What Are The Most Venomous Australian Snakes?
Some of the Most Venomous Snakes in the World
The island continent of Australia has the distinction of being home to some of the most venomous snakes in the world. Lists of the world’s most venomous snakes vary, but it is generally accepted that seven of the world’s top ten can be found in Australia. But actually there is a big difference between being an extremely venomous snake and being a very dangerous snake.
Most Australian venomous snakes are not known as very dangerous, as they tend to be shy and prefer to avoid any contact with humans if possible. It is very likely that if you go travelling in Australia that you will not even see a venomous snake in the wild and if you do wish to see one it is far safer to go to a zoo or a wildlife park.
Most Australian zoos have excellent reptile houses and there are also some more specialised displays such as the Venom Zoo in Kuranda and the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. Many people do not like snakes or even have a phobia about them, but it is important to remember that these reptiles are a very important part of their eco-system, so please avoid killing or hurting them if they do enter your home or you see one in the bush. Many snake species are also becoming highly endangered, and are struggling to maintain their numbers in the face of destruction of habitat, pollution, disease.
Identifying Australian Venomous Snakes
The only way to know if a snake that you encounter in Australia is venomous is to have enough knowledge and experience to be able to identify what species it is. Many a non-venomous snake in Australia has been unnecessarily killed because they were wrongly identified.
Most areas of Australia where venomous snake species occur have specialised services available where any uninvited slithery visitors can be safely removed from your home and relocated. The reality is that very few people get bitten in Australia in any given year and there are very few fatalities. Most snake bites are experienced by herpetologists and professional snake handlers, but there are a few common sense things that you can do to protect yourself from being bitten if you are out in the bush.
Ways to Avoid Being Bitten
It is a sad fact that many bites occur when people try to handle or kill snakes, and also that many of these incidents also involve men and alcohol. A potentially deadly venomous snake is not something that you fool around with and if you encounter one in the wild do not try to corner it or make it feel threatened in any way.
It is highly unlikely that it will attack you unless it is provoked or startled. If you see a snake it is best to stand still or gently back away. You should not try to touch or pick one up in Australia unless you are a professional and know what you are doing. If you are going to walk through long grass ensure that you have long trousers and sturdy footwear, as a snake may strike in defence if they are trodden on.
It is also not a good idea to put your bare hands into any holes in the ground, clefts in cliffs or under rocks, where a venomous snake maybe lurking. Also if you are walking at night in an unlit area, it is safer to carry a torch so that you can see any snakes that maybe in your path. In the unlikely event that you are bitten, it is important to immobilise the limb affected with a pressure bandage, to remain as calm and still as possible and to get to the nearest hospital as quickly as you can for treatment with antivenom.
The inland taipan tops the lists for possessing the most potent venom of any terrestrial snake in the world. The taipan was given its name by a man called Donald Thompson, who adapted a word used by the Aboriginal people of Cape York in Queensland and it is also sometimes called the Fierce Snake.
The inland taipan can be found in the arid, black soil plains of central Australia, where they live in small burrows feeding off small mammals and birds. The inland taipan kills its prey with a single, lethal bite, and then it leaves its prey to die before it returns to eat its meal in leisure and safety. The venom of the inland taipan is a strong neurotoxin which can potentially kill a grown adult in forty-five minutes and can also cause blood clotting which can lead to blocked arteries and blood vessels.
However, although the inland taipan is a highly venomous snake, it is not a particularly dangerous one, as it inhabits very sparsely populated areas. It is also a very shy and reclusive reptile and so very few people ever get bitten in the wild. Nearly all of those who have been bitten are herpetologists and professional snake handlers who were successfully treated with antivenom, and there are no recorded fatalities so far.
Inland taipans can grow up to a length of 2.5 metres, although a length of 1.8 metres is perhaps more typical. The inland taipan varies in colour seasonally, from a rich brownish colour in the winter months through to a light olive green in the summer months. These seasonal colour changes are the result of the harsh weather conditions of Outback Australia, and the darker colouration allows the cold-blooded snake to absorb heat more efficiently in the winter and not absorb so much heat in the fiercely hot summer months.
The head and neck are often a darker colour than the body to allow the inland taipan to heat up safely by only placing a small portion of its body outside of its burrow. They lay their eggs in abandoned burrows or holes in the ground, producing up to two dozen eggs in a single clutch that will take around two months to hatch. The rate of reproduction for inland taipans depends very much the available food supply and in lean times they will mate and lay eggs less frequently.
