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Thursday, 30 March 2017


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Regarding the Florida woman's anecdote: none of the venomous snakes found in Florida (Copperhead, Cottonmouth, various Rattlesnakes, and the Coral snake) that I know of is emerald or any color of green. Any idea what kind of snake it was? Or maybe the local residents were pulling a joke on her that she didn't get.

I'm not saying don't believe what you see in my images; I'm saying don't believe what you see in anyone's images.

[I'm sorry, I don't know. I no longer have the book and stories from books are difficult to find online if they exist there at all. I looked, and found several of her snake stories, but not that one. --Mike]

My apologies, Australia- personal problem.

I don't think paying attention to everything in the frame ever got enough attention- I suppose it's somewhat less of a problem if one doesn't use wide angles.

And now, the attitude is always- "I'll fix it in post." After the picture is cropped to whatever liking, we can "correct" the perspective, take that out, move the other thing, soft focus that area a bit, and add one more of those...

Do you remember the '60 Antonioni film "Blow-Up"?

Seeing that picture made my stomach lurch.
When I first opened the TOP page all I could see was the picture as I have other things open on the Mac, but I knew what it was straight away.
Long socks and ankle boots go well with Shorts in Oz.

My most egregious missed "detail" was the people behind the couple (strangers) I was picturing. I knew they were in the picture but I just considered them to be "background".

It wasn't until years after the picture was made that my wife pointed out that the figures in the background were her holding our grandson.

A year and a half ago in New Zealand I had a breakfast conversation with an Aussie. We talked about camping in the Outback. He gave me this advice, "In Austrailia you don't sleep on the ground." No kidding!

20+ years ago living out West I was working behind the garage and keeping watch on the kids in front through the open garage door. They were no longer there, so as I walked over I saw a huge stick on the ground. Grumbling that they left it in the yard I went to remove it. The "stick" was a 6-7 foot long bull snake. The thought briefly went through my mind that it ate the kids? Knowing it wasn't poisonous I picked it up to place it in a bucket. It coiled around my arm and I could barely keep my grip on its neck. It was a test of strength between it and me. It soon continued its existence in a wheat field happily controlling the rodent population. Btw, the kids went inside the house before the snake arrived, whew.

Honestly, I'm pretty fed up with this myth that Australia is the most dangerous place on earth. Aren't there venomous snakes & spiders elsewhere? Don't sharks inhabit the oceans around other countries?

Of course, when you go out in the bush in Australia you do have to watch out for the things that might eat you - like lions, tigers, cougars and bears. Oh, wait. We don't have any of those.

"And two, the many times I've discovered something later in a photograph of mine that I hadn't known was there when I took it."

I think that that is one of the best things about photography. It's the difference between seeing and looking.

It's not exactly a snake photo story, but I was once going through some street photography on my computer with a friend who was looking over my shoulder when he said "nice portrait of Ralph Nader" I had noticed some guy in times square with a cup of coffee. I hadn't noticed that he was Ralph Nader.

"Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"

Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I suspect they were doing this early in the morning and the snake was sunbathing trying to warm up. As soon as the people appeared and the snake was wide enough awake it left. Snakes really don't want to bite you. The worst thing is to stumble direct onto the snake or give it no way out.

Of course, this reminds me of Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country:

“But don't worry," she continued. "Most snakes don't want to hurt you. If you're out in the bush and a snake comes along, just stop dead and let it slide over your shoes."

This, I decided, was the least-likely-to-be-followed advice I have ever been given.”


[Australia] is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures - the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish - are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. ... If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It's a tough place.”

I saw Bryson read the poisonous animals section on tour. Very, very funny (especially the punch line about the venomous animals expert).

My first thought was "there's a parent who plans their day around photography." We have similar dry yellow grass here in California and when I know I'm going to have a chance to photograph one of my toddler in the landscape I volunteer to do dressing duty and make sure to put him in something blue.

We have snakes our here too. One of my dogs was bit by a rattler two years ago. He survived but my checking account didn't.

Piotr, for bonus points can you name the well-known photographer who shot the actual pictures in the park that David Hemmings' character kept enlarging?

Reminds me of Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country...

"Australia has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures - the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish - are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It's a tough place.”

