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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 6

First Suborder. — Ophidii Colubriformes Innocui. — Innocuous Colubrine Snakes

First Suborder.

Ophidii Colubriformes Innocui.

Innocuous Colubrine Snakes.

Snakes without grooved fang in front, comprising the following families:—
1.Typhlopidæ, or Blind Snakes.
2.Dendrophidæ, or Tree-Snakes.
3.Dipsadidæ, or Nocturnal Tree-Snakes; and
4.Pythonidæ, or Rock-Snakes.

1.—Typhlopidæ; or Blind Snakes.

Typhlops. Schneid.

Typhlops rüpelli. Jan.

The Blind Snake.

Scales in 22 rows. Rostral large and broad above, narrowing below; Preoculars much larger at the base than at the tip, third upper labial in contact with the ocular and preocular. Anterior scales smaller than the posterior ones. Tail short, cylindrical, page 36 very obtuse, three times the length of its diameter, and ending in a small spine.

The color of this harmless little reptile is brownish grey above, and yellowish below; each scale of the back being bordered with yellowish white, the markings becoming obsolete towards the tail; the form is cylindrical, enlarging towards the tail.

Of all our harmless snakes, the present species is the least offensive; it lives under ground, and is frequently found in Ants' nests, upon the larvæ of which it principally exists; its total length does not exceed 18 inches. I believe that the present species has a very wide range, and that it will be found to inhabit the greater part of the Australian Continent; specimens from the Murray River, from South Australia, and from Queensland are in the collection of the Australian Museum.

2.—Dendrophidæ; or Tree-Snakes.

Dendrophis. Boie.

Dendrophis punctulata. Gray.

The Green Tree-Snake.

Of slender form, above green or pale olive brown, beneath bright yellow, sides and under parts of head the same colour; eyes large, pupil rounded. Outer edge of scales white, as may be seen on stretching the skin.

1 anterior 2 posterior oculars, scales smooth, those of the vertebral row much larger, polygonal; scales of outer rows elongated, narrow, quadrilateral, and very imbricated.

Maxillary teeth smooth and of equal length.

This snake, one of the few not venomous Australian species, is a gentle harmless creature, which at any time may be handled with impunity; it never attempts to bite, and of many hundred page 37 individuals which I had an opportunity to observe alive, not a single one could be induced to inflict a wound.

If we except Tasmania and the southern part of Victoria, we find the Green Tree Snake from north to south, and from east to west; it frequents trees, feeds upon insects, frogs, lizards, small birds and birds' eggs, and grows to a considerable length, but seldom if ever exceeding 6 feet.

I have reason to believe that the female is oviparous, laying about 20 or more eggs in November or December; young individuals differ considerably from the adult in colouring, being not of so bright a green; and having a grey instead of a light yellow belly. The winter is generally passed under hollow logs or beneath flat stones in sunny but often damp localities.

3. Dipsadidæ, or Nocturnal Tree-Snakes.

Dipsas. Auct.

Dipsas Fusca Gray;

The Brown Tree-Snake.

Form slender, body and tail compressed, elongate head much depressed, triangular, broad behind, very distinct from neck; scales on the vertebral line much larger, regularly six-sided, vertical shield broad, occipitals obtuse behind, one loreal; eight upper labials, the third and fourth and sometimes the fifth touching the orbit; one anterior two posterior oculars; eye large, pupil elliptical; nostril moderate, between two shields; posterior maxillary teeth longest and grooved.

Above, light brown or reddish brown, with numerous black rather oblique, sometimes obsolete cross bands; belly uniform salmon coloured.

The present species has not been so much noticed in the neighbourhood of Sydney as the Green Tree-snake, but this may page 38 be owing to its nocturnal habits; it is found along the East Coast, and ranges as far as Port Essington; individuals observed in captivity appeared very gentle in disposition, and could be freely handled without showing any inclination to bite, they passed the day coiled up amongst the branches of trees, but became very active at night, noiselessly gliding through the foliage in search of their prey, which, as in the Green Tree snake, consists of birds, birds' eggs, insects, frogs, lizards, and the smaller mammalia.

I am unable to state whether the female is oviparous or not; the number of young produced annually does probably not exceed 20. Total length of adult about 6 feet.

4. Pythonidæ, or Rock-Snakes.

Morelia. Grey.

Morelia Spilotes. The Diamond Snake.

Head shields small, scale-like; three pairs of distinct frontal plates, vertical plate indistinct, rostral shield with a pit on each side, first and second upper labials pitted; of the lower labials the first seven are smooth, then follow seven deeply pitted scales, and 3 or 4 smooth ones, nostrils lateral, in a single plate with a groove beneath; eyes lateral; pupil elliptical, erect; scales smooth; subcaudal plates in two rows, two spur-like appendages near the vent.


