Far north QLD never fails to deliver awesome wildlife encounters at any time of the day or night. While spotlighting recently on Cape York I half tripped over a small log while navigating a particularly dense patch of woodland. I shone my torch to the ground to avoid a face plant and realised my ‘log’ had two eyes and an unimpressed look on his face. I had accidently stumbled over Australia’s largest snake, the Scrub Python (Morelia kinghorni).
I was excited. I hissed fervently ahead to my spotlighting colleague ‘quick I’ve got a scrubby, back here quick, a scrubby’. Even for those with no herpetological inclination, you would not help but be impressed by this beast. My order of urgency was perhaps an overstatement. This guy was pretty happy to stay put and pose while we studied him in detail.
The ‘scrubby’ is not only Australia’s ‘giant’ but also one of the five largest in the world. The most impressive account of an 8.5m scrubby allegedly killed in Cairns in the 50’s, is sadly unable to be verified. The biggest specimen on official record is an individual found in Palm Cove in 1999, measuring 5.65m and weighing 20kg. That’s still a decent sized snake!
Scrubbies are restricted to northern tropical QLD but a very similar species (until recently thought to be the same species) can be found in Indonesia and PNG (Morelia amethistina). They are generally nocturnal and arboreal (tree dwelling), but you will sometimes catch sight of them sunning themselves during the day.
A three-year field study was undertaken recently to discover more about these giants. Research focused on populations in Tully River Gorge where scrubbies congregate during the dry season to mate. Of the males recorded, there was a huge range in size (from 1.3 – 3.76m and 0.3 – 11kg). But it was the larger males that were more likely to engage in combat and obtain matings.
So as a member of Australia’s largest snake species, it pays to be a giant among giants.
Yes, it seems bigger is better.