My reaction on only viewing the photo is a bit different. Not knowing the species of snake or whether it is venomous just by the photo, I was apprehensive, but not horrified. Without the story to provide context I thought "Ah, perhaps a normal scene for a family that lives in an area where there are a lot of benign snakes, with which they are familiar."

Of course, I was trained as a biologist, with a bachelor's degree; I have no negative visceral reaction to snakes.

Which brings me back to a trip I made with fellow university students back when I was oh ... much younger. We were headed to California, and stopped at Grand Canyon National Park. We visited a chapel located in the park, which had a small cemetery. At one point we heard the telltale sound of a rattler, somewhere within the grave stones. Everyone stepped in the opposite direction -- except me, the biologist.

I headed toward the sound, which, of course, freaked out my travel companions. I was perfectly aware of the danger, but also knew exactly how to handle the situation with the appropriate caution and care. I just wanted to see a rattlesnake in the wild.

And no, I didn't find or see the snake. Darn it.

So perspective and interpretation are strongly influenced by ones background. Of course.

Leave the snakes alone, and they'll leave you alone. As a kid in the 1970s I was camping with friends one autumn in the bush near Canberra - Orroral valley if I remember correctly. A friend in the tent next to me woke up everyone one morning screaming. An Eastern Brown had crawled into his sleeping bag during the night and cuddled up to him for warmth during the night. When he woke up in the morning and realised there was a snake next to him, he quietly and carefully slipped out of his sleeping bag, slid out of his tent, and then had hysterics. Being kids, we all laughed at him - and I smile when I think about it today - but that night our tents were very carefully zipped closed.

Aye, Eastern Browns are truly dangerous.
Around my place in Sydney we are fortunate enough that the only thing that shows up are the Red Belly Black snakes and the odd Diamond Python.
Yup, a 5 million+ people city with those on your doorstep...
I love this land!

Apology accepted Stan, it's a common attitude from people who've never visited Australia. The thing is, living here I really appreciate when I do see the wildlife "in the wild". I have many wildlife stories including plenty of snake encounters from early childhood to the present but have never had any harmful experiences. It's actually kind of cool to have sat on a deserted beach meditating under the moonlight and come out of it to realise there's a snake curled up next to you that wasn't there when you sat down. It just slithered away when I slowly moved.

Where I currently live we even have to put up with estuarine crocodiles, bird catching spiders the size of a dinner plate (yes I've removed one from a hostel loft in my youth), taipans etc. and most people I know have never seen them or rarely in their entire life. But I still feel fortunate when I see them (not too close!). I walk very softly so possibly see more than many people would but I'm certainly no Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin. If you want to avoid many of them just stomp around in big boots and they'll feel you coming a mile away and avoid walking in long grass. The crocs though should really be avoided completely ;-)

When I first moved to Japan I was assured by an old expat that there was one really venomous species in the country. He said it was the habu, native to Okinawa, a long ways from where we were in Honshu. So for years I approached and photographed Japanese snakes without a care in the world.

Only maybe ten years later did I meet someone who actually knew about snakes. He assured me that there were at least four venomous species on Honshu, including the mamushi, a pit viper that is regarded as Japan's most common snake. I looked up a picture of one and immediately recognized it all too well. A mistake I wouldn't make again when moving to S.E. Asia ...

Once when I was a child living in Topanga Canyon, my dad instructed me to clean up the creek below our home. After I picked up a newspaper that had been sitting in the sun (big mistake), a rattler jumped high and set his rattler in motion. My father yelled, "freeze," and then chopped it to pieces with a shovel. I think I may have gotten bit if my dad was not close by. I was probably 7-8 years old, but I remember it like it was a few years ago.

Since living in Florida for 17 years now, I have seen many snakes on my property. The snake experts say there are 50 species of snakes found in Florida, but only 6 are venomous and a danger to humans. For me, that is 6 too many.

Most of my rattlesnake photos are ones caught in fences around the gardens or chicken coop here on the farm. The get their large triangular head caught in the fences and it's the end. Overnite critters will kill and eat them. The loose ones we see don't want to mess with humans if you give them some space.
The problems are the black widow spiders - I tell people they are our biggest crop.

Here in eastern WV there are copperheads and timber rattlers, lots of timber rattlers if you know where to look for them. I'm out and about enough to see one or the other once in a great while, rattlers mostly. I've had only one close call: watch where you step and put your hands - and your head. If you're a woods rambler you have a restless eye anyway.

