You might’ve heard the rumors before, that New Zealand isn’t just mind-blowingly beautiful, it’s also completely devoid of snakes. You can frolic through picturesque prairies and hike through dense forests to your heart’s desire without ever having to worry about coming across a snake.
These rumors are true; there really are no snakes in New Zealand. In fact, it’s illegal to own a snake, and if you see one either in the wild or being held illegally, it’s a written law that you must report the snake to authorities. Not even zoos can have snakes in the country!
New Zealand goes to great lengths to keep its status as snake-free – but why? Below we take a deeper look to answer the question fully, are there snakes in New Zealand?
Does New Zealand have any poisonous snakes?
In the most straightforward answer, New Zealand does not have any poisonous snakes. In fact, New Zealand isn’t home to a single species of snake, and your chances of winning the lottery twice are much greater than coming across a snake in New Zealand. However, there’s always an exception to every rule – and in this case, it’s two species of cheeky poisonous water snakes that occasionally find their way into the country.
The banded sea krait occasionally gets swept from the waters around Fiji, China, and Thailand. After a long journey, one can end up in the waters around New Zealand and even occasionally wander onto the land. As the banded sea krait has deadly and potent venom, it poses danger to both humans and animals that get in its path.
The second snake that occasionally finds its way to New Zealand is the yellow-bellied sea snake. These snakes prefer the warm waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but between six to ten times a year, they manage to drift all the way to New Zealand. As the yellow-bellied sea snake cannot live on land and doesn’t do well in cold water, it doesn’t pose much of a threat to humans. Even so, the yellow-bellied sea snake is venomous and should always be treated with caution even if you suspect it’s dead.
Why are there no snakes in New Zealand?
The reason there are no snakes in New Zealand is simple. Snakes are not native to New Zealand, and any snakes that do manage to make their way into the country are ‘taken care of’ immediately. On top of this, New Zealand’s cooler temperatures make it difficult, if not impossible, for most snakes to survive and reproduce.
New Zealand isn’t just devoid of snakes, either. Before European settlers brought all sorts of animals with them, two species of bats were the only mammals in New Zealand. The country is simply too far away from other continents for mammals, which evolved after New Zealand was formed, to make their way across the Tasman or the Pacific Ocean. Only birds could make the long-distance, and without any predators, birds took well to New Zealand’s vast forests.
When snakes do find their way to the country, they have little chance of survival. Snakes need warm temperatures to digest their food and maintain other essential life functions. Even in the ‘winterless’ far north of New Zealand, temperatures are not consistently warm enough for a snake’s survival. On top of that, it would be extremely rare for a male and a female to both make their way to New Zealand and mate, so no future generations of snakes would be born.
Has there ever been a snake found in New Zealand?
While extremely rare, it’s not uncommon for snakes to be found in New Zealand. There are two ways that snakes make their way into the country. The first is by the ocean’s natural current that can sweep snakes from warm waters around Fiji and India all the way to New Zealand’s coast. These snakes are the banded sea krait and yellow-lipped sea krait we discussed previously, and on average, around eight sea snakes are spotted each year.
The second way a snake makes it to New Zealand is by plane or on a cargo ship. It’s not uncommon for snakes to sneak their way onto ships, either by slithering right on or finding themselves in a container that then gets put on the ship. The same is true for airplanes. In fact, in 2020, a snake found a nice hiding spot in a pipe that was then shipped by plane from Australia to New Zealand. When the pipe packaging was opened on a construction site, it gave the workers quite the shock when a snake was hiding inside.
On average, five snakes are caught by biosecurity at the border each year, and a further one or two are found within the country. The majority of these snakes are already dead when found due to long journeys without food and sunlight and the poor treatment of cargo in general. On rare occasions, snakes are also purposely snuck in as pets. We’ll discuss more on that next, but with a hefty penalty, it makes having a snake as a pet even more unimaginable.
Can you have a snake as a pet in New Zealand?
This answer is as straightforward as they come. No, you can not have a snake as a pet in New Zealand. It does not matter who you are and what your reasonings are; it is prohibited and illegal to own one. Not even zoos or research centers are allowed to have snakes in the country. If you manage to sneak a snake in and you’re caught, you could face thousands of dollars worth of fines and even prison time. On top of this, if you become aware of a snake in New Zealand and don’t report it, you could also face significant fines.
While these laws might seem a bit extreme, if snakes were to escape into the wild and breed, the consequences could be devastating for native New Zealand wildlife. There are plenty of snakes that feed on bird’s eggs, and as the snakes wouldn’t have any predators besides humans, their population could grow at an exponential rate and devastate native bird populations.
It’s not just snakes that are banned as pets in New Zealand. Ferrets, guinea pigs, mice, and rats are all illegal to bring into the country. After all, incredible landscapes and fascinating birdlife are a large part of New Zealand’s culture and tourism, and anything that could destroy that is not welcome.
Are there any dangerous animals in New Zealand?
Okay, we can all agree that the likelihood of running into a snake in New Zealand is incredibly rare – but you’ll likely still want to know if there are other dangerous animals in New Zealand you should be keeping watch for. While they’re far and few in between, there are a few animals you’ll want to steer clear of. These include:
Spiders: There are three spiders in New Zealand you’ll want to steer well clear of, the katipo spider, white-tailed spider, and redback spider. These creepy crawlers mainly live on the North Island where it’s warmer and prefer to keep to themselves, only attacking when they feel threatened. If you are bitten, you may experience some painful and annoying side effects, but you won’t have to fear for your life.
Magpies: One minute you’re out enjoying a lovely hike without a worry in the world, and the next minute a bird comes diving at your head – that’s the magpie. These birds will protect their nest at all costs and will swoop down in a terrifying dive right at your head. If you spot one above, try to find a stick or similar to wave above your head, as the bird will attack the highest point on you.
Jellyfish: Although small, the bluebottle jellyfish found in New Zealand waters, especially during the summertime, have a very painful sting. It can be hard to spot these tricksters in the water, so keep watch on the beach. If you spot any jellyfish washed up, it’s a good idea to stay out of the ocean.
Sharks: If nearly invisible jellyfish isn’t enough, the waters around New Zealand are also home to the tiger shark, one of the most aggressive sharks in the world. Shark attacks are rare but not unheard of – so always keep a lookout before heading in and when you’re in the water.
Are there other countries that don’t have snakes?
New Zealand may take extreme pride in its snake-less status, but you may be surprised to hear it’s not the only one. Ireland also claims snake-free status as well as Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. The reasons are very similar to New Zealand, with too cold of winters for snakes to survive and all being island nations that act as a natural border.
One place that snakes would thrive, yet they’re not found, is Hawaii. Like New Zealand, it’s illegal to own a snake for any reason, and any that somehow make it to the islands are ‘taken care of’ immediately. Because of Hawaii’s warm weather and lush vegetation, snakes would thrive on the island and could become an enormous problem with no predators to hunt them down.