Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable
Listing and Conservation Advices Approved Conservation Advice for Hoplocephalus bungaroides (broad-headed snake) (Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2014af) [Conservation Advice].
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, included on the Commenced List (1/11/2009).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008zzp) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008zzq) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened reptiles. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.6 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011m) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NSW:Broad-headed Snake - profile (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2005ge) [Internet].
NSW:Broad-headed Snake Threatened Species Information (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS), 1999bf) [Information Sheet].
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Endangered (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): August 2014 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Hoplocephalus bungaroides [1182]
Family Elapidae:Squamata:Reptilia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Schlegel,1837)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Hoplocephalus bungaroides

Common name: Broad-headed Snake

The Broad-headed Snake is black above with numerous bright yellow scales forming a series of irregular, narrow cross-bands. The belly is grey to grey-black, sometimes with yellow blotches. The head also has yellow blotches and the labials are barred yellow. It grows to a maximum length of 90 cm, however its average length is 60 cm (Cogger 2000).

The Broad-headed Snake is restricted to the sandstone ranges in the Sydney Basin and within a radius of approximately 200 km of Sydney (Cogger et al. 1993; NSW NPWS 2001). Numbers have declined in recent years (Goldingay & Newell 2000; Shine et al. 1998; Webb & Shine 2000; Webb et al. 2002a), however historical evidence suggests that the species has long been confined to a small geographic range (Krefft 1869). The species was once common in rocky coastal areas near Sydney including Port Jackson, Botany Bay, Middle Harbour, Lane Cove and Parramatta. There have been no records in these areas since the 1970s (Cogger et al. 1993).

The current distribution of this species extends from Wollemi National Park in the north, the Clyde River catchment in ranges south-west of Nowra in the south, east to the Royal National Park and near Illawarra, and west to the upper Blue Mountains at Blackheath and Newnes. Major populations occur in the Blue Mountains, southern Sydney, an area north-west of the Cumberland Plain, and the Nowra hinterland (NSW NPWS 2001).

Public land on which the species occurs include the following National Parks: Blue Mountains, Heathcote, Morton, Royal, Wollemi, and State Forests: Colymea, Yalwal, Yerriyong, Mount Keira (Cogger et al. 1993) and the Woronora Dam Catchment Area. An immature individual has also been observed at the edge of the sandstone plateau at the Commonwealth Defence Training Area, Holsworthy (Department of Defence 1995).

The Broad-headed Snake is often found in rocky outcrops and adjacent sclerophyll forest and woodland (Cogger et al. 1993; NSW NPWS 2001). The most suitable sites occur in sandstone ridgetops (Cogger et al. 1993). Near Bathurst snakes occur in forest growing on shale or conglomerate slopes and bluffs (G. Shea in Cogger et al. 1993). Common canopy species include Corymbia eximia, C. gummifera, Eucalyptus sieberi, E. punctata and E. piperita. Snakes prefer sites with a west to north-west aspect (NSW NPWS 2001). Studies using radio-telemetry have never found individuals sheltering under rocks on easterly cliff tops (J.K. Webb, unpublished data in Pringle et al. 2003). Suitable habitat is patchily distributed throughout the species range (Cogger et al. 1993).

Adult snakes show a seasonal, temperature induced, shift in habitat use (Webb & Shine 1998b). Adults use rocks and crevices as shelter sites in rocky outcrops in autumn, winter and early spring (Webb & Shine 1994). Juvenile snakes remain in rocky habitat year round (Downes 1999). Snakes shelter under thin (below 20 cm) rocks on exposed sites, which fit closely with a rocky substrate (Webb & Shine 1994; Webb & Shine 1998b). Occupied crevices have a sunny aspect (Webb & Shine 1998b) and rocks used by snakes are those that receive the most warmth from the sun (Pringle et al. 2003). The majority of occupied retreat sites occur on exposed cliff edges (Webb & Shine 1994). Thermally suitable microhabitat may be a limiting resource for the species (Pringle et al. 2003).

Snakes often spend long periods of inactivity in a retreat site, such as under rocks or in crevices (Webb & Shine 1998b). The mean number of rocks used by individual snakes in a single year was 2.03 (n = 33) (Webb & Shine 1998b).

In late spring and summer, when temperatures under rocks become too hot for many snakes, adult males and non-breeding adult females move up to 780 m above sea level into adjacent woodland (Webb & Shine 1997a). Gravid females and juveniles remain in rocky habitat, using cooler, shaded rocks and crevices (Webb & Shine 1998a). In woodland, snakes shelter in hollows in a variety of tree species including Red Bloodwood (Eucalyptus gummifera), Grey Gum (E. punctata), Sydney Peppermint (E. piperita) and Blue Leaf Stringybark (E. agglomerata). Snakes show preferences for large trees, trees with multiple hollows, and dead trees. Most snakes use hollow branches rather than hollow stems. Individual snakes use between one and nine trees. Snakes spend long periods of inactivity in a single hollow, up to 48 days (Webb & Shine 1997a).