Talk with ginsengers. Their job is to poke around up close and personal on a cluttered substrate. "Sangers" know snakes. They have stories. One I know advices against snake bite kits as largely ineffective and told me to just take it easy, get off the mountain, get back to the truck and get help. He's done that. The worst for him he added, had not been snake bite; it was a huge number of bee stings that made him pass out twice on the way back to the road.

Walking my then dog Jessie and as it was the last leg of the walk, I am quite fast. Too fast perhaps and shocked a snake crossing the path. I think it judged that it cannot crawl fast enough back or forward and all 1/4 of body raised up!!!

I was shocked as well. Jumped around to try avoid the final attack. Luckily it decided both of us are at fault and decided to go back.

I still remember I cannot take a full shot with my Minolta macro on a Sony as it is on manual. Too shocked to switch it back to Auto. And too shaking to switch the focus even.

Lost the shot, but not the shock.

A few months ago I lost one of my dogs to an Eastern Brown:


We'd let Teddy outside in the inner yard while we worked in the outer houseyard... hindsight is unsympathetic.

I did kill the snake, but only because it was already mortally broken by Teddy, a hunter thoughtlessly given his lead... all in all a tragedy of errors.

No animosity is held towards the snakes (beyond the "ignoble" moment), and we've quite a few around, more often Eastern Browns but also the more lethargic and less "aggressive" Highland Copperheads. We leave them be, and they us, despite our own urge to "do something".

I don't know why I'm telling you this.

All snakes are protected in Oz. It is illegal to kill any snake in Australia. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. They actually are afraid of humans.

Last summer my brother (who lives out in the scrub near Gunnedah) had a brown come into the house through a crack in the wall. They lost it somewhere in a bedroom! The local snake catcher came to the rescue.

However, as a grandfather the photo gave me a fright for a few moments.

Good post Mike.

Those things are deadly as hell. I think most people here are taught as children to move slowly and not freak out when you see a snake. Most aren't aggressive (at least, not outside of mating season).

The other thing everyone learns is not to freak out and move if you get bitten. Stay calm. Tourniquet the limb and call for help.

I didn't know why this was until quite recently, and had always assumed it was to keep your heart rate down as the venom spread via the blood. In fact, it's spread by the lymphatic system, which is stimulated by muscle movement. Circulation has nothing to do with it.

A friend of mine crashed while mountain biking with buddies and landed on a "stick" that turned out to be a brown snake. It bit him pretty good in the calf, but they did all the right things and had an ambulance to him in under half an hour. He was ok (yay anti-venom), but suffered bad muscle wastage in the limb that was bitten and couldn't ride for about a year.

When they arrived the ambulance crew told him they'd done everything right. When he told them he'd considered walking up to the main road they said "It's a good thing you didn't. If you had've moved you'd have been dead in about five minutes." By keeping still, and with the tourniquet, they think he probably would have been ok (read: alive) for a few hours at least.

One thing I've never figured out though is...

Without much in the way of large predators (or prey for that matter), why did bitey things in Australia evolve to be so goddamn poisonous. Why does a snake that can't eat anything bigger than it's jaw, need to be poisonous enough to fell an elephant?

Ohhh, snakes!

I have lots of snake stories, most about my often-bitten brother who loved to catch black snakes as a boy, or scarier stories from Texas. But I have had some encounters in Japan, too.

The oddest was when I was in the US and my first wife visiting her home in Tokyo. She called me one night from her mother's living room, an in a frightened whisper said, "There's a snake in the kitchen. What should I do?" I could only tell her to just keep the door closed until her mother came home. Her mother got home (who like all good and sturdy folks had been raised in the country) and simply dispatched the critter with a kitchen knife.

There is a poisonous snake on mainland Japan (Honshuu) called mamushi which are responsible for biting a few thousand bites every year. Along the Tamagawa river bordering Tokyo, you'll see signs warning to beware of them. One summer about 10 years ago, I encountered one or more almost every day when road-biking along that river. I was a bit worried that if I hit one and it was thrown up onto me by my rear tire, it might not be a pleasant encounter. Too much of an imagination there.

But as for the photo, even though snakes don't usually just attack people, I can understand the shock of the mother. Who knows what would have happened had the little girl seen it and reacted in a way that startled the snake.

