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Australia's most venomous snakes


Australia has over 140 species of land snake - and 32 species of sea snakes have been recorded in its waters-. Of these 100 species are venomous, although only a dozen are considered venomous enough to be fatal to humans.

However, though Australian snakes are currently viewed as the most venomous in the world, they are, by no means, the most dangerous.

One reason for this is perhaps that having had very little time to adapt to the short human presence on their continent, Australian snakes are generally very shy and have not developed means to defend themselves against human predation, unlike, for example, the spitting cobras of Asia and Africa.

Another reason is that Australia is big and not densely populated by humans. As a result, snake bites are anything but common in Australia.

Besides, many of these bites occur when people - often under the influence of alcohol - try to handle or kill the snakes. A number of bites also happen when people inadvertently step on snakes (correct behavior and proper footwear could avoid these bites). Even then, many Australian snakes will first try to escape and, in case they do bite, they usually don't inject venom.

It is thus estimated that only 2 to 6 fatal cases of unavoidable snake bites happened in Australia between 1980 and 2004 (a period of 24 years).

Altogether, only 0.13 of every million deaths in Australia are the result of a snake bite, as compared to nearly 1 in the USA, and many more in South America, Africa, India or Sri Lanka.

Australia has solid-toothed non-venomous species (pythons, blind snakes, file snakes) and rear-fanged venomous snakes (like the brown tree snake and the mangrove snakes). However, the most dangerous Australian snakes belong to the front-fanged group, which includes the Taipan, Tiger, Brown, Death Adder, Mulga and a few species of sea snake.

1) TAIPANS

- Inland Taipan or Fierce Snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)

This very large black or olive colored snake (it measures an average impressive 2 meters and some individuals have reached 3.3 meters, or 11 feet) is found in Central Australia (in the area where Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet) where it inhabits dry plains and grasslands.

In the harsh environment where it lives, the Inland Taipan uses deep cracks and fissures formed in the dry soil to hide from predators and escape the midday heat. This snake has also adapted by changing color with the seasons: it is darker in winter and lighter in summer to either absorb or refract the heat.

The Fierce Snake, which normally feeds mainly on small mammals - mainly rat - is considered the world's most venomous snake. The rodents are killed with a series of rapid accurate strikes and deep injections of venom.

The Inland Taipan's venom is said to be 50 times more potent than that of the Indian Cobra and a single bite is etimated strong enough to kill some 250,000 mice - measures of venom potency are actually always performed on mice, which might only be remotely linked to their potency on humans-, or an equivalent of over 100 people.

However, this doesn't make the Inland Taipan the most dangerous snake in the world, since it is rarely encountered and incidences of bites are extremely rare - besides, antivenin is available and efficient-. In fact, there have never been any human fatalities caused by this species.

- Coastal Taipan or Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)

This close relative of the Inland Taipan is slightly smaller - up to 2 meters- , lighter in color, and barely less venomous. It can be found in the forests and open woodlands of northeastern and extreme north Australia as well as in New Guinea.

- A third species is found in Australia: the Central Ranges Taipan.



2) BROWN SNAKES

- Eastern Brown Snake or Common Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis)

The Eastern Brown Snake can be found in most of eastern Australia from the desert to the coast; it usually inhabits open grasslands, pastures or woodlands.

This large snake - it can exceed 2 meters - can move extremely fast and is responsible for more than half the deaths due to snake bites in Australia. This is partly due to the fact that its favorite preys are mice and rats which brings it into close contact with humans as it hunts around farm buildings.

However, thanks to efficient first-aid treatment and antivenin, the Eastern Brown Snake causes now only 1 or 2 human deaths a year. This snake is considered the second most venomous snake in the world. Its venom contains neurotoxins and procoagulants.

Bites are still quite uncommon, and given the opportunity, the Eastern Brown Snake, though reputed to be ill-tempered, will rather flee than attack. Most of the the time too, bites are warning ones where the snake does not inject its venom. If it does, though, and if the victim is not treated rapidly and correctly, a bite is likely to be fatal.

- Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudechis nuchalis)

This medium-sized black to brown snake - up to 1.5 meters or 5 feet- occurs in most of Australia, with the exception of the extreme southwest and southeast (eastern New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania). It can be found in a variety of habitats, ranging from forest to grasslands, gravelly plains and desert.

The Western Brown Snake feeds on small mammals and reptiles. It is said to be less aggressive than the Eastern Brown Snake, but still remains a potentially dangerous snake. Its venom contains neurotoxins and procoagulants.

- Other Brown Snake species include: the Dugite, the Five-Ringed Brown Snake, Ingram's Brown Snake, the Speckled Brown Snake, the Peninsula Brown Snake, and Tanner's Brown Snake.

3) BLACK SNAKES

- King Brown Snake or Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis)

This dark red to brown snake is found virtually everywhere in Australia, except in the east and south coastal area. It can inhabit mulga country, but also forests as well as grasslands and deserts. It feeds on frogs or small mammals and can reach a length of 2 to 2.5 meters - 7 to 8 feet.

