While the tiger snake’s reputation as a fierce predator is widely known throughout Australia, few people ever encounter this reptile in the wild. It is unfortunate that the species is often criticised because of its toxic venom and aggressive nature, because the tiger snake is a true survivor in the animal world, having overcome some of the harshest environments on the continent.
Physical Appearance of Tiger Snakes
The tiger snake gets its name from the black and yellow cross bands that ring its skin. However not all species of tiger snakes have these markings. Some are dark greenish brown to blackish brown, with the cross bands varying in thickness and the colors ranging from pale white to bright yellow. However some of the tiger snakes may lack any kind of banded pattern at all, such as the ones found in the central highlands or the southwest area of Tasmania.
Juvenile tiger snakes look similar to rough-scaled snakes or Stephen’s banded snakes. But depending on the width of their bands, tiger snakes might be confused with eastern brown snakes, copperheads, or black snakes. Some specimens on Kangaroo Island display a reddish belly area, causing humans to confuse these types of tiger snakes with red-bellied black snakes.
Climbing, Burrowing, Swimming
Tiger snakes have wide heads and muscular bodies. When they perceive a threat nearby, they flatten their bodies to expose the black skin between their large, glossy scales. Unlike other venomous snakes in Australia, tiger snakes can climb both natural and manmade construction with equal skill. Some tiger snakes discovered by humans were as high as 10m above ground!
Most often found in watery environments that offers local cover, tiger snakes make their homes in habitats that include fallen timber across a creek, in deeply matted marsh grasses, or abandoned animal burrows. Tiger snakes thrive across southwestern Australia and southeastern Australia, including the island habitats of Tasmania and ones found in the Bass Strait. Their homes range from an altitude of sea level to 1000m above sea level, such as the ones living in Tasmania.
What a Tiger Snake Eats
The broad diet of a tiger snake living in the wild includes fish, lizards, mammals, frogs and tadpoles, and carrion left by other predators. The size of the tiger snake’s prey is proportion to its own body size. They mostly hunt during the day, but are not above foraging on warm evenings, either. Because they can stay underwater for nearly 10 minutes, they also chase prey like frogs and tadpoles beneath aquatic surfaces.
Like most reptiles found in the wild, tiger snakes are more active during the warmer months but have been known to bask in the sun on a warm winter’s day. During the winter and other cool periods, they go dormant in abandoned animal burrows, in the spaces beneath large boulders, and in the hollow trunks of dead trees. Some tiger snakes burrow as deep as 1.2m beneath the ground and could hibernate with as many as two dozen of their offspring in the case of a late season birthing.