Juvenile growth of the Broad-headed Snake is very slow and the time to maturity is six years for female snakes and five years for males (Webb et al. 2003). Females reproduce every second year (Webb et al. 2002b). A low frequency of feeding in this species may be responsible for low growth rates and the long time to maturation (NSW NPWS 2001; Webb et al. 2003).

Snakes mate from autumn through to spring (Webb & Shine 1998c). Vitellogenesis (the formation of the yolk of an egg) appears to begin in winter and continue into spring (Shine 1983b). Gravid females have been captured between mid November and early January (Webb & Shine 1997b). Females give birth between January and April (Shine 1983b; Shine & Fitzgerald 1989; Webb & Shine 1997b; Webb & Shine 1998c).

Litter sizes range between four and 12 (Shine & Fitzgerald 1989; Webb & Shine 1998c). Many litters include infertile oocytes or stillborn offspring (Downes 1999; Shine & Fitzgerald 1989; Webb & Shine 1998c). There is a correlation between litter size and female body size (Webb & Shine 1998c).

Offspring are very large (18 to 20 cm long at birth) compared to the size of breeding females (50 to 70 cm long) (Shine 1983b).

The Broad-Headed snake is an ambush predator, spending up to four weeks in the same retreat site (Webb & Shine 1997a) and preying on small reptiles and mammals that enter the retreat (Webb & Shine 1997a; Wells 1981).

Snakes feed very infrequently, with less than 20% of captured adults showing signs of having fed recently (Webb & Shine 1994). Juveniles feed more frequently than adults (Webb & Shine 1994; Webb & Shine 1998c). Captive snakes maintain condition or gain weight when kept on a diet of one or two pre-killed mice or rats per month (Shine & Fitzgerald 1989). One captive specimen is known to have survived a 12-month fast (Anstis in Wells 1981).

Juvenile snakes feed primarily on Velvet Geckos (Oedura lesuerii) (up to 70% of prey items) and occasionally on small skinks (Lampropholis spp.) (Downes 1999; Webb & Shine 1998c). Juveniles regularly eat geckos that are almost 60% of their own body mass (Webb & Shine 1994). Young snakes grow slowly, possibly due to their inability to handle large prey (Webb & Shine 1998c).

Adult snakes also consume Velvet Geckos, although they only comprise 27% of prey items (Webb & Shine 1998c). Other prey items include the lizards Cryptoblepharus virgatus, Eulamprus quoyii, Ctenotus taeniolatus, Eulamprus tenuis and Amphibolurus muricatus; Small-eyed Snakes Cryptophis nigrescens; and the mammals Mus domesticus and Antechinus stuartii (Downes 1999; G. Turner in NSW NPWS 2001; Shine 1983b; Webb & Shine 1998c; White 1973). One adult had consumed a juvenile conspecific (an individual of the same species) half its size (Webb & Shine 1994).

Broad-headed Snakes show a greater degree of prey specificity than many other Australian elapid snakes (Webb & Shine 1998c).

Thermoregulation (regulation of body temperature) takes place by subtle shuttling under a single retreat site. Snakes spend much of their time outside their preferred temperature range. Snakes select retreat sites that provide a thermal environment that maximises their body temperature at dusk. Maximal body temperature at dusk facilitates capture of prey (Webb & Shine 1998a).

Snakes move between retreat sites at dusk. In rocky habitat, snakes moved on 16% of days (n = 30) and moved an average of 37 m (n = 30) between retreat sites. Snakes moved more in woodland habitat, moving an average of 159 m (n = 20) between retreat sites and moving on 35% (n = 20) of days. In woodlands, snakes follow a meandering path when moving between retreat sites (Webb & Shine 1997b). Individuals may remain inactive in a single retreat site for up to four weeks (Webb & Shine 1997a).

Juveniles do not disperse long distances. The maximum dispersal distance of juveniles of approximately six months of age, in a study of spatial ecology and movement of the Broad-headed Snake, was 375 m. (Webb & Shine 1997b).

The Broad-headed Snake occupies discrete home ranges in woodland habitat. The mean home range size of snakes in woodland was 3.43 (±2.86 SD) ha (n = 18) during a three-year study. Male home ranges did not overlap, and all snakes actively avoided sharing space with other Broad-headed Snakes over time. Gravid females had smaller home ranges than non-gravid females (Webb & Shine 1997b).

Individual snakes show a high degree of site fidelity. Individuals often return to the same area of woodland each year, and some individuals have been captured under the same rock in successive years. Site fidelity may be more pronounced in females than males (Webb & Shine 1997b).

Snakes are unlikely to move into unoccupied habitat due to the short dispersal distances of juveniles and strong site fidelity of adults (Webb & Shine 1997b).

