SYDNEY - They are the nightmare tenants who can live undetected alongside Australian families for years: the world's deadliest snakes.
Australia is home to some of the most venomous species including the lethal eastern brown, which thrive in urban areas where rubbish bins attract prey such as rats and mice.
Sydney snake handler Andrew Melrose says some species even spend winter months comfortably curled up inside warm roofs, until they are disturbed, often by accident.
"Some people really panic, and they are screaming," says Melrose of the residents who call him for help. "They reckon they are going to sell up and move to a place like New Zealand where there are no snakes."
The irony is that the reptiles have often been living in the house or garden for years, and it is only something out of the ordinary - such as a rare day off for the homeowner or a building renovation - that brings them to light, Melrose says.
Australia is renowned as being home to a startling number of the world's deadliest creatures, including a range of venomous snakes, spiders, jellyfish and octopuses that can kill a human within minutes.
Snake deaths are rare, with only an average of one to four each year, in part because the animals shy away from humans.
"Most of the snakes, most of time we don't see them," says Ken Winkel, director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne, who agrees that many people live alongside snakes for years without knowing it. "We are more a threat to Australian snakes than vice versa. In the life of the average Australian, it's uncommon for them to see a dangerous snake."]