Tiger snakes have a long body covered with large, smooth scales. Their body is slightly larger than the head. The color of these scales is highly variable across their range, they may be grey, brown or olive-brown which in some individuals is patterned with yellow bands. This yellow banding pattern gives rise to their common name of tiger snake. On the underside the scales are colored cream, yellow or grey.
Individuals in the south tend to lack this pattern and are often melanistic. Populations on kangaroo island may have reddish belly scales.
Their body length can vary from 1.2-2.1m (3.25-7ft) long. The largest individuals tend to be found on islands in the Bass strait. Males tend to be longer than females with a larger head. They weigh up to 3kg (6.6lbs).
The tiger snake is a carnivore. Their diet is made up of a range of small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Fish are also consumed on a rare occasion. Their favored food item tends to be frogs. Some instances of cannibalism have been recorded.
They do not chew their food instead swallowing it whole. To obtain food they will grasp it and it is then subdued using their venom.
This venom is also harmful to humans and as with all snakes medical attention should be sought if bitten.
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Australia is the native home of the tiger snake. Here they have a disconnected range across many areas of the country. They can be found in the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania along with a number of smaller offshore islands.
They make their home in riparian woodland, forest, dry rocky areas and marshlands. Often their habitat is located near water. They have be seen to persist in disturbed areas used for grazing or remnant bushland.
Mating can occur anytime from December to April. Often males do not eat during the breeding period and females will cease eating 3-4 weeks before giving birth. Mating can last up to 7 hours and the female may drag the male around during this period.
Males will compete for mating rights by intertwining their bodies and attempting to push the head of their opponent in to the ground.
Young are produced, at most, once every two years.
A female can produce anywhere from 17 to 109 young per clutch which is determined by her size. The average clutch has 23 young. Females give birth to live young after a gestation period of 112-140 days.
On islands they tend to produce a smaller number of larger young.
Once the young are born they are entirely independent.
Most of their activity occurs during the day but they have also been reported to be active at night. This nocturnal behavior pattern increases around times of warm weather.
On islands in the Bass Strait the tiger snakes may share a burrow with muttonbirds and they then eat the muttonbird chicks during the breeding season. Once the bird chicks grow too large they may share a burrow with them.
When striking to bite they may produce a hiss or bark.
During periods of cool weather they tend to be less active and may spend long periods under a boulder, dead tree or in the burrow of another animal.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the tiger snake include birds of prey such as goshawks and kookaburras along with larger snakes.
If threatened they will flatten out their body and rear their body up off of the ground. Often they will rely on this pose rather than biting unless they are provoked.
Across their range they face a range of threats including habitat disturbance, the introduction of food competitors and the introduction of species which may pose a threat to them, namely the cane toad. They are also killed by humans out of fear of their venomous bite.
Small numbers of tiger snakes are kept in the pet trade but this is not likely to represent a major threat to their numbers.
Previously tiger snakes were thought to be a group made up of many species. Recent research has brought them together as one species which is highly variable in its appearance but genetically similar.
In the past tiger snakes held the record for most snake bites in Australia but this has now been taken over the eastern brown snakes.
They are ranked as the fourth most toxic land snake.
In some populations large numbers of tiger snakes are blind as a result of attacks by gulls they tried to hunt.
By Stevage - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5247702
By Ian W. Fieggen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2844089
By Benjamint444 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4399442
By Eijingoh - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14537550
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