gondwana reptile productions by rob valentic about us

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A field observation of copulating Little Whip Snakes Parasuta flagellum (McCoy, 1878).

By Rob Valentic.

Little Whip Snake Parasuta flagellum
An adult male Little Whip Snake Parasuta flagellum from the Merri Creek corridor, Donnybrook, southern Victoria, Australia.

Report on an adult pair of Little Whip Snakes Parasuta flagellum observed copulating in the field on the afternoon of the 14th October 1985 at 15:36 hrs (Eastern Standard Time).

The Merri Creek corridor at Somerton (37 36‘ S, 144 57’ E), a northern Melbourne suburb. Victoria, Australia. 

An exposed  basalt ridgeline with a north-easterly aspect, situated above a gentle slope studded with surface basalt leading downwards for roughly thirty metres to the edge of the Merri Creek. Several  Tree Violet Hymenanthera dentata shrubs growing along  the base of the small escarpment and remnant Kangaroo Grass Themeda triandra and Wallaby Grass Poa sp. tussocks abutting the rock edges. The remaining grassy understorey consisting entirely of noxious and invasive species.  

Two loose coils of a male Little Whip Snake Parasuta flagellum were seen exposed to full sunlight on bare rock along the top of the escarpment, the remainder of the snake including the head and tail, concealed beneath the horizontal crevice (20mm width) of a block exfoliation approximately 500mm x 600mm x 550mm jutting above the parent rock.  The air temperature at that time was approximately 21C., with a clear sky and a slight south-westerly breeze. Upon closer scrutiny I observed another (female) specimen lodged within the crevice that was roughly the same length as the male specimen (approximately 350mm in total length) though more robust in general build. Copulation, clearly joined at the vents, continued uninterrupted for about thirty five minutes, with the male seen to spasmodically rub his chin along the females dorsum.

Parasuta flagellum is nocturnal in habit (Jenkins & Bartell, 1980) and would presumably copulate at night. This is the only instance that I have seen these quite secretive snakes in direct sunlight. I speculate that at times when females are receptive, males may comply when temperatures are adequate. In the southern half of Victoria the spring evenings are markedly cool on average and perhaps too low for any nocturnal activity.
The male may have located the female by following a scent trail or possibly was cohabiting the same refuge. I have recorded aggregations of P. flagellum  (usually a pair but often three specimens) beneath surface basalt rock and within basalt rock exfoliations on many occasions, particularly over the winter months.
Perhaps further research into another small nocturnal elapid, the Eastern Small-eyed Snake Cryptophis nigrescens  may uncover further diurnal activity
when the cold nights of spring coincide with the mating urge in temperate Victoria.

Jenkins, R. & Bartell, R.  1980. A Field Guide to Reptiles of the Australian High Country. Inkata Press Pty Ltd. Melbourne. 278 pp.