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Follow Dr. Bruce Means around the world as he searches for some of the world's most venomous snakes.
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Jan. - Feb. 7, 2001

21 March 2001
Happy Spring Equinox. All over the world today it's twelve hours of sunlight and darkness, equally, including Antarctica, the North Pole, and everywhere else. There is one place in the world where it never changes from twelve on and twelve off, the equator. Darwin lies at 12 ░ S latitude, so it is in the tropical zone and not very far from the earth's bulging belly. The difference between the light regime in summer versus winter around Darwin must not be more than an hour or so, hardly noticeable.

When I go out into the morning air, it is as warm as it was at 1:36 a.m. when I retired, about 80░F. And it is sticky muggy. I write until check-out time (10:00) then get on the road I cruised last night. I stop at Nourlangie Rock to see the Aboriginal rock art there, but am put off by the busloads of tourists. Even though this is the "off-season" there are plenty of tour buses with Europeans, mostly, traveling. I squeeze between the groups and take some digital photographs of the rock art while the bus drivers are giving their speils, then press on. Soon I begin seeing much more reptile activity on the road in daylight than I ever saw last night. A large goanna sits in the middle of the road. Then another, and anotherů. From Nourlangie Rock to Pine Creek I see so many I lose count. They are of two species, the water monitor, Varanus mertensi, and the ________, Varanus _______.

Sixty kilometers from Nourlangie Rock I see a black whipsnake in the road. I come to a screeching halt, jam the emergency brake on, jump out, and haul ass after him, but he gets away in the spear grass. These whip snakes are fast, especially when they have warmed up in the heat of the morning sun. I am encouraged that I might get to interact with some snakes this morning, only if I can catch them. Then a road-cruiser's dilemma happens. I see a snake on the road shoulder just as a Land Cruiser is approaching me, so I can't stop easily until I pass the snake and the on-coming vehicle. I spin the car around but the snake is long gone. It was different looking, more robust than most I see, and light brown. I go down the road cursing under my breath. More goannas, no more snakes, until I reach Mary River Roadhouse where I gas up and have fish and chips at 1:05 p.m. and try to catch up in my journal.

After Mary River Roadhouse, I drive on to the Stuart Highway and have to stop for a talk with myself. I am at a crossroads in my journey in Australia. Should I turn south and spend a few days road-cruising some remote roads in the interior or should I get myself into Darwin to find out about continuing my odyssey. I have been on the road now for 71 days. Believe it or not, I am getting tired of it. When I discover that I have now caught and handled 25 species of Australian venomous snakes, 15 species of nonvemonous snakes, and I realize that this is a poor time of the year to be trying to catch snakes here, I decide to work my way back toward Darwin so that I can check on my flight to India tomorrow. Maybe I have accomplished enough with Australian snakes for this trip.

My path takes me near the Grove Hill Hotel, an old historic site hereabouts. It lies 20m down a dirt road off the Stuart Highway, but it also lies in the heart of the Pine Creek goldfields. And they sell large gold nuggets here at good prices. I have a successful side-trip, then get onto the road I cruised three nights ago and drive all the way down it to see what the habitat looks like. It is rolling hill country with lots of rock outcrops and open eucalypt woodllands right up to the road edge. I can't miss another opportunity, so I cruise up and down it until dark. I see several goannas, but no snakes. Then, just before sundown, the frilled lizards come out. I pile out of the car after one and just make it to the tree it tries to go up in time. I grab my prize and have a great time taking all the photos I want of its beautiful frilled neck display. The frill has red, white, brown and tan tones in it, very pretty to my eyes, but supposed to be threatening to a predator's. Then there is the gaped-open mouth showing bright yellow color inside. Quite impressive. The sun sets while I am taking my photographs.

Tonight makes up for last night. I see a live northern death adder at 7:35 and take photos. Then a children's python at 8:27, about two feet long. Next I see my first moon snake, Furina ornata, a common snake that I should have seen by now. It is a small thing, about 20 inches long, and quite thin. It has lovely reddish color on its back and sides and a white belly. The head and neck are black but set off by a red band, ego the name "ornata." Then, at 9:38 I see a three-feet long olive python and photograph it, too. Snake activity seems to slow down after that, so by 11:00 when I haven't seen anymore, and I am too sleepy to keep the car on the road, I pull off down one of the very few sideroads and settle in for the night. There is a nice motel about 30 minutes away with the best price I have seen in the Northern Territory, but I elect to save $25 US and take my chances in the cramped car. It seems to be threatening a thundershower, so I am too lazy to get out my tent and have a good stretch-out. Besides, I fall asleep as soon as the engine is turned off.

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