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On a weekend walk, MP Phil Donato happened upon two Eastern Browns fighting for supremacy

September 4, 2023

Main photo: An Eastern Brown snake (Australian Museum). Insets: The snakes messing about, and MP Phil Donato (supplied).

By Peter Holmes

State MP Phil Donato is urging people to keep a keen eye out for snakes, after he came across two long and healthy-looking specimens locked in some type of tete-a-tete over the weekend.

Donato was taking a constitutional at a mate’s property in Cargo when he spied movement in the grass.

Two snakes - believed to be not-very-friendly but incredibly venomous Eastern Browns - were slithering along together, then lifted from the ground in some sort of embrace. Mouths seemed to be open at full stretch as they became briefly entwined.

Then they flopped back to the ground and slithered away. It is not known if this was the end of the bout, or whether it continued.

Donato reckons the snakes were “fighting to determine who will breed with the female”. It was a points decision to the one on the left. Or was it the right?

“There would have been an Eastern brown female nearby, but I wasn’t going to get any closer," he said.

"I put it on a snake forum saying I wasn’t 100 percent sure if they were Eastern Browns, but people ID’d them as two males. They don't bite each other, they just wrestle and intertwine and see who’s more dominant.”

The snakes wrestle for supremacy. Their bodies run through the grass towards the middle of the photo. Supplied.

The snake that loses is left to try its luck elsewhere. “They’re out and about and they’re active, so be careful,” the MP said.

Breeding season appears to have started a little early, as it usually begins in mid-to-late spring, according to the Australian Museum: “In the wild, males have been observed engaging in ritual combat for access to receptive females. The combating snakes intertwine tightly and wrestle for up to half an hour or more, with each snake trying to push down and overpower the other.”

The Eastern Brown. Photo: Australian Museum.

The MP estimated the snakes were about “four, five, six feet long”.

The only thing we can be sure of is that the length will increase a little each year the story is told.

According to the Australian Research Venum Unit the Eastern Brown is the second most venomous snake on the planet, after another home-grown effort, the inland taipan.

“Yeah, it’ll kill ya,” said Donato, whose bottom half was protected by boots and shorts as the event unfolded.

He said when he used to live at Millthorpe he’d see mainly copperheads, but that out Cargo way you’d see Eastern Browns, Copperheads and Red Bellied Black Snakes.

Donato deals with snakes in Macquarie Street and snakes in the Central West. “I think I prefer these snakes,” he said, referring to the ones in the bush.

Eastern Brown snakes - Australian Museum

* They can be found across a wide range of habitats (excluding rainforest and alpine regions), however they seem to prefer open landscapes such as woodlands, scrublands, and savannah grasslands.

* In arid inland areas they inhabit watercourses and swampy areas that receive at least some seasonal flooding.

The Eastern Brown. Photo: Australian Museum.

* The species can be particularly abundant in rural areas that have been heavily modified for agricultural purposes, and is also frequently encountered on the suburban periphery of many large towns and cities.

* When inactive they shelter beneath fallen logs and large rocks, within deep soil cracks, and in animal burrows, and will readily utilize man-made cover, e.g. sheets of iron, building material.

* In the southern part of its range at least, Eastern Browns are known to share the same shelter site over winter, but whether the snakes are mutually attracted to each other at this time, or simply find the same shelter site independently of each other, is unknown.

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