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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 6

Hoplocephalus Cortus. Schleg. — The Brown-banded Snake. — Scales in 18 rows anteriorly, and in 19 posteriorly

Hoplocephalus Cortus. Schleg.

The Brown-banded Snake.

Scales in 18 rows anteriorly, and in 19 posteriorly.

Body rounded, rather depressed, tail moderate, not distinct from trunk; head large, broad, very distinct from neck, crown flat, muzzle rounded; superciliaries slightly prominent, and sometimes two grooves before the eye. All the shields of the head very broad, the vertical almost square, with an obtuse angle behind; occipitals deeply forked, sides sometimes jagged, with a page 53 broad scale fitting the notch. Scales never in less than 18 rows; above olive brown with from 60 to 70 darker cross-bands, in some specimens the scales between the dark bands are anteriorly edged with yellow, the two outer rows of scales yellowish, more or less clouded, but without any distinct spot in the centre of each scale as in H. superbus. Belly yellow, ventral plates frequently clouded or spotted with dark grey anteriorly, growing darker towards the tail; the subcaudals, which are entire, being almost uniform blackish.

The coloration of this snake varies considerably; on the East Coast light-brown specimens are much more frequent than dark ones, whilst Western Australian snakes of this species are very dark-brown, and the cross-bands remarkably distinct. This reptile has been frequently alluded to by some authors as H. superbus, but I have always maintained that no continental species has ever been found with 15 rows of scales, and the vertical shield more than twice as long as broad; the main characters by which the two snakes can easily be distinguished. I am certain that more than 300 specimens have passed through my hands, and in not one instance did they answer to Dr. Günther's description of H. superbus.

I will give here the main points in which both Snakes differ:
H. superbus. H. curtus.
Scales in 15 rows. Scales in 18 to 19 rows.
Tail short, distinct from trunk. Tail not distinct from trunk.
Head remarkably small, scarcely distinct from trunk. Head very broad, as large again as H. Superbus, and distinct from neck.
Neck rather rounded. Neck very flat.
Scales of Head more or less elongate; vortical, more than twice as long as broad. Scales of Head very broad, in particular the vertical, which without the anterior angle would form a square.
Coloration uniform brown, 2 outer rows of scales with reddish or yellow centre spot. Coloration brown banded, 2 outer rows of scales paler, or clouded with yellow and greyish.
Habitat Tasmania. Habitat Australian continent.
Synonym Diamond Snake of the Tasmanians. Synonyms Brown Banded Snake, N. S. Wales; Tiger Snake, Victoria.
page 54

I have had some correspondence with Dr. Albert Günther regarding the habitat of the two Snakes, and I am glad to see the learned Doctor's statement in the Annals of Natural History for November, 1863, that "Hoplocephalus superbus proves to be a Tasmanian species."

It would be interesting to know whether the Tasmanian Snake is able to inflate the skin of the neck when irritated, but judging from its small size this is not likely to be the case, and we must leave to Tasmanian Naturalists the solution of this question. In the continental Snake the power to raise itself off the ground for half the length of the body, and to flatten out the neck like a Cobra, is well known, the Black Snake being the only other reptile which has been provided with the same power. A few words more and I have done with this, the most dangerous of all our Snakes.

Its habitat is, I believe, the temperate part of Australia from East to West. I have taken it on the Murray, in South Australia and Victoria, and received specimens from almost every part of New South Wales and from King George's Sound. The present species is not far removed from the Indian Cobra (Naja tripudians), and its bite is as deadly. A good sized dog bitten became paralyzed within three minutes, and was dead in fifty minutes afterwards; a goat died in thirty-five minutes; another goat which escaped whilst experimented upon, was found dead in the street after a few hours; a Dingo met the same fate in forty-eight minutes; an Echidna (Echidna hystrix) lived six hours, and a Common Tortoise, an animal which will live a day with its head cut off, was dead in five hours after being bitten.

Antidote vendors seeing the effect of the poison, never dared to peril their reputation in the attempt to save the animals so bitten; I must mention, however, that in making these experiments, chance bites, where the snake makes a dart, bites, and retires, were out of the question, and I grant that under such conditions man or animal may recover; but if the snake's head is applied to the lip or ear of some animal and the fangs well pressed into the wound, there is little hope of recovery. Let me also give a few words of advice to such men as go about exhibiting these reptiles, and showing their prowess by allowing themselves to be page 55 bitten, professing that they possess an antidote against the poison; generally speaking, these persons are more or less impostors; they break off the fangs of the snake, but do not know how soon they are reproduced, and thus frequently fall victims to their ignorance. The Indian jugglers have more sense, and entirely remove the teeth, as most of the specimens of Naja tripudians prove which are received from India.

The young of this snake, from 15 to 20 in number, are generally observed about the end of February; they are then from 7 to 8 inches long, and subsist on small frogs, lizards, or insects. During the cold season this snake retires into the ground, as I have never met with half-grown or adult specimens under stones.