The entire range of the Broad-headed Snake occurs in an area with the highest density of human population in Australia, and accordingly has wide-scale habitat degradation (Shine & Fitzgerald 1989; Cogger et al. 1993).

Clearance of habitat has resulted in fragmentation and isolation of populations. High levels of human visitation and associated habitat disturbance threaten remaining populations (Cogger et al. 1993).

The disturbance and removal of rocks used as retreat sites has the greatest effect on snake abundance. The rocks preferred by both snakes and their gecko prey are similar in diameter, thickness and underlying substrate to the rocks preferred by 'bushrock' collectors. The amount of rock disturbance through overturning, piling up, removal or smashing has an impact on the abundance of snakes as well as on geckos preyed on by the snakes (Shine et al. 1998; Webb et al 2008 ) and spiders preyed on by the geckos (NSW NPWS 2001). Also, rock collectors may deliberately kill snakes (Cogger et al. 1993). Illegal rock removal and disturbance remains a common practice in national parks (Goldingay & Newell 2000; Shine & Fitzgerald 1989). Disturbance is most common near roads and walking tracks, and snakes are more common away from access routes (Goldingay 1998; Goldingay & Newell 2000).

Broad-headed Snakes were collected in large numbers from the 1950s to the 1970s for pets (H. Cogger in Shine et al. 1998). A mark-recapture study carried out in Morton National Park, NSW from 1992 to 2002 found that the population of snakes was stable over 1992–96 but declined dramatically in 1997, coincident with evidence of illegal collecting, possibly stimulated by a government amnesty that allowed pet owners to obtain permits for illegally held reptiles. In 1997, 85% of adult females disappeared from the population, and the data indicate that reptile collectors were causing the local extinction of Broad-headed Snakes from the study site (Webb et al. 2002c).

Bushfires may pose a threat to snake populations through altering the availability of hollows and prey, or endangering snakes when occupying hollows (NSW NPWS 2001).

The importance of tree hollows as summer habitat for snakes means that forestry activities may also threaten some populations (NSW NPWS 2001; Webb & Shine 1997a) and post-logging burning may impact upon prey populations. 'Habitat' trees left by foresters are smaller and contain fewer hollows than trees preferred by snakes (Webb & Shine 1997a).

The species requires shelter rocks that receive high levels of solar radiation. Local increases in vegetation density could result in increased shading of retreat sites, potentially rendering them thermally unsuitable. It is likely that fire deterrence since European arrival has led to an increase in vegetation density and this may have contributed to the decline of the species, however this is yet to be objectively demonstrated (Pringle et al. 2003).

The presence of beak marks on the occasional snake indicates that predatory birds may prey on the species (J.K. Webb, personal observation in Pringle et al. 2003).

Foxes and cats are potential predators of the Broad-headed Snake (NSW NPWS 2001).

Restoration of habitat with rocky pavers has been proposed as a management option (Webb & Shine 2000). The snakes are extremely selective with respect to the physical properties of their retreat sites and studies have found that they are reluctant to shelter under wobbly, ill-fitting rocks. This means moving "new" rocks into ideal locations to augment the habitat is probably not a viable option (Pringle et al. 2003). However Velvet Geckos readily utilise pavers placed in sunny positions with small crevices between pavers and the rocky substrate, so prey availability could be increased through use of concrete pavers. A variety of paver sizes and positions would be needed to restore a site (Webb & Shine 2000).

Cutting of overhanging branches and clearing of understorey weeds in areas deemed important for the species could be an important management option. Specifically, this pruning could be aimed at vegetation to the west of the cliff tops, particularly where trees from below the cliff are growing up to shade the crucial cliff edges. Such targeted management would confer the greatest amount of thermal benefit to snake habitat whilst causing minimal disturbance to the surrounding area (Pringle et al. 2003).

It is also recommended that locked gates be placed on fire trails in Morton National Park to protect existing populations (Webb et al 2002c).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles (Cogger, H.G., E.E. Cameron, R.A. Sadlier & P. Eggler, 1993) [Cwlth Action Plan].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat loss and modification due to clearance of native vegetation and pasture improvements The Impact of Global Warming on the Distribution of Threatened Vertebrates (ANZECC 1991) (Dexter, E.M., A.D. Chapman & J.R. Busby, 1995) [Report].
Biological Resource Use:Gathering natural materials:Removal of bush rocks Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:Illegal hunting/harvesting and collection Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Logging and Wood Harvesting:Habitat disturbance due to foresty activities Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Loss and/or fragmentation of habitat and/or subpopulations Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human induced disturbance due to unspecified activities Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Capra hircus (Goat) The threat posed by pest animals to biodiversity in New South Wales (Coutts-Smith, A.J., P.S. Mahon, M. Letnic & P.O. Downey, 2007) [Management Plan].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate and/or changed fire regimes (frequency, timing, intensity) Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006lr) [Internet].

