3 Invasive Snakes in New South Wales

corn snake
© Kurit afshen/Shutterstock.com

Written by Gail Baker Nelson

Published: October 9, 2023

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Australia’s unique plant and animal life is the stuff of legends. Where else could koalas, kangaroos, and the world’s deadliest snakes evolve? The land down under has more than its share of deadly animals, but it also has difficulties with species that do not belong there in the wild.

Getting an accurate count of snakes is difficult. They are stealthy and camouflage well — using nature to hide their slender, legless bodies. Even though their snake problem is not as extensive as Florida’s Burmese python issue, there are a few snakes that the New South Wales government believes may become invasive in the future.

Brahminy Blind Snake (Indotyphlops braminus)

Brahminy Blindsnake Eyespot Close-up on Stone Macro

Although they look and act much like

earthworms

, Brahminy blind snakes are reptiles with tiny little scales covering their bodies.

©Radiant Reptilia/Shutterstock.com

This tiny snake is a world traveler. Native to parts of Africa and Asia, Brahminy blindsnakes look and behave like earthworms – burrowing easily into loose soil. They’re also called flower pot snakes because of how they travel the world. Brahminy blind snakes and their eggs hitchhike in soil and pots with seedlings. When the growers and producers ship the products, away go the Brahminy blind snakes! 

Although harmless, this four-inch-long species competes with similarly-sized native snakes for the same foods and nesting opportunities. They eat eggs and larvae of ants, termites, and other very small invertebrates. In some regions, it might out-compete the natives. However, because of its size, actually observing the Brahminy blind snake in action is difficult. So scientists can only guess how much damage they cause. It is one of the most successful invasive species in the world.

Corn Snakes (Pantherophis guttatus)

Corn snake on a branch

Their naturally beautiful colors make corn snakes popular pets.

©bugphai/iStock via Getty Images

This rat snake species might have been named for its belly pattern that looks somewhat like maize. However, it may also have been named because early settlers in the United States saw them slithering around corn and grain storage, hunting rodents. No one knows for sure. 

Wherever they got their common name, corn snakes are native to the southeastern United States. As pets, these snakes are popular worldwide. Corn snakes’ easy-going temperament and active lifestyle make them fun beginner snakes. However, they are excellent climbers and known escape artists. Their propensity for escaping makes them

In regions with temperate climates like New South Wales, these inquisitive, adaptable snakes can easily become invasive — which may already be the case. Corn snakes are already on a government watch list, and heavily regulated as pets.

Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor)

boa constrictor wrapped around branch

This nonvenomous species may be able to compete with native scrub and carpet pythons for resources.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Another possibly invasive species is the boa constrictor. These snakes are efficient colonizers of new lands. Boas breed well and give birth to sometimes 20 babies — they’re also large snakes that can compete with native scrub and carpet pythons for resources.

They are native to Central and South America, so there is little chance of them getting to NSW by mistake. Any boa constrictors in New South Wales are likely the result of escaped or released pets. Like many non-native animals, boas are heavily regulated. Individuals cannot own one without special permits.

California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)

A California kingsnake on a white background

Although smallish, the California kingsnake readily eats other snakes, lizards, and small mammals.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

The California kingsnake is the last snake on the New South Wales watch list. Endemic to the western United States and northern Mexico. This highly adaptable species can make its home wherever it finds appropriate climate, food, and shelter – which makes NSW a fantastic place to take up residence. Although it does not seem to have a foothold yet, this species has that potential.

Most California kingsnakes are black or brown with white or cream-colored bands. Yet, part of their allure as pets is their natural variability. They eat a variety of rodents, lizards, and other snakes — meaning they could easily compete with native animals for the same resources.

Other Invasive Species in New South Wales

Snakes are not the only invasive species in NSW and currently, they are not much of a threat. However, as with any invasive species, the situation can change if they gain a solid foothold and begin breeding.

Cane Toad (Rhinella marina)

Although a few snake species are setting up shop and competing for resources in various areas of New South Wales, you could argue that a bigger threat is the cane toad. Introduced as a way to control pests in sugar cane fields during the 1930s, cane toads are a prime example of how deliberately releasing exotic animals can go dramatically wrong.

This large toad is native to Central and South America – it has no natural predators in Australia. This is bad enough, but native predators who try taking a bite out of one wind up sick or dead.

Dromedary Camel (Camelus dromedarius)

Camels arrived in Australia during the 1800s. They were used for hauling freight and traveling across the expansive deserts in the Outback. When vehicles took over those jobs, some unwanted camels were released, resulting in feral camel populations. 

The feral camels tend to compete for resources that livestock need, they also damage fences that allow animals to escape.

Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)

Most of the original foxes were released in Victoria for fox hunts during the 1850s. However, within 20 years red foxes became nuisance animals — they breed quickly and can adapt to almost any habitat. Since their introduction, they have spread to about 75% of Australia. These animals are native to much of Europe, and Asia. They are also present in North America, but experts do not all agree on whether they are native or introduced.

Foxes eat a variety of ground animals, native and non-native. The species’ varied diet is a cause for concern because these generalist carnivores have had a negative effect on native wildlife. They should never have been brought to Australia, but…here they are. At this point, there is little chance of ever eradicating them. The best option is to remove as many as possible from habitats as they are found.

Damage Invasive Animals Cause

Invasive animals cause vast amounts of ecological damage worldwide. Whether they were accidentally or deliberately released does not matter. 

According to the National Wildlife Federation, invasive species cause imbalances in ecosystems and threaten approximately 42% of threatened or endangered species worldwide. Any time a new species takes hold in a new area, there is a risk that it will damage the local ecosystem by taking resources from natives. Or, in the case of the cane toad, killing native animals that would otherwise prey on them by poisoning them.

Invasive species can do a lot of damage, like:

  • Poison local wildlife
  • Out-compete local wildlife for breeding and feeding grounds
  • Suffocate local plants (wild mustard, anyone?)
  • Cause massive economic damage by interfering with farming and agriculture

What Can Be Done?

In some cases, not much! The Australian government regulates the import and export of animals. They have a lengthy application process to receive special permits, and not all applications are approved. If you do not have the right permits for regulated animals, owning one as a pet is illegal and subject to fines. It may be a bit draconian, but it is an effort to preserve Australia’s unique wildlife heritage.

Each individual can help reduce the damage invasive species cause. You can start by not releasing unwanted pets. It does not matter how urgently you need to rehome it. Many nuisance and invasive animals got their start with people who released them after they no longer wanted the animals.

New South Wales has an online form for locals to report sightings of invasive species. If they know where the animals have spread, it is easier to find ways to manage the problem. 

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

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