Now that Spring has arrived you might be seeing a few visitors to your Brisbane garden. The average suburban Brisbane backyard can host quite a variety of wildlife. Some, like the rosellas and lorikeets, are welcomed for their bright colours and cheerful song. The scaly creatures of nature tend to get a cooler reception from many people. Snakes in particular are often killed on sight regardless what species they are and whether they are any threat to humans. While there are certainly venomous snakes around, many of these creatures are totally harmless and should simply be left alone or observed at a safe distance.
All native Australian reptiles and frogs are protected species so it is actually illegal to kill them. It is best to stay well clear of any snake, especially if you are not sure whether it is venomous. If necessary there are businesses you can call to have someone come and remove wildlife from your property. In the longer term if you don't like reptiles you can discourage them by keeping your lawn short and and your garden tidy, giving them fewer places to hide, and sealing any holes or cracks they might be using to get into your house.
The following are a few of the harmless and fascinating creatures you might see in Brisbane during the warmer months.
Carpet Python (Morelia spilota)
Carpet python sheltering from birds on a window sill.
Often found in ceilings and around suburban homes where they hunt for rats and mice, these pythons can grow up to four meters long (though they are usually less than two meters), so it is understandable that people are often startled by them. However, although they may be big they are fairly placid snakes and will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
Carpet pythons are named for the beautiful, distinctive patterns on their scales which are similar to those of a Persian carpet. Like all pythons they are constrictors, which means they kill their prey by wrapping themselves around it and strangling it before swallowing it whole. They primarily eat mice, rats and small birds. Birds will sometimes band together to swoop on them to protect their eggs.
Carpet pythons have no venom and no fangs, only tiny, needle-like teeth. They perform a useful function in helping get rid of rodents without the need for traps or poisons. Contrary to popular belief they are not at all slimy, but smooth and dry to the touch (though you should not touch a wild snake if you can avoid it as they may bite if cornered). It is legal to keep them as pets if you obtain a licence from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, but they must be purchased from a licensed breeder as it is illegal to take them from the wild. Their mating season is in Spring and early Summer and the females lay between 10 and 50 eggs.
Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata)
A bearded dragon soaking up the sun on the steps of an old Queenslander.
Despite their spiky appearance these lizards are harmless to humans. Their mottled, greyish brown scales are great camouflage. If cornered they may puff themselves up, displaying the spiked 'beard' around their heads. In the wild they live in open forest and climb up trees to escape predators or to warm themselves in the sun. Where trees are not available they will use man-made structure such as fence posts or stairs, as pictured above. They will eat insects but the majority of their diet is leaves, flowers and fruits. They mate in the Spring and the females lay between 10 and 20 eggs which they bury in a shallow hole in the open, making them vulnerable to predators such as dogs and cats. A female may lay several clutches of eggs in a single season.
Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii lesueuerii)
These spiky lizards are similar to the bearded dragon but with more striking markings. They are greyish brown with darker grey stripes. The chest and underbelly of the males may be red or orange. They are often found taking a dip in suburban swimming pools and can stay under water for approximately half an hour. Like the bearded dragon, they are harmless to humans and vulnerable to domestic animals. The young are also prey to kookaburras and butcher birds. Unlike their bearded relatives they are omnivores, eating insects and small fish, mammals, amphibians and crustaceans as well as fruit. The females lay clutches of between 6 and 18 eggs.
Green Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata)
Green Tree Snake
Unlike pythons, green tree snakes do have venom, but they are not considered dangerous to humans. They are about 1.2m long. They vary in colour from a brilliant emerald green to brown (making them easily confused with the brown tree snake) and have long slender bodies and large doll-like eyes. They are well camouflaged against leaves, but you might spot one in a tree or hedge. They are very agile climbers. The females lay clutches of between 5 and 12 eggs.
Also known as the common blue tongue, these lizards are sometimes mistaken for snakes, particularly when just their tail is visible poking out from a crevice. They often hide in leaf litter and long grass and are sometimes accidentally killed by mowers or other garden implements or preyed upon by dogs and cats. They are 30-40cm long, making the largest in the skink family, and have a squat pale body with darker brown and black stripes and a flattened head. If they feel threatened these fascinating creatures will display their bright blue tongues to try and ward off attackers. Blue tongues are slow moving and live on insects and snails, making them a gardener's friend. Unlike most reptiles, instead of laying eggs, blue tongue lizards have live young. They usually have about 10 babies which are about 15cm long.