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Red-bellied black snake
The red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) is a species of elapid snake native to eastern Australia. Though its venom is capable of causing significant morbidity, a bite from it is not generally fatal and less venomous than other deadly Australian snakes. It is common in woodlands, forests and swamplands of eastern Australia. It is one of Australia's best-known snakes, as it is common in urban areas along the eastern coast of Australia. It has an average total length of 1.5 to 2 metres.
The species was first described by George Shaw in Zoology of New Holland (1794), placing it in the genus Coluber. He believed the snake to be harmless to people. The accompanying illustration was attributed to James Sowerby, but is regarded as being produced from drawings by John White. The genus Pseudechis was created for it, though several subsequent species have been added. Snake expert Eric Worrell analyzed the skulls of the genus and found that of the red-bellied black snake to be the most divergent.
The red-bellied black snake is glossy black on the dorsal surface and red, crimson or pink in colour on the lower sides and belly. The snout is often a lighter brown colour. It is a relatively large species of snake reaching up to two metres in length, although an average sized specimen would be closer to 1.4 m. Like all Elapid snakes it is front fanged. It has 17 mid-body scale rows. Juveniles are similar to the eastern small-eyed snake, with which it can be easily confused.
Distribution and habitat
The red-bellied black snake is native to the east coast of Australia. It can be found in the urban forest, woodland, plains and bushland areas of the Blue Mountains, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Cairns and Adelaide. It is most commonly seen close to dams, streams, billabongs and other bodies of water.
This is generally not an aggressive species. However, when provoked, it will recoil into its striking stance as a threat, but will try to escape at the first opportunity. It is most active by day. When not hunting or basking it may be found beneath timber, rocks and rubbish or down holes and burrows.
The venom of red-bellied black snake consists of neurotoxins, myotoxins, coagulants and also has haemolytic properties. Bites from red-bellied black snake are rarely life-threatening due to the snake usually choosing to inject little venom toxin, but are still in need of immediate medical attention. Tiger snake antivenom is used to treat bites. While black snake antivenom can be used, tiger snake antivenom can be used at a lower dose. The smaller dose is cheaper to produce, and is less likely to cause a reaction in the patient.
Red-bellied black snakes are ovoviviparous; that is, they give birth to live young in individual membranous sacs. The young, numbering between eight and forty, emerge from their sacs very shortly after birth, and have an average length of about 122mm. In the wild, few will survive to reproduce.
"Coluber porphyriacus", Zoology and botany of New Holland (1794)
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- Tab. X of: Zoology and botany of New Holland and the isles adjacent / the zoological part by George Shaw, the botanical part by James Edward Smith; the figures by James Sowerby