Habitat Ecology Information

What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #40 Lowland Copperhead

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week or so I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s  backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#40 Lowland Copperhead

(Austrelaps superbus)

This is one that I came close to standing on during a walk along the Yarra River edges. It was quite happy to lie there warming itself whilst I took a few photos. The Lowland Copperhead is one of three copperheads found within Australia the others being the Highland and Pygmy Copperheads. This species can be found in a variety of habitats including grasslands, were this specimen was found, woodlands and open scrub often were these habitats are associated with water such as marshes, lagoons, creeks, lakes etc and has adapted well to disturbance by utilising man made watery environments such as drainage ditches, canals etc.

These snakes can often be found sheltering under or within rubbish left behind or around the backyards in or under metal roofing, tyres and even hay bales. In the wild they will utilise rocks, stumps, logs, and dense vegetation such as tussock grasses or even the odd yabbie, rabbit or rodent burrows for shelter. Diet consists of frogs, lizards and small mammals including mice in and around the house. They can be found in lowland areas of southeastern South Australia, southern Victoria, Tasmania and the islands of Bass Strait.

The Lowland Copperhead can grow to around 1.7 metres in length with a body colour of light grey to red-brown. The underbelly (if you are keen to get that close) is a pale white-yellow to pink-orange colour and the lips have faint vertical strips. Like most snakes they will go into a state of quiescence between late April and November. This will depend on the season.

Breeding is believed to occur in and around March with all copperheads being ovoviviparous, (giving birth to live young) and breeding may not occur each year. Males at the start of the breeding season will engage in combat of a type that is particular to this species.

Like many snakes they will try and avoid interaction with humans unless provoked which may result in the snake lashing out and inflicting a bite. The bite can be fatal if medical treatment is not given. With all snake bites it should be assumed that the venom has been injected and a compression bandage applied and immobilisation of the limb should be undertaken whilst seeking medical attention.

Conservation Status in Victoria: “Least Concern”

Habitat Ecology 2021

References:

Australian Museum: https://australian.museum/learn/animals/reptiles/copperhead/

Museum Victoria: https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/species/8787