George Ellis, Byron Bay snake catcher.
George Ellis, Byron Bay snake catcher. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Summer’s over but snakes still lurking in Lismore and Byron

UNSEASONABLY warm weather has kept snakes more active than usual this late in the season, according to Byron snake catcher George Ellis.

The veteran snake man said the higher number of April calls he was getting was "a little bit unusual" and put it down to the mild weather.

"Generally speaking January, February, March is my busiest quarter… (but) at this stage I'm (still) getting on average two or three (calls) a day," George said.

Average April temperatures across the region are expected to be well up this year, with Lismore holding an average of 27.5 degrees - currently almost two degrees above its long-term April average of 25.8, and Byron Bay sitting on 25.2 degrees, 1.3 degrees above its long-term average.

The warmer temperatures have kept snakes in an extended summer feeding mode.

Good news is at hand for snake fearers, however, as it is expected to cool down markedly in the coming weeks.

George explained that because snakes need external heat in order to digest their food - and digestion can take a few days - they actually need to predict the weather before they feast.

"Presumably they have an innate sense of the weather that's more attuned than us," he said.

Browns snakes do not hibernate like bears - they can always come out for a bit of sun and a feed or two in the middle of winter, just as they can go without eating for a few months if it's cold.

"That is why in early spring all hell breaks loose," George explained, saying that after winter snakes became both hungry and eager to find a mate.


George has been responding to slithering emergencies in Byron Shire since 1996 has plenty of long tales to share.

The biggest brown snake he ever caught was on Main Beach Byron Bay in 2006 during the Taste of Byron festival.

It was on the beach "heading straight toward the festival ignoring anybody and everybody", he recalled.

It came in at a whopping 2.45m.

It was just one of the estimated 2500 deadly brown snakes he's caught in his time, mostly in Byron Bay itself, which has been a mecca for snakes much longer than whalers, hippies, backpackers and now hipsters.

He's been first on the scene to 29 bite victims over the years, the first shocking one a nine-month-old baby which had been bitten by a black snake.

Once a lady went to sleep on a lump pillow, only to wake realising it was moving. Turned out a brown snake was in her pillow slip.

Another time a man went to the loo and was in the middle of a "number two" when he felt something sharp in his genital area. He jumped up to see a brown snake coiled in the toilet bowl.

George's advice is to always make sure all your doors to your property are closed - because snakes will come in for all sorts of reasons.

On a lighter note, once in Byron Bay, some people called him about a carpet snake and when he arrived it was about three quarters the way through eating a possum.

"If I had disturbed him, he would have thrown it up," George said.

"So I thought, right, I'm just going to wait until he finishes swallowing it.

"So the people made me a cup of tea while we waited."

Over the years George has noticed that nursing mothers were some of the (understandably) quickest to "freak out" about snakes.

He once got a call from a young mum he demanded he come and remove a carpet snake.

"I said describe it to me, she said 'it's up in the tree'," George said.

"I explained the differences between a carpet snake, and a brown snake, telling her there was no real danger.

"She insisted for me to take the carpet snake, because she said 'the snake is lurking up there waiting to eat me and my baby'."

It's been a busy summer for George, but he's thankful for two things: "One, I haven't been bitten, and two, I haven't had to deal with any snake bite victims."

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