A cache of eggs discovered in the sandpit of a primary school in Australia has caused alarm after being identified as those of the deadly venomous eastern brown snake, but experts have now cast doubt over the true identity of the find.
In all 43 eggs were uncovered from seven nests in the large sandpit at the school in Laurieton, New South Wales, after three days of digging.
Volunteers from the wildlife rescue organisation Fawna arrived after a child playing in the sand found a clutch of 12 of the eggs.
The rescuers shone a torch through the eggs and determined they were brown snake eggs.
Brown snakes are among Australia’s most deadly reptiles and are characteristically aggressive. They are highly adaptive and are frequently found in farms and urban areas where their usual prey is mice.
The news of the discovery was widely reported, prompting questions from snake experts about the shape and the location of the eggs.
Snakes cannot dig and don’t bury their eggs, and it has been suggested the eggs could have been laid by a far less dangerous local species: the water dragon.
Australian water dragons are brightly coloured reptiles which can grow to over a metre in length, but they are not poisonous.
Speaking to the Guardian Australia, Fawna’s Rod Miller said: “I believed they were brown snake eggs due to the fact that they were seen in the area and that when I shone a light through the egg I saw a small striped baby snake.”
Fawna subsequently responded to scepticism about the species identification on Facebook, writing: “We believed at the time and still do believe that the eggs belonged to a snake, possibly an Eastern Brown, as there were several sightings in the area at the time that the eggs were found, but we were fairly certain that we were dealing with snake eggs.”
The organisation said it could not take the chance the eggs were from a “harmless reptile” and said it didn’t want children taking the eggs and possibly hatching them at home.
The eggs were relocated. Fawna said when volunteers returned to the new nest later, they found “all but one of the eggs had hatched. The remaining egg contained a small pink worm-like embryo with 2 eyes and no sign of legs.”
The post added: “It may or may not have been a snake but the good news is that all animals have been released and living in the wild.”