Speaking of snakes: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/python-snake-swallows-man-whole-indonesia/

What you all need is a St Patrick. He banished all the snakes from Ireland, and truly we dont have any snakes here.

Nah, Australia is not the most dangerous place on earth. Just that 13 of the most venomous snakes on earth are found there, and out of the 13, eleven particularly like to lurk in Queensland.

On the contrary, New Zealand has not a single native snake. Seems some geological event in history dunked the land underwater and snakes then were all killed.

Apart from whatever perceived dangers you hear rumours about, the Aussies and the Kiwis are a friendly lot who like their brew and beer as much as you and me.

The snake makes for a much more interesting shot:)

I am glad the kid got out uninjured!

I chuckle when foreigners think of Australia, we've done a great job of exporting our brand of kangaroos, koalas, snakes, spiders, and sharks.

The reality is that the metropolitan cities are very similar to America. Town planning around car travel, Manhattan like road setup, large highways. Out side the main cities, wonderful small towns, very friendly folk. No snakes, not many spiders, not many sharks.

You should visit!


[You are an international fellow, Pak! Are you Australian? I thought you were from Paris. --Mike]

Chuck, I have no idea who shot those pictures in "Blowup" , but I sure remember "The Yardbirds" playing "The train kept a rollin" sans the original lyrics. Jimmy Page with his Telecaster and huge sideburns.

As a 70 yo Australian raised in the country until aged 18, I think I've only ever seen two snakes. I've been bitten by a "Daddy Long-legs" spider, that stung a little bit, but that's all. I should have looked where I put my hand.

C'mon, Australia is no more dangerous than any other country. At least we don't have bears. Or lions, tigers, cougars, rhinos, cobras, ... Come on, visit us. It's safe as houses.

At least she didn't have a tree coming out of the little girl's head...

Yeah, I thought of Blowup immediately too.

I've always respected rattlesnakes for taking the trouble to evolve that rattle. They're trying to avoid having to bite us!

Reading thse snake stories has me rattled.

I think its the fact that you can just see the snake's eye that makes this image so powerfull. Is the snake looking at the child's leg, or will it slip away?

We don't have many snakes here in the U.K. -though a baby grass snake did one raise its head and hiss at my boot, and I've heard stories about quite big adders on the North York Moors. My most memorable snake encounter was in the company of a five foot long Ladder Snake (I think it was) in Spain. The snake slid towards where I was sitting, and came to rest with its head on a small stone. After a few flicks of the forked tongue on the snake's part, and once my entire aura had decided it really didn't need to stand on end, we settled into mutual relaxation. After about 15 minutes a group of locals appeared, talking loudly, so the snake did a u-turn, brushing along the length of its own body, and tried to hide behind a big rock. Unfortunately about two feet of tail were left sticking out! I was later told it was non 'venonoso'.

An Australian on-line friend, who is very fond of his local wildlife, is relaxed about walking bare foot, and meditating in caves, on a headland where these brown snakes occur. I'm not sure I'd go unprotected!

"Blow-Up" - it was Sir Don McCullin.

On the other hand, it goes to show that snakes, including those which are venomous, don't go out of their way to attack us. On the whole, humans have been much harder on snakes than snakes have been on humans. You can't argue with the visceral reaction of people to snakes, which is probably rooted deep in our evolutionary history but the truth is (and statistics would certainly show) that this toddler is at far greater risk of being harmed in a car accident than by a snake (venomous or otherwise).

I believe the pictures in Blowup were made by none other than Sir Don McCullin.

Steve Caddy wrote "... why did bitey things in Australia evolve to be so goddamn poisonous. Why does a snake that can't eat anything bigger than it's jaw, need to be poisonous enough to fell an elephant?" I don't know the answer but an obvious guess is that there has been an arms race going on between their prey and the snakes. Prey gets immune to toxin and snake has to up its game (anthropomorphising here ;-) ) and so on. An added factor may be that the snakes need to kill the mammalian prey quickly because snakes having such short legs cannot catch wounded prey.
There is an interesting current arms race going on between toxic newts/salamanders versus snakes in the US (Oregon?) where the newts have become so toxic that they can sometimes kill the snake after being swallowed and crawl back out of the dying snake. Over time the snakes become immune and on it goes.

Who DID shoot those pictures in "Blow Up?"

