Reptiles of Tasmania

There are three species of snakes and seventeen species of lizard found in Tasmania. Of these, seven lizards have distributions restricted to Tasmania.

Tasmania's relatively cool climate and high mountain ranges provide certain challenges for reptiles. Reptiles need to raise their body temperature, usually by basking or by absorbing warmth from rocks which have been heated by the sun. Most species only become active when the air temperature is well above 15 degrees Celcius. Consequently, some species of reptile enter a torpor over winter and most have developed strategies and adaptations to thrive in Tasmania's cooler environment.

TIGER SNAKE, Notechis scutatus

The tiger snake is a usually timid species which, like most snakes, usually retreats at the approach of a human. They are an interesting snake which despite the name may not have any striping at all. The Tasmanian tiger Snake has recently been shown to be the the same species as that which occurs on the south-eastern Australian mainland, (Notechis scutatus). The markings are extremely variable and should not be used in isolation to identify snakes. Colours range from jet black, through yellow/orange with grey bands to sandy grey with no bands. There are unconfirmed reports of red-bellied tiger snakes in north-east Tasmania. Typical forms are of a black snake with either no bands or faint yellow to cream bands. Dark olive snakes with yellow bands are fairly common. Generally the belly is pale yellow, white or grey, the enlarged ventral scales often edged with black. The head is broad and blunt. It can be difficult to distinguish the tiger Snake from the copperhead since sizes, habitat preferences and behaviour overlap somewhat. Tiger snakes have 13 - 19 rows of scales around the middle of the body, the usual number being 17. On the mainland of Tasmania, tiger snakes reach a length of 1 to 1.8 m. The Chappell Island population reaches prodigious lengths -- up to 2.1 m. Male tiger snakes reach a greater size than females and have larger heads. The highly toxic venom is produced in large amounts. The venom is mainly neurotoxic, affecting the central nervous system, but also causes muscle damage and affects blood clotting. The breakdown of muscle tissue can lead to kidney failure

LOWLAND COPPERHEAD, Austrelaps superbus

The lowland copperhead prefers to live in swampy or marshy areas where it feeds on frogs, lizards and smaller snakes. It has a relatively smaller head than the tiger snake. It usually has a bright iris and a narrow, somewhat pointed head which is scarcely distinct from the neck. The colour ranges from slate grey or black to coppery red-brown through to deep brick-red on the upper surface. It is usually yellow-white underneath. Most adult copperheads have a prominent orange/red to brown streak running along the lower sides of the body. This has led some people to the mistaken belief that they have seen a red-bellied black snake, a species which does not occur in Tasmania. Juvenile copperheads are often paler, being a reddish-brown colour, sometimes with a grey head and an indistinct dark band across the nape of the neck. The ventral scales often have dark margins. Adults reach 1 m to 1.5 m in length. A dangerously venomous snake with neurotoxic venom, capable of killing an adult human if correct first aid is not applied. The fangs of a copperhead are relatively short so thick socks, strong shoes or gumboots will provide some protection.

WHITE-LIPPED SNAKE, Drysdalia coronoides

White-lipped snakes are the smallest species of snake in Tasmania. They feed on small skinks and because of their shy nature and small fangs a bite from one of these snakes is an unlikely event. They are found throughout Tasmania where they are also called whip snakes. They are slender snakes with a gently tapering tail. Tasmanian specimens are usually dark olive green to a green-grey on the back with a pale grey under-surface. Juveniles are often very dark and may have a deep orange underside. This species gets its name from a thin, white line bordered above by a narrow black line that runs along the upper lip. The head is narrow and rounded at the front. Tasmanian specimens reach a larger size than their mainland counterparts with a head and body length of 25 cm - 40 cm. They are a shy species, tending to hide at the approach of people. White-lipped snakes shelter beneath ground debris, rocks and logs. They can forage in winter on fine days since their small size allows them to heat up quickly. White-lipped snakes have small fangs and small venom glands. While they are unlikely to cause serious injury to healthy adults, some people may be sensitive to the venom and in case of a bite first aid should be applied and medical assistance sought.