A father and daughter have stumbled across a rare sight underneath a tree in Victoria, with one expert explaining what might be behind the "unusual" gathering.
At the base of a large hollow tree, the walkers counted at least 12 red-bellied black snakes varying in size between 1.3 metres and 20 centimetres long – with “possibly many more smaller ones” hidden from sight.
In a video posted to Facebook, a number of large snakes can be seen basking in the sun around the tree near Wangaratta on Sunday.
‘Unusual’ to see species in such a large group
While some people guessed the snakes could be mating, experts had another theory.
Kane Durrant, ecologist at Wild Conservation, believes the red bellies are sharing a “communal den” over the winter months.
“Right now the snakes are in a period of brumation [hibernation for cold-blooded animals],” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“Snakes don’t go to sleep for the whole winter, they will come out periodically and bask in the sun, and also move around just to have a drink here and there, but usually they don’t venture very far from their den or from their hideout that they’ve found.
“And often depending on where it is, these den sites, they’re sort of like prime real estate if you can imagine.”
What snakes look for in a den:
Safe and secure from predators
A location that gets sunlight
Close to water
Mr Durrant said the set of requirements – sometimes combined with things like destruction of habitat – can “narrow down” suitable den areas, forcing multiple snakes into the same area.
And while he’s seen communal sites with other species before, he admitted he’s never seen such a large group of red-bellied black snakes together before.
“It is unusual,” he said. “It’s more rare that someone has come across it, than rare that it is happening. I’m sure there’s hundreds of spots like that across Australia, but for someone to stumble across it… it is quite rare that it is has been recorded like that.”
While the snakes can be territorial, fighting between males is more often seen during breeding season.
Red bellies are a considered a “dangerously venomous” snake – “you certainly don’t want to take a bite from one,” Mr Durrant said. “But in saying that, there hasn’t been a death in quite a number of years.”
What to do if you spot a snake
Stop immediately and back away slowly
Keep an eye on the snake and keep your distance
Don’t panic or make fast movements
Don’t try to touch, catch or hurt the snake
Social media users react to video
The walkers said they considered themselves “lucky” to witness the scenes, and while many agreed, others questioned their idea of “lucky”.
“That's alota [sic] red bellies in such a small area. They're gorgeous,” one person wrote.
“Ohhh I have nightmares like this .. snakes everywhere!” another said.
“My worst nightmare. I am shaking watching this. Actually feel nauseous too. I would have collapsed if I came across this many snakes.”
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