"The Pilbara Cobra"

Petroglyph rocks, Pilbara,
Western Australia


One outcrop of rocks had attacted our interest near Warralong and we visited it several times, driving across the spinifex and desert in our Pilbara red vehicles.


Mark and Brian besides the Pilbara red4x4 vehicles


These rocks not only stand out as a potentially good place to search for reptiles but also because they contain many petroglyphs - aboriginal art from generations back in time.

The Petroglyph rocks
Generations of original Australians had carved their stories and the animals they hunted on these rocks in a series of petroglyphs.


Out at the petroglyph rocks
Photo: David Wright


We visited the petroglyph rocks
on several occasions
Establishing a filming base
photo: Robert Pendlebury


DT and Peter rest in the shade while Mark films with the Black-headed pythons
Aspidites melanocephalus
Photo: David Wright



On our first visit we surprised a largePerentie (Varanus giganteus) which dived for cover inside beneath the rocks. I set off in pursuit, eventually having to remove my shirt as I sought to wriggle after the lizard and get some footage with the cameras (stills and film). We never did extricate that lizard so the images below were borrowed from Tom Charlton from his recent Australian herp expedition.

A wary Perentie
Varanus giganteus
on the petroglyph rocks
But he bolts for cover, followed by Mark
Trying to get close enough to the lizard to photograph and film him under the rocks


Varanus giganteus
photo: Tom Charlton


We did find a few reptiles around the rocks including a Pilbara grand ctenotus (Ctenotus grandis titan) and three Western Stimson's pythons (Antaresia stimsoni stimsoni) in a fissure in the rocks.

Pilbara grand ctenotus
Ctenotus grandis titan
Western Stimson's python
Antaresia stimsoni stimsoni


On the drive back to Warralong from the rocks I saw a snake shoot across the road in front of my vehicle. I braked and bailed out. The snake did not seem to have gone far, I thought it had just bailed up in the tussock grass so I set about searching and very quickly I located it, a fine King brownsnake or Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis).

When I tried to pin this highly venomous snake with the soft-foam handle of my snake hook it bite the handle and chewed tenaciously - glad that wasn't me.

This really was an excellent specimen and in truth the species I had been looking for.


A snake shot across the Warralong road and dived into the spinifextussock grass

King brownsnake,
Pseudechis australis

King brownsnake,
Pseudechis australis


We also used the petroglyph rocks as a release point for snakes we had captured either on the road or around the Warralong Community and Strelley School, both venomous and nonvenomous. We released all the Stimson's pythons into the fissue where we had caught the last three and Brian and I released the two Black-headed pythons at opposite ends of the rocks (this python is a reptile-eater and not above a big of cannibalism).


Releasing the Western Stimson's pythons,
Antaresia stimsoni stimsoni
Releasing the Black-headed pythons,
Aspidites melanocephalus


A last photo of one of the Black-headed pythons,
Aspidites melanocephalus

Then we set about releasing the venomous species and at the same time considering them for the "Pilbara cobra": Moon snake (Furina ornata), hoods but too small, Spotted snake (Suta punctata), doesn't hood; Western brownsnake (Pseudonaja mengdeni), forms an S-shaped threat posture, not a hood. All were released.


Brian and Mark consider candidates for the Pilbara cobra before releasing the elapids.

Then we are back to the old "bushie" on the desert road, played by Jim Allen at the beginning of the film.

He gets out of his car and walks to the front - what is that snake hooding in the beam of his headlights?

Then the flood lights come and the old man blinks in surprise, suddenly he is surrounded by a film crew, Brian Bush with a snake hook to his left and myself walking towards him delivering a "piece-to-camera" as I pick up the King brownsnake (Pseudechis australis) and state that I believe this snake is the species behind the story of the Pilbara cobra.

The old bushie (Jim Allen) taken by surprise and the OBA film crew reveal the identify of the Pilbara cobra

Story told, mystery solved, I then took the snake and released it back into the desert.