Brown snakes are among the most common deadly snake species in Australia, but experts are urging farmers to consider the benefits of coexisting with the venomous reptiles.
The crux of the argument presented in the research explains that venomous snakes, when undisturbed, pose little risk to human health, but provide huge benefits to farms by consuming pests, especially mice.
Collectively, eastern brown snakes can remove thousands of mice per square kilometre of farmland each year, which can substantially increase the productivity of these farms.
The research states that while it’s true that bites from brown snakes can be fatal to humans, statistics show that snakes of any species kill fewer than three people per year in Australia, on average.
It also indicates that a high proportion of snake bites only occur when the snake retaliates to being attacked.
Generally, Australian snakes prefer to retreat than attack, even when provoked.
Meanwhile, the damage caused by introduced species of rodents to Australian crops is immense.
A study conducted on the impact of a 1993-94 mice plague estimated that rodents caused approximately $60 million USD in damages to crops in a single year.
Adjusted for inflation, that number equates to roughly $200,000 million AUD today.
Brown snakes typically prey on small rodents and are extremely effective at controlling mice populations.
Rick Shine, co-author of the study and Professor in Evolutionary Biology at Macquarie University, estimates that snakes inhabiting a single square kilometre of farmland would consume at least 10,000 mice per year.
“Based on the combined data, we found a square kilometre of farmland can contain 100 adult eastern brown snakes, even where rates of encounters between people and those snakes are low,” writes Shine in his article for The Conversation.
“If each adult brown snake consumes around 100 wild mice each year – which is likely an underestimate – together this must equate to about 10,000 mice per square kilometre.
“Each mouse removed by a brown snake may eat several kilograms of grain crops over its life.”
Other benefits include a reduction in the use of chemical pest control methods, which can be expensive, ineffective, and can threaten the health of humans, livestock, wildlife and pets.
Furthermore, tolerating snakes may actually reduce the incidence of snake bite, as bites usually occur when snakes retaliate to attempts to catch or kill them.
Another study suggests that snakes that reside in one area long-term may be more familiar with human activities and less likely to respond aggressively, and that culling these snakes instead prompted new—and potentially more volatile—animals to move in.
“Finally, conserving snakes has merit in its own right,” writes Shine.
“Many species of snakes are in decline, including in Australia, and should be protected.”