Damian Lettoof is completing a PhD at Curtin University on the health of tiger snakes, and to do that he needs to catch them – lots of them.
In the past three years, he’s caught more than 500 tiger snakes at four urban wetlands across Perth, with the most found at a lake in Perth’s western suburbs.
“I have been catching them so I can measure their body condition and count parasites to see if populations differ in health and if that relates to urbanisation, ” he told ABC Radio Perth Breakfast.
“I give each snake a unique scale clip so I can see how they change over time.
“We find the most snakes around Herdsman Lake, right near the city.
“Bibra Lake would be our second biggest site, and then I work up at Joondalup and Yanchep as well.
“At Herdsman Lake you’ve got houses right up to the boundary and I know they get into people’s yards – I’ve been called out a few times.”
Mr Lettoof recently completed his third season getting up close to tiger snakes – one of the world’s most venomous snakes – finding 150.
“We go out at the right time in the morning, between about 8am and 9am and get them in spring when they are just coming out and basking in the morning,” Mr Lettoof said.
“They normally come out of the vegetation in the sunny spots and they curl up.”
It’s not a job for the fumble-fingered
Catching snakes requires some specialised gear.
“We walk around with a little pinning device that we have made up, basically a pole with a leather strap on the end of it, wearing a Kevlar-lined gauntlet glove on the other hand,” Mr Lettoof said.
“We see a snake and we pin it, and we restrain it by the head with the glove and we put it in a little bag before we start processing it.”
But getting up close, more than 500 times, to a reptile whose bite could kill him, is something Mr Lettoof feels fairly relaxed about.
“With these gloves, we can grab them pretty safely and if they turn around and manage to have a nip on the glove it’s going to stop, most of the time, the teeth going through,” he said.
“But we’re lucky in Australia that our venomous snakes have really short fangs.
“Tiger snakes’ fangs are only two-three millimetres in size, so just the thickness of these gloves is enough to prevent it going through and contacting the skin.”
They are nervous of you too
If you’re keen to avoid getting too close, the good news is that tiger snakes are fairly easy to spot.
“The tigers around Perth will either be all black with an obvious yellow belly or they will have this black colour with yellow bands along them,” Mr Lettoof said.
“They are pretty obvious.”
For people who do come across them on a walk in a wetland, there is no immediate cause for panic – the tiger snake probably wants to get away from you too.
“If they are encountered, they are actually quite a placid snake,” Mr Lettoof said.
“In nature, they will actually try to flee away. If they get spooked, they will do a defensive display where they raise their head up and flatten their neck out and try to make themselves look bigger.
“While they are doing this they are often slithering away from the danger and the person, so it’s always best to just keep your distance.
“Once they see you, their motivation is to get away.”