Eastern Brown Snake
The eastern brown snake may not be the most venomous in Australia, but it is perhaps the most dangerous, as they are responsible for more fatalities in Australia than any other species. However, as there is now an effective antivenom, there are only a couple of human fatalities a year. Like most Australian venomous snakes, although they have a reputation for being bad tempered, an eastern brown will try to avoid humans if possible, and will only strike if provoked or startled.
They can be found throughout Eastern Australia and inhabit a wide range of habitats. It feeds primarily on small mammals and has formed a great liking for invasive rat and mice species, so is often found around farm and station outbuildings. This can be good for the farmers as it helps with their pest control, but can also bring the snakes into conflict with humans which can lead to bites. This also means that the eastern brown population continues to be very healthy, as they have a very steady, abundant food supply.
Eastern browns are slender snakes that grow up to 2 metres long and they are capable of moving very quickly. Although they are called eastern brown, the colour of this snake can vary tremendously, ranging from a pale biscuit colour through to darker browns and greys, with a creamy yellow or orange underbelly. They mate in the spring and the females lays a clutch of up to 30 eggs.
The coastal taipan is regarded as the third most venomous snake in the world. It is also the largest venomous snake in Australia. The venom of the coastal taipan contains something called taicatoxin, which is a highly potent neurotoxin.
Coastal taipans will try to get out of the way of humans where possible, but if they are cornered they will strike repeatedly and rapidly. A coastal taipan can grow to be as long as 2 metres in length and ranges in colour from pale tan to darker brown with a creamy underbelly that can be flecked with orange. The head of this very venomous snake tends to be paler in colour than its body.
The coastal taipan is a versatile snake that can make its home in a wide variety of habitats along the coast of northern New South Wales, Queensland, parts of the Northern Territory and the western Kimberley, and preys on small mammals. It is another Australian snake that has developed a taste for introduced rats and mice, and can often be found in the sugarcane fields of Queensland where these rodents are abundant. The female costal taipan lays a clutch of between 7-20 eggs in the summer months.
Mainland Tiger Snake
Again, although the tiger snake is not the most venomous snake in Australia, it can be a dangerous one and it used to be responsible for the most fatalities in the country. Tiger snakes primarily feed on frogs and as the numbers of frogs have dropped very rapidly in Australia due to destruction of habitat, new invasive predators and disease, the numbers of this species has also fallen.
They are endemic to south eastern Australia, and can be found in waterways, swamps and wetlands. However, many of the areas that they live in are also well populated by humans, so confrontation occurs frequently and the tiger snake is driven from its habitat. They are a thick-bodied snake and can grow up to 1.6 metres in length. They get their name from their distinctive stripes, but tiger snakes can also be a uniform grey, greenish-brown or virtually black colour, with a pale yellow underbelly. If the tiger stripes are present on the snake, the paler areas between the bands will be cream, pale brown or even a vivid yellow.
Common Death Adder
The common death adder is a short stout snake, with a broad head, a tapering tail, and the longest fangs of any Australian venomous snake. It is not in fact a type of adder, though it resembles one, but is a member of the elapid family like all other Australian venomous snakes. Most common death adders are banded in shade and are coloured grey or brown, with the tips of their tail being a different, more vivid shade.
Death adders are ambush predators who can lie in wait for several days and the bright colour of the death adder’s tail is used to attract the small mammals and birds that it feeds on by twitching the tail to gain the prey’s attention and lure it in.
The common death adder is found in eastern and South Australia, while in the more central, desert areas the desert death adder is found. Death adders are not the most venomous of Australia’s snakes, but they are dangerous because they are not as shy as other Australian snakes and will not move out of the way of encroaching humans.
They prefer to remain still and camouflaged and will only strike if they feel too threatened. However death adders can strike faster than any other Australian snake, so you would have to be very quick to be able to avoid the bite. Death adders breed in the late summer and typically produce a litter of between 10 and twenty live young.
So if you are planning a trip to Australia, there is no point in worrying too much about encountering venomous snakes. You will probably not come across one, and if you do, as long as you are cautious and respectful of the snake, it is very unlikely that you will get bitten. Australian venomous snakes are beautiful reptiles that fill a very important niche in their habitat, so deserve to be treated with respect and protected so that we do not lose any more of our wonderful wildlife.
Inland taipan image Charlie Brewer under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic
Coastal taipan Denise Chan under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic
Eastern tiger snake Teneche under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported
© 2010 CMHypno
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