A few weeks ago the Benalla crew of Global Contracting, who had been upgrading a truck stop on the Midland Hwy south of Benalla, noticed an unusual snake at the work site.
The snake was found in an excavated depression and looked like it had been injured during excavation. Now, at this point many a workman would have either ignored the animal, finished it off with a shovel (it was a snake after all!), or released it into the nearby bush. But not Global Contracting; to their credit, they contacted a local Wildlife Carer (Sharon Miles 0409942664) for assistance. Sharon commented that the crew ‘…did a great job at keeping the animal out of the sun and contained in a cap’, while help arrived.
Unfortunately by the time Sharon took the animal to Rose City Vets, it had died.
The specimen was then preserved in alcohol and delivered to DSE Benalla to be identified. Confirmation of the identity of the snake as a Woodland Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops proximus) came from Victorian reptile expert Peter Robertson.
Peter writes ‘The Woodland Blind Snake is a heavily built blind snake, occasionally reaching 75 cm in length; it has 20 mid-body scale rows. Apparently the least common of the Victorian blind snakes, it occurs in the north central regions of the state.’ (‘The Snakes of Victoria – A guide to their Identification’, by Coventry & Robertson, 1991). This specimen was only 27 cm long, a young animal. That this animal appears to be a complete albino, lacking the pigment melanin (a dark pigment found in most animals that helps protect us from UV radiation), is certainly unusual. Even the reduced eyes appear to lack melanin pigmentation.
Blind snakes live a secretive life, usually burrowing within soil, leaf litter and rotting logs, where they hunt and feed on ants and termites. Four species of blind snake are known from Victoria and telling the species apart can be difficult. They all have reduced eyes, a mouth on the underside of the head and a short spine on the end of the tail.
The Woodland Blind Snake is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the DSE Advisory List and has not been recorded at Reef Hills State Park previously. The nearest record is about 5 km to the north (see map, below). The current record has been added to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, a database of flora and fauna records in Victoria. All records of blind snakes are valuable, so if you see one, yell-out.
Thanks to Gaye Furphy/DSE, Peter Robertson/Wildlife Profiles and Sharon Miles/Wildlife Carer for providing information for this post. Special thanks to staff at Global Contracting for taking an interest in the welfare of this animal and providing a valuable record of a seldom seen animal.