Bluish black above, almost every scale with a yellowish (white in spirits) elongate spot in the centre; there is a series of dark-edged irregular blotches upon the back, each bearing in the middle a few very bright yellow-colored scales; these spots or blotches vary considerably in different individuals, specimens from Port Macquarie having almost the markings of the Carpet Snake, but still retaining the yellow spot in each scale, which in page 39 M. variegata is wanting. Some specimens occur with a pale yellow streak from the side of the head to the vent: in fact we very rarely find two of these snakes which do not differ considerably in their markings.

The range of the Diamond Snake (M. spilotes) is restricted to a very limited area of country, being found in no other part of Australia than from Port Macquarie to Jervis Bay, or perhaps Cape Howe; and from the coast to the western slopes of the Blue Mountains and the Liverpool Range. In the plains watered by the Lachlan, the Murray and the Murrumbidgee, the present species is not found, the Carpet Snake (Morelia variegata) taking its place there.

The Diamond Snake is a common species in the county of Cumberland, in the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra district; it is a harmless creature, which may be picked up by any body without ever offering to bite; though it is a strictly nocturnal snake, individuals are nevertheless met with during the day-time, either basking in the sun and digesting their food, or, having been disturbed, in search of a place of shelter. Like the other species of the family Pythonidæ, they prey upon birds, and the smaller species of Mammals; young individuals feeding upon insects, frogs, or birds' eggs; the female deposits 30 or more eggs in December or January, which in a month or two the sun brings to maturity. I am not aware that the mother cares any longer about her progeny, after laying the eggs; and I have never seen or heard of a single instance where she coiled herself upon the eggs so deposited.

Diamond Snakes are found in almost every kind of country as long as it offers sufficient shelter; they prefer open stony ridges studded with low trees and well supplied with water, the edges of swamps and lagoons are frequented by them, as they find there a considerable supply of Water-rats (Hydromys), young Ducks, and other water-fowl; they also often visit the hen roosts of the farmer, or surprise "Opossums" (Phalangista) or "Flying Squirrels" (Petaurus), upon the branches of high Eucalypti.

The largest specimen, to my knowledge, that has been captured near Sydney, and properly measured, without being stretched, was 10 feet 3 inches long; that individuals of 11 page 40 feet or more in length occur, I doubt not, though they are very rare indeed, and have never come under my notice.

The way in which Diamond Snakes capture their prey is as follows:—

The snake suspends itself from the branch of some low bush or tree and watches for the victim, which often plays about near its unseen enemy. The reptile, with its neck and head bent into the form of an S, deliberately measures its distance, uncoiling more of its body if necessary, and often almost touching the animal it is in wait for; as soon as the snake is sure to reach its victim, it darts forward, generally catching the prey by one of the hind legs, and instantly takes a turn around its body, soon extinguishing life through its powerful pressure. As soon as the animal is quite dead, the process of swallowing begins, the snake always commencing with the head; this done, the reptile will often for days together bask in the sun, until the food is so far digested as to impede its movements no longer.

If a snake is disturbed during this state, it will almost always throw up the half digested carcass.

In a state of nature they never touch any food except living animals. I once, however, observed a Diamond Snake, which was kept in a cage, swallow a rat which had been killed by a Brown-banded snake (Hoplocephalus curtus.)

The present species is greatly infested by various kinds of Intestinal worms, including a Tape worm, clusters of which I have frequently taken from the stomach of this reptile.

Before concluding, a few remarks will be necessary with regard to the Carpet Snake (Morelia, variegata).

There is very little, if any difference in the distribution and number of scales between the Diamond and Carpet Snakes, the only character in which both snakes vary, is the coloration; the first having a yellow spot in the centre of each scale, whilst the latter has the back ornamented with numerous irregular black edged brown blotches; the belly, as in the Diamond Snake, being yellowish. I have mentioned before the remarkable fact, that the Carpet Snake is found in every part of Australia, except the Coast District, say from Cape Howe to the Hastings, and about 100 miles page 41 inland; at Port Macquarie both species occur, but at the Clarence River, according to Mr. James F. Wilcox, the Carpet Snake alone is found. Dr. J. E. Gray has indeed tried to distinguish the one from the other by the vertical plate, which he considers distinct in Morelia variegata, and indistinct in M. spilotes. But after examination of large numbers of both species, I do not think that the above is a character much to be relied upon, and I am led to believe that both Snakes are but varieties of the same species.

There is, according to Duméril and Bibron, the famous French Herpetologists, a second species of Snake of the Boa family to be found near Sydney, namely,

The Bolyeria, D. & B.

Bolyeria Multicarinata. D. & B.

This, however, is not the case. I have hunted the country near Sydney for years, and have never come across a single snake of this description; high regards have been offered for it, with no better success, and no specimen ever existed in the Australian Museum. I have, however, lately purchased a snake which answers to the description given, and which was obtained at some of the islands near New Guinea.