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Temporal range: Miocene-Pleistocene 23.03–0.012Ma
Wonambi naracoortensis vs Thylacoleo.jpg
Wonambi naracoortensis and Thylacoleo
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Madtsoiidae
Genus: Wonambi
Type species
Wonambi naracoortensis
Smith, 1976

Wonambi barriei Scanlon, 2000
Wonambi naracoortensis Smith, 1976

Wonambi is an extinct genus of madtsoiid snakes that lived in late Neogene to late Quaternary Australia. Species of Wonambi were constrictor snakes unrelated to Australian pythons.


The type species is Wonambi naracoortensis, a five to six metre long snake that was a member of the Pleistocene Australian megafauna; the only other known species is Wonambi barriei from the Miocene-aged Riversleigh fauna.


Wonambi is a genus of non-venomous, constrictor snakes, it seems to have been an ambush predator that killed its prey by constriction. The head of the animal was small, restricting the size of its prey.

Taxonomy and naming

Wonambi naracoortensis was first described from fossils collected at Naracoorte, South Australia, the first extinct snake to be found in Australia.

It was given the name Wonambi from the description, by the local Aboriginal people, of a serpent of the Dreamtime. This serpent, a mythological being commonly referred to by both Aboriginal people and Europeans as the Rainbow Serpent, was often held responsible for the creation of major features of the landscape. The Wagyl of the Western Australian Noongar people is thought to correlate to the South Australian people's Wonambi. It is cognate with the Yurlunggur genus, found at Riversleigh in Queensland and in the Northern Territory, which was up to 9 metres (30 ft) long with a body about 30 centimetres (12 in) in diameter.

The family of this species, Madtsoiidae, became extinct in other parts of the world around 55 million years ago, but new species continued to evolve in Australia. These species are the last known to have existed, becoming extinct in the last 50,000 years.


Wonambi naracoortensis lived during the Pleistocene Ice Age period, in natural sun-traps beside local waterholes, where they would ambush kangaroo, wallaby and other prey coming to the water to drink. For this reason, children were forbidden in Aboriginal culture to play at such places, and only allowed to visit when accompanied by an adult. Mapping such locations in Western Australia, has been found to be closely associated with areas the Noongar people regard as Waugal sacred sites.

Tim Flannery claims that this animal, along with other Australian megafauna, became extinct (partly) as a result of activities of Aboriginal Australians (for example, hunting and firestick farming).

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