe those old jokes about ‘snake oil’ weren’t far wrong…

The Mystery of Nature

Marsh Snake Hemiaspis signata

Marsh Snake Hemiaspis signata

In ancient cultures, snakes were not feared, but worshipped, as symbols of wisdom, fertility and immortality – a theme found consistently throughout both indigenous and pagan belief systems around the globe.  Sadly, as human populations grew, conflict with both flora and fauna increased, and in many parts of the world, the rise of the major western religions saw most ancient symbols, including snakes, fiercely disparaged, to make way for new teachings.

Casualties of an ever-changing society where ignorance breeds fear and anyone or anything too ‘different’ from those familiar to us faces automatic suspicion … snakes are in desperate need of a commonsense approach to their lives and welfare.

We don’t expect people to love snakes and other reptiles like we do, but we do expect them to be smart enough to stop killing them.  We need reptiles … so don’t just conserve them for their benefit: do it for yours.

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    Unlike many snakes, some pythons brood their eggs Unlike most other snakes, some pythons coil around their eggs to incubate them.

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