American corn snake sightings on the increase on Central Coast

INVADER: The American corn snake poses a threat to humans and animals - but not in the way you might suspect. Picture: Rohan Thomson
INVADER: The American corn snake poses a threat to humans and animals - but not in the way you might suspect. Picture: Rohan Thomson

THERE have been increased sightings on the Central Coast of an invasive snake that poses an unexpected threat to humans and animals.

The snake lacks functional venom, but it can carry a tick-borne bacteria that kills livestock, and a parasite which can infect humans, domestic and native animals with diarrhoeal disease.

The American corn snake (pantherophis guttatus) uses constriction to subdue its prey.

Central Coast Council’s infrastructure and business director, Mike Dowling, said the snake was classified as a serious invasive species, and it had the potential to cause serious damage to the Central Coast’s natural environment and native species.

He is calling on locals to be vigilant and report any sightings of the snake.  

“We are seeing more corn snakes as the weather warms up, with four being spotted on the Coast so far. Three of those were caught and the other one escaped,” Mr Dowling said.

“We are committed to minimising the impact this invasive species can have on the environment and are urging residents to alert the Department of Primary Industries if they see one.”

The small- to medium-sized, slim snake can grow up to 180cm long.

It can be notoriously difficult to identify because of the large variation in colouring within the species.

The snake is often orange or brownish-yellow with large black-edged red blotches down the middle of the back.

But captive American corn snakes are sometimes selectively bred to produce unusual colour variations. So pet American corn snakes can have bright red, orange, yellow and white combinations with red, orange or pink eyes. 

NSW Department of Primary Industries’ technical specialist on vertebrate pests, Nathan Cutter, advised people to report any sighting of the snake, but not try to capture one.

“The corn snake can carry a reptile tick-spread bacterium which kills grazing animals, and the parasite, cryptosporidium, which can infect humans, domestic and native animals with diarrhoeal disease,” Mr Cutter said.

“The corn snake has the potential to reduce populations of native wildlife species by preying upon them or competing for habitat and food. The main ecological impacts where the American corn snake has been introduced in other parts of the world such as the Caribbean and Hawaii are on native animals.

“So, in NSW, our native quolls and marsupial mice, as well as our birds, frogs and lizards would be sources of prey. Corn snakes are even known to kill birds while they are sitting on their nests.”

He said biosecurity was a shared responsibility.

“If detected, people should try to keep track of the snake, photograph it, and report it to NSW DPI so that a snake handler can be arranged to collect it,” he said.

Sightings of the snake can be reported to Wildlife ARC (phone 4325 0666), by using the DPI unusual animal sighting reporting form, or photographs can be sent to invasive.species@dpi.nsw.gov.au for identification.

It is illegal to import American corn snakes into Australia, and an offence to keep them unless authorised by NSW DPI.

The corn snake originates from the United States of America and is an established non-native species in the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and the Bahamas.

It is named for the species' regular presence near grain stores, where it preys on mice and rats.

It is a popular pet because of its size and calm temperament.