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- Oct 28, 2017
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Stuart Layt - AAP
Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Finding a snake in your bed could be one of the unanticipated consequences of climate change, animal experts warn.
A north Queensland man found himself with a strange bedfellow over the weekend, with an unknown snake biting him a number of times on the face.
Tony Kenwright, from Mackay, went to hospital as a precaution, but it's believed the snake that bit him was a non-venomous tree snake.
Mackay-based snake catcher and breeder Brett Modra said it was one of a number of erratic snake behaviours he's seen recently.
Mr Modra said heat would affect venomous snakes more than pythons.
Beyond the current heatwave, the overall warming trend has disrupted snakes' breeding cycles, meaning there could potentially be more snakes, acting more aggressively, because they were charged up by the heat.
"So the likelihood of a venomous snake coming into a dwelling to escape the heat is probably a lot more than it used to be," Mr Modra said.
University of Queensland snake expert Professor Bryan Fry agrees, saying snakes are the "scaly canaries in the coal mine" warning of deeper problems in the ecosystem.
"Snake encounters will go up with this extreme weather as snakes are trying to escape the heat," Professor Fry said.
Data on snakebites was surprisingly poor in Australia, he said, as doctors aren't required to report instances to authorities, but anecdotally incidents of humans being bitten are rising.
"We're definitely seeing increases that are paralleling these acute climatic events such as these recent heatwaves, with snakes trying desperately to seek shelter from heat that would otherwise kill them."
Over the weekend Queensland Health issued a warning about the heatwave affecting snake behaviour.
"There are reports of increased presentations of people with snake bite, particularly up north," acting Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said.
Gold Coast based snake catcher Tony Harrison said he hadn't noticed any difference in snake behaviour in his area over the last few months, with southeast Queensland largely spared the severity of the heatwaves affecting central and northern parts of Queensland.
However he said the proportion of dangerous venomous snakes to which he was being called out had risen, because people were better educated about what types of snakes posed a threat.
"In the old days people would see something long and thin and call me. Now they get out their phone, take a picture and ask social media what it is, and if they get told it's a carpet python they leave it there," Mr Harrison said.
The weather bureau's climate outlook for this summer, released last week, predicts a dry summer with temperatures above average for most of Queensland and other parts of Australia.