In defense of Oz...
I would be living there instead of Wisconsin if I hadn't met my "wonderful wife" here. (That's her description ;-) )
27 years ago I had the good fortune to be at my buddy's weekend place near Enoch's Point NE of Melbourne where a pair of Kookaburras were fishing the stream. I slowly stepped closer and closer until I was leaning against the tree they were using to check out the fish. I cut up some scrap steak from the previous night into tiny strips and held one out in my hand which I rested on the branch. One of the pair came and took several pieces one at a time and bashed them on the branch before eating. I guess that was to make sure it was dead as they do with fish. That ranks joint top moment with being 25 feet from a leopard, in South Africa.
James (The Kenosha Cockney)

I guess Mom was really focused.We've all been there.

Coincidentally around the same time as this photo was published a real, live, bitey shark was found swimming in one of Sydney's ubiquitous rock swimming pools (swimming pools built on the rock platform at the end of every beach):

At least this shark had good taste, so to speak - Palm Beach is an exclusive, wealthy suburb so the locals would probably be good eating.

Our most predatory species by a long shot, however, is the Council Parking Inspector. They have a vicious bite - $108-$541:

Over here in Singapore, we have spitting cobras, which, though rarer than they used to be, have adapted to the urban environment and are sometimes found around apartment buildings.

They spit their venom at victims' eyes from up to 15 feet away and their aim is good.

Pythons are less rare, and a friend once pulled into his driveway only to see, illuminated by the car's headlights, his cat halfway into a python's jaws. She went berserk, jumped out of the car and tried to pull the pet out, but alas, it was too late.

But these are not everyday encounters. Snakes are mostly shy, and creep away to hide.

Heh, heh -- snake and spider stories. I'm "home" in Australia right at this moment from where I now choose to live in paradise, Rabaul in the New Guinea Islands. About three weeks ago in Rabaul, while asleep I was bitten three times by a spider (or perhaps once by three spiders), on the shoulder, chest, and neck. Came to Oz with two of the bites still healing -- to be met by Australians saying "Ewww! That's disgusting! Why do you want to live in such a dangerous place? Spiders, eeew!"

It's always more dangerous on the other side of the fence! I have a horror of things like lions, tigers, bears, and whatnot that could chew me to death. None of them in Australia or New Guinea. :)

I grew up on a small dairy farm outside Melbourne and lived there as an adult for many years. In the paddocks twice a day to get the cows in for milking. In the pig pens and poultry pens and yards a couple of times a day. In the paddocks most of the weekends getting firewood, cutting trees for fence posts, building fences. I only ever saw snakes, all Eastern Browns I think, half a dozen times. Saw lots of spiders. Never bitten by a snake, had one or two spider bites. The great tennis player, Rod Laver, lost half a calf muscle to a spider bite (red back, I think) (but he was so good, he was back after a year to reclaim his position as best player in the world).

But all this talk about nasty venom. How about some NICE venom. There is a little fish lives on the Great Barrier Reef that is venomous, called (with amazing originality) the Fang fish or some such. Its venom is unique -- opiod! Yep, it bites you and you feel so good about it you leave it alone! I kid you not! BUT it appears to be confined to a part of the Reef which is really badly bleached by climate change, so unless good things happen, this friendly fishy is for the species high jump.

Would you know it? Wouldn't you just bl**dy know it?

Cheers, Geoff

Australians used to be used to brown snakes, at least if you grew up in the country, but most of us live in cities now and only have to contend with funnel-web spiders and such. I once stopped short (like 6 inches) of standing on two browns copulating in dry grass when I was out in the mountains as a schoolboy - I guess they were more interested in each other than me - and I had numerous other brushes with them through my childhood - but alas, I rarely see a snake now. Although we did have a python in our roof - about 12-14 feet I would say from the sloughed off skin I found. We called it Monty.
And let's be fair: 300 million guns are a lot more dangerous than a continent full of snakes. Not that TOP readers would be among those people! And Mike, it is lovely to see how many Aussie readers you have. In a spirit of friendship, we welcome you all to visit our wide brown land - the photographic possibilities are inexhaustible, just like the snakes. And if you want a little Aussie culture - look up the Henry Lawson story, The Drover's Wife, which tells of an outback woman protecting her four kids in a bush hut from an invading snake. Absolute classic.

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