Today we feature one of Australia’s best-known and best-dressed snakes, the red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus). This exceedingly handsome reptile lives all along the eastern coast of the island continent and grows to lengths of 1.5 to 2 meters (5.5 to 6.5 feet). It is a generalist predator which eats small mammals, reptiles (including fellow red-bellied black snakes) arthropods, and above all, frogs. This fetching snake is a member of the elapidae family—a group of toxic snakes which includes such famous genera as coral snakes, cobras, and kraits.
The red-bellied snake is indeed venomous: its venom is a complex mixture of neurotoxins, myotoxins, and coagulants. However, when the snakes bites people (which they are loath to do) they rarely inject a lethal dose of venom. When threatened they try to hide in the urban woodlands, billabongs, or scrublands where they live. If backed into a corner they will make a threat display by extending their cobra-like hood and hissing. Australians, who live with many horrifying venomous snakes, seem to regard red-bellied black snakes as comparatively benign although I certainly wouldn’t want one to bite me!).
Snakes of this species are ovoviviparous—they hold their eggs inside their body until the young hatch. This is no mean feat, since mother snakes can give birth to litters of up to 40 little baby snakes!