Australian Museum Business Services (AMBS) (2004c). Draft National Fauna Survey Standards: Reptiles. Report to the Department of Environment and Heritage.

Cogger, H.G. (2000). Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia - 6th edition. Sydney, NSW: Reed New Holland.

Cogger, H.G., E.E. Cameron, R.A. Sadlier & P. Eggler (1993). The Action Plan for Australian Reptiles. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Nature Conservation Agency. Available from:

Department of Defence (Prepared by AMBS Consulting & AXIS Environmental) (1995). Holswothy Training Area Environmental Audit: Main Report, New South Wales.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011m). Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened reptiles. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.6 . [Online]. Canberra, ACT: DSEWPaC. Available from:

Downes, S. (1999). Prey odour influences retreat-site selection by naive Broadheaded Snakes (Hoplocephalus bungaroides). Journal of Herpetology. 33 (1):156-159.

Goldingay, R.L. (1998). Between a rock and a hard place: conserving the broad-headed snake in Australia's oldest National Park. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. 120:1-10.

Goldingay, R.L. & D.A. Newell (2000). Experimental rock outcrops reveal continuing habitat disturbance for an endangered Australian snake. Conservation Biology. 14 (6):1908-1912.

Krefft, G. (1869). The snakes of Australia: an illustrated and descriptive catalogue of all the known species. Sydney, NSW, Australia: Thomas Richards, Government Printer.

New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS) (2001). Broad-headed Snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides.

Pringle, R.M., J.K. Webb & R. Shine (2003). Canopy structure, microclimate, and habitat selection by a nocturnal snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides. Ecology. 84(10):2668-2679.

Shine, R. (1983b). Arboreality in snakes: ecology of the Australian elapid genus Hoplocephalus. Copeia. 1983 (1):198-205.

Shine, R. & M. Fitzgerald (1989). Conservation and reproduction of an endangered species: the Broad-headed Snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides (Elapidae). Australian Zoologist. 25 (3):65-67.

Shine, R., J.K. Webb, M. Fitzgerald & J. Sumner (1998). The impact of bush-rock removal on an endangered snake species, Hoplocephalus bungaroides (Serpentes: Elapidae). Wildlife Research. 25:285-295.

Webb, J., D. Pike & R. Shine (2008). Population ecology of the velvet gecko, Oedura lesueurii in south eastern Australia: Implications for the persistence of an endangered snake. Austral Ecology. 33 (7):839-847.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1994). Habitat use by the broad-headed snake, Hoplocephalus bungaroides. Page(s) 7-24. NSW NPWS. NSW NPWS, Sydney.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1997a). Out on a limb: conservation implications of tree-hollow use by a threatened snake species (Hoplocephalus bungaroides: Serpentes, Elapidae). Biological Conservation. 81:21-33.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1997b). A field study of spatial ecology and movements of a threatened snake species, Hoplocephalus bungaroides. Biological Conservation. 82:203-217.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1998a). Thermoregulation by a nocturnal elapid snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) in southeastern Australia. Physiological Zoology. 71 (6):680-692.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1998b). Using thermal ecology to predict retreat-site selection by an endangered snake species. Biological Conservation. 86:233-242.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (1998c). Ecological characteristics of a threatened snake species, Hoplocephalus bungaroides (Serpentes, Elapidae). Animal Conservation. 1:185-193.

Webb, J.K. & R. Shine (2000). Paving the way for habitat restoration: can artificial rocks restore degraded habitats of endangered reptiles?. Biological Conservation. 92:93-99.

Webb, J.K., B.W. Brook & R. Shine (2002a). Reptile collectors threaten Australia's most endangered snake, the broad-headed snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides. Oryx. 36:170-181.

Webb, J.K., B.W. Brook & R. Shine (2002b). What makes a species vulnerable to extinction? Comparative life-history traits of two sympatric snakes. Ecological Research. 17:59-67.

Webb, J.K., B.W. Brook & R. Shine (2002c). Do reptile collectors threaten Australia's most endangered snake?. In: Australian Society of Herpetologists 29th General Meeting, 11-15 July 2002, Birrigai, ACT. [Online]. Available from:

Webb, Jonathan K., Barry W. Brook & Richard Shine (2003). Does foraging mode influence life history traits? A comparative study of growth, maturation and survival of two species of sympatric snakes from south-eastern Australia. Austral Ecology. 28(6):601-610.

Wells, R. (1981). Remarks on the prey preferences of Hoplocephalus bungaroides. Herpetofauna. 12 (2):25-29.

White, G. (1973). The Broad-headed Snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides (Boie). Herpetofauna. 6 (1):7-8.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Hoplocephalus bungaroides in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Wed, 1 Oct 2014 19:54:21 +1000.