How to Identify Poisonous Snakes and Spiders in the Bush

Author: Tahlia Maynard   Date Posted:7 November 2016 

How to tell the difference between the harmless and harmful when you’re out on your adventures.

Choosing the explorer’s life comes with the promise of a great many adventures. But it simultaneously presents the prospects of at least a few misadventures as well. If encounters with poisonous snakes and spiders in the Bush top your list of apprehensions, it’s probably time to understand some basics of how to identify them.

But first, let’s bust some myths about poisonous snakes and spiders

The first myth involves the erroneous use of the word ‘poisonous’. A poison technically refers to something that proves fatal upon ingesting or touching. Snakes and spiders inject their prey with ‘venom’, which can vary in potency from critter to critter. Venom from a snake or spider bite can cause rashes, allergies, or more severe complications. But it does not qualify for ‘poison’, and its effects are always technically treatable.

So we know now that the correct adjective to be used in association with the creepy crawlies of the Bush is ‘venomous’ and not ‘poisonous’. The next thing to understand is that a venomous spider or snake will not seek you out. In fact, given the chance, it will even do its best to flee from sight. So the next time you worry about encountering a venomous snake or spider in the bush, remember that you always have the option of not panicking!

Venomous snakes of the Australian Bush

Australia is home to a wide variety of snakes, but there are only a very few that can actually give you reason to worry. Fun fact – most studies on the potency of snake venom are based on its ability to kill mice! The impact of the same venom on a human will in all likelihood be very minor.

Australian snakes are largely inoffensive and don’t go out of their way to bite humans. Even the eastern brown snake (that has a fair degree of notoriety to its name) actually seeks out rodents. What goes against its reputation is its speed, its natural tendency to be active during the day time and its extreme defensiveness when it’s provoked. You can recognise the eastern brown snake with the help of a uniform brown colour (can range from fawn to black) and random speckles and bands. It’s usually between 1 and 1.5m long.

Another common Bush snake is the red-bellied black snake, characterised by a glossy black dorsal surface and a red or pink belly. It can also have a brownish snout. It can appear ominous at first sight on account of its relatively large size (about 2m), but its venom is less toxic than the eastern brown snake’s. It is, however, important to watch out for the red-bellied black snake because of its tendency to hide under rocks or in dark places.

Spiders to watch out for in the Australian Bush

Spiders are also found in huge numbers throughout Australia. But again, very few of them are actually dangerous. The Australian funnel-web spiders are by far the most notorious. There are multiple variants around (the Sydney funnel-web being the most common), but they all share large jaws, small, close-set eyes, and 2 long spinnerets towards the rear of their abdomens. They naturally prefer to build their webs close to the ground, though finding a tree-resident isn’t very unusual.

The best approach to take while heading out into the Bush is to buy a local guide on the venomous snakes, spiders and bugs of the region. These are usually available at visitor information centres and will guide you about the species specific to the region you’re in.

Some General Advice

With a little common sense (and with any luck), venomous snakes or spiders won’t come in the way of you enjoying your bushwalking or camping experience. Don’t touch a creature you don’t know about (or know to be dangerous). Be aware of your hands and feet; don’t reach out into dark places or ledges where you don’t have a clear line of sight. No matter what, wear solid shoes while venturing into tall grass, and if you’re out at night, use a torch. Last but not the least, should you stray into the path of a snake or spider, remember that it wants just as little to do with you as you do with it!