Read up on why Australia’s dangerous snakes are more fascinating than frightful
An inland taipan on rocks
An inland taipan on rocks

No-one has ever died from a bite from the world’s most deadly snake, the inland taipan.

Fear of snakes is one of the most common phobias in the world. This is, of course, for good reason considering they have the reputation of being feisty and potentially fatally venomous! However, behind that façade is a creature that is fascinating, unreal and valuable slithering right beneath our noses.

Helping us shed some light on the world of snakes, the authors of Australia’s Dangerous Snakes draw from their experiences in the fields of herpetology, toxinology and clinical medicine, to present us with the overt facts about what Australia’s venomous snakes are really like.

Here’s some striking fast-facts you can sink your teeth into, bound to get you hooked on learning more about this slithering species.

  • Most juvenile snakes born do not survive. A female brown snake may produce over 700 eggs in her lifetime but on average, only 2 offspring will survive to adulthood.
  • No-one has ever died from a bite from the world’s most deadly snake, the inland taipan.
  • Snake venom is a potpourri of different toxins, not just a single toxin. Most of the toxins act simultaneously and at different rates. The major ones from Australian snakes are clotting activators and inhibitors, nerve blockers and muscle toxins.
  • Snakes are rarely active on very hot days and some species like it cool and overcast.  Tiger snakes and red bellies are happy at around 17 deg C ambient and overcast. Northern snakes like it a bit warmer.
  • And did you know that male snakes have 2 penises!

What’s your poison?

So here’s the deal – if a snake is venomous, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous. Australia is home to 205 species of snakes. Of those 65% are venomous, but only 32% are considered dangerous, meaning their bites could be life-threatening.

The Bardick snake
The Bardick snake

The Bardick snake. Credit Peter Mirtschin

For example, the Bardick, Echiopsis curta, is a venomous snake. It sounds scary, right? In fact its venom is only mildly venomous to humans so it’s not considered to be dangerous. So, if you happen to get bitten by a Bardick, it’s unlikely you’ll be seriously harmed.

Another not-so-dangerous snake is the Mosaic sea snake, Aipysurus mosaicus. This sea snake’s venom can cause pain and inflammation but due to its diet (which consists exclusively of fish eggs) it has lost its fangs and its venom glands have deteriorated so it poses a minimal threat!

Snakebite medicine

Snakes, just like all other native animals in the ecosystem help to provide an equilibrium. They prey on a wide range of our native and non-native species, playing their part in keeping everything balanced. But did you know our dangerous species also play an important role in modern-day medicine? Snake venom is increasingly being used for medical research on a number of fronts, and ironically its being found that the toxins in venom that have the potential to harm us, are also able to be used to save us.

Scientist extracting snake venom
Scientist extracting snake venom

Peter Mirtschin extracting venom from a coastal taipan. Credit: Peter Mirtschin

For example, hemotoxin found in snake venom attacks our body’s blood clotting ability but is also being used in research to treat heart attacks and blood disorders. Likewise neurotoxins such as notexin from the Tiger snake and taipoxin from the Taipan have been used in research to unlock mechanisms in our neuromuscular systems. The lifesaving treatment us humans need could be just around the corner, still to be discovered in the properties of a snake’s venom.

Turning phobia into fascination

Man stepping on snake in sandals
Man stepping on snake in sandals

Snake venom expert Nathan Dunstan demonstrates what not to do with a Patch nosed snake (P aspidorhyncha). Credit: Peter Mirtschin

Like many humans, snakes enjoy the simple life: with daily activities that consist of making dinner, finding a home and settling down. Biting us is usually the least of their priorities so we’re encouraged to not fear our dangerous species. After all, they are an interesting bunch!

10 comments

  1. According to an article in the current issue of National Geographic (Dec 2020), Oceania has the highest fatality rate from snakebite in the world (500 deaths per 1500 events pa). I find this hard to believe – but if it’s true, what is the rate in Australia-proper, separate from PNG, NZ etc? Why is it so high (if it is), compared with other countries / regions?

  2. wow. i am never surprised that i know so little on so many topics. thanks for educating me, you guys are always fantastic.

  3. The elderly man that died in 2016 was bitten by the Coastal Taipan not the Inland Taipan that they are referring too. However, I do think they have worded it incorrectly. There are no confirmed cases of anyone dying from an Inland Taipan, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been an unreported or undocumented case

  4. All the known Taipan deaths have been from Coastal Taipans, not Inland Taipans

  5. @B – that poor man may have died from a Coastal Taipan. It’s a different species to the Inland Taipan although clearly also highly venomous.

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