The eastern brown snake is the species responsible for most deaths caused by snakebite in Australia, although, with the advent of efficient first-aid treatment and antivenom, there are now usually only one or two deaths per year. A large adult brown snake is a formidable creature. They may exceed two metres in length and, on hot days, can move at surprising speed. It has a slender body and is variable in colour ranging from uniform tan to grey or dark brown. The belly is cream, yellow or pale orange with darker orange spots.
Suddenly Babe stopped, jolting Jen forward in her saddle reacting to something on the ground in front of her, dancing sideways, making efforts to turn around to go home.
Jen dropped lower into her saddle, dipping her heels to get a better feel for her center.
Billy saw an Eastern Brown Snake had been interrupted and irritated by the movement of the horses.
“Get away from the snake!” He yelled. “It can kill you and the horse.”
Jen looked down to see a slender five-foot long greenish brown snake hissing at the horses. Billy pulled a shotgun from a saddle holster on his horse, took aim, dispatching the thing with one shotgun blast.
Both horses were still unnerved, scared more by the snake than the sudden loud noise from the gun. Billy pulled on Dharma’s reins while Jen was doing the same to get Babe under control.
As the snake was writhing in death, Jen asked Billy if it was time to go back. Billy was hesitant to answer. Evidently he was shaken by the episode as well. He reloaded his shotgun, and replaced it in the saddle holster.
“There’s still some daylight, lots of daylight. A snake in the grass is no reason to run home.”
They rode on in silence.
“Y’know, you did some pretty good balancing on top of Babe as she was dancin’ and spinning,” Billy offered.
“It comes from the countless hours I have spent on my own horses,” Jen proudly replied. “I love to ride, and do it often.”
The two continued on. After a few minutes Jen decided to push the conversation forward. “Are the bats related to kangaroos?”
“Oh, no. Kangaroos are marsupials, bats are not,” Billy laughed uneasily, still working his mind away from the earlier crisis. “Because Australia was isolated for millions of years, the warm-blooded animals that developed here were marsupials, evolving an external nurturing system for their youngsters.”
“Mammals have that too, that’s what breasts are for.”
“Kangaroo knockers are much smaller, they feed the tiniest babies, tinier than anything born at nine, ten, twelve months. Once these youngsters are born, they are very immature, and need to find a protective place to continue to be nurtured and to grow. In marsupials such an environment developed by evolving an external pouch where the baby can be protected within. Additionally, nipples evolved to allow the blind youngsters to latch onto for their nourishment,“ Billy espoused.
“Some of the better-known marsupials in Australia include the kangaroos, the koala bears, and the wombats. The only non-marsupial mammals in Australia before British colonization were the bats and the dingoes. These were animals from the old world, and they are called placental mammals because they support their young in the uterus using the placenta as a nutrient transfer mechanism.”
“Well, then,” Jen pondered out loud, “Where did bats and dingoes come from?”
“They made their way down the Indonesian archipelago. The first dingo to set foot in Australia likely came from the boat of a fisherman living in one of the numerous islands north of Australia, probably in the Torres Strait. Bats didn’t need boats because they could fly south from the various islands near New Guinea.”
Jen felt that Billy was opening up, that he had a softer side he hadn’t wanted to show earlier. She asked him about his Queensland Heelers.
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Aussie Oddities: Death From Down Under, Chapter 9