Our Bushland Diary

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Walking with Snakes

On Sunday morning, 31st October, a group of families turned up to listen to a talk about our local reptiles, and go for a walk in bushland.  

The talk was presented by Gane Doyle from the WA Reptile Park at Henley Brook.  Gane shared some of his depth of knowledge about reptiles, including how to tell the difference between and a snake and a lizard, and some points about reptile behaviour.  Gane also told us about a little mishap he had while feeding one of the crocodiles at his Reptile Park, hence the bandaged hand.

After the talk, the kids eagerly came forward to inspect the shed skins of snakes and lizards, and looked at photographs of tiger snakes, Burton's legless lizard and a bobtail.  The adults kept Gane busy for a while with lots of questions.

Then we headed off for a bushwalk in a nearby paperbark patch, looking at flowers, trees, insects and animal tracks.  We kept a sharp eye out for snakes, but didn't see a single one. Snakes are very wary, and a large group of bushwalkers make quite a lot of noise, so I wasn't surprised that we didn't see any snakes.   You have to be really quiet to sneak up on a snake.

There were a lot of bobtail tracks in the sand.  Here's a photo of a typical lizard track, by a bluetongue lizard.  Bluetongue tracks in sand are very distinctive and usually easy to "read" - in this photo below, you can see where the little legs pushed the animal along, and the tail dragged on the ground.  The shape of the footprints show that the animal was moving from left to right.  

So, how do you tell the difference between a snake and a lizard?  Gane said the best way is to look at the tongue.  All snakes have a forked tongue.  Lizards usually have a fleshy round tongue. The only lizard that has a forked tongue is the goanna (also known as a monitor lizard, or coloquially as a "racehorse lizard") and they are not likely to be mistaken for a snake because they have obvious legs.  (Snakes don't have legs!)  Some lizards have a snake-like appearance due to having no legs, but their tongues are fleshy and round.


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