Low, grassy vegetation. Clay soil. Damp puddles. When you look at this picture of a swamp you might not think it’s the sort of place you’d find an ectothermic (cold-blooded) animal. But when I explored this ‘island’ in the Jarrah forest near Augusta recently, that’s just what I found.
In habitats such as this you can often find small mounds of fine twigs and sticks. These belong to ‘Stick-nest Ants’, a tiny ant that makes nests out of sticks. “What an amazing coincidence!,” I hear you say! The ants are very common and not every nest is occupied. Quite a few become abandoned, leaving a vacant dome of sticks and soil, a heat-retaining mound that keeps out the water. A perfect hidey-hole for a reptile.
I was really excited to poke into one ant nest and see the gorgeous coils of this Square-nosed Snake (Rhinoplocephalus bicolor). You can see where it gets its name from shape of the head in the above photograph. This species is classed as venomous, but doesn’t carry enough poison for a bite to a human to be harmful. It feeds entirely on other reptiles, especially small skinks, and being from a colder part of the state, gives birth to live young. It’s interesting to know that juveniles have a very different appearance to adults. Here is one I managed to find in another Stick-ant nest. As you can see, he was quite keen to pose for the camera!
Another species of snake which has a liking for Stick-ant nests is the Crowned Snake (Elapognathus coronatus). We found one of these basking on top of a nest in the late afternoon sun, and luckily I was able to grab him quickly and place him on the ground under my hat, ready to poise him for a photograph. These spectacular animals give birth to 3-9 live young in March and April. As their name suggests, they have a ‘crowned’ appearance, owing to the dark markings on the side of the head extending across the back of the neck. Like Short-nosed Snakes, Crowns are also not venomous enough to be considered harmful, making them a fun snake to find and photograph.Next time you’re down in our beautiful deep south-west, find some time to go exploring and you might find some ‘swamp things’ too. They are proof that not every snake you see is a potential death threat, but yet another example of a unique Australian animal.