This snake's venom is not extremely toxic, yet, as it injects huge quantities of it, the King Brown Snake can be quite dangerous. This snake is, actually, not a true brown snake but one of the black snake family. Therefore, bites must be treated with black snake antivenin.

- Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)

The Red-bellied Black Snake is a species of streams, rivers, creeks, swamps and other wetland areas. It can also be found in well vegetated areas adjacent to water courses. This snake feeds mostly on frogs, but will also take lizards, mammals, birds, and even fish.

This species can measure a maximum of 2.5 meters and has a head barely distinguishable from its body with no constricted neck area. It has a distinctive coloration with a glossy black back and a light pink to red belly.

Unlike other close relatives, the Red-bellied Black Snake gives birth to live young.

The Red-bellied Black Snake is highly venomous, but nevertheless not very dangerous to man since it is a shy and fairly docile snake, which generally prefers to display with a flattened neck than to actually bite.

- Collet's Snake (Pseudechis colletti)

The Collet's snake occurs in central Queensland. It inhabits the soiled plains and hides in cracks to escape both predators and the heat.

This species can measure some 2 meters and has beautiful colors: pinkish to orange on the belly, dark on the back with patches of bright orange.

The Collet's Snake has a potent venom but is not a very aggressive species and it seldom bites.

- Other species of Black Snakes include: the Blue-Bellied Black Snake, Butler's Black Snake, the Papuan Black Snake, and the Pygmy Mulga Snake.

4) TIGER SNAKES

Tiger snakes are relatively short and stout bodied with a broad head. They give birth to live young

- Eastern Tiger Snake or Mainland Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus)

This medium-size snake - it measures up to 1.5 meters or 5 feet, sometimes more- is found in the southeastern part of Australia where it inhabits forests and open grasslands, but also frequents swamps, wetlands and water courses.

It is highly variable in appearance - it can be olive-brown, gray, almost black or even reddish in color- and does not always display the distinctive tiger stripes suggested by its name.

The Eastern Tiger Snake gives birth to a litter of some thirty live young, sometimes up to seventy.

The Eastern Tiger snake is classified as the world's 4th most venomous snake. It is considered very dangerous, because of that very potent venom, but also because its range coincides with the most populated areas in Australia, so that encounters are common.

Tiger snakes tend to have an impressive threat display before attempting to bite which starts by flattening their necks and hissing. Mock strikes often precede a real one.

Eastern Tiger Snakes used to be responsible for the most snake bite fatalities in Australia. They lost that position to Eastern Brown Snakes which feed mostly on rodents, when Eastern Tiger Snakes feed more on frogs, probably because of the diminish habitat of amphibians - and subsequent diminishing number of Eastern Tiger Snakes.

- Giant Black Tiger Snake or Black Tiger Snake, Peninsula Tiger Snake, (Notechis ater or Notechis ater niger)

The Black Tiger Snake occurs in Tasmania and in the Bass Strait islands. It lives in rocky places, dunes, beaches and areas with tussock grass where it feeds on small mammals, frogs and seabird chicks.

The Black Tiger Snake is usually black and might have traces of lighter crossbands; it has a large body and can measure up to 1.2 meters - 4 feet.

Like its close relative, the Eastern Tiger Snake, it spread its neck when alarmed and has an extremely potent venom - ranked 5th in the world.

- Riesvie Tiger Snake

This big tiger snake - up to 2 meters - lives in Australian forests and open grasslands and feeds on small mammals and birds.

- Western Tiger Snake

Found in forests and open grasslands, this species can grow up to 2 meters and feeds on small mammals and birds.

5) DEATH ADDERS

The name 'Death Adder' has probably nothing to do with the potency of their venom but was rather originally 'deaf' adder in reference to their inability - shared by other snakes - to hear airborne sounds.

Death Adders can be recognized by their very short, thick bodies, rapidly tapering tail and their broad triangular (viper-like) heads. They generally have a raised 'horn' above the eye.

Death Adders are, actually, not true adders, but members of the elapids family, like other Australian snakes - when adders belong to the viper family. Death Adders have evolved their similarity to adders, in adaptation to their environment and their ambush hunting method, which does not require a snake to be long and agile but rather short and muscular for a quick sudden strike.

Death adders are largely - but not exclusively - nocturnal snakes. They give birth to live babies.

Death Adders ambush frogs, birds, lizards and rodents by hiding - sometimes waiting for many days - in leaves, grass, sand or gravel and twitching the tips of their tails to lure their prey within striking distance.

Unlike most snakes, Death Adder don't always retreat from humans and are, for that reason, more likely to be accidentally trodden upon. They are known to readily strike in that event; they are, in fact, probably the fastest of all Australian snakes in administrating their strike. Despite their short size Death Adders possess the longest fangs of any Australian snake, so they can give verious serious bites. However, Death Adders are not especially aggressive snakes and will only bite if the threat is very close to them.

- Death Adder or Common Death Adder, Southern Death Adder (Acanthopis antarcticus)

The Common Death Adder occurs over most of Australia with the exception of the Central Desert Region, Victoria and Tasmania. It likes dry, rocky and scrubby places and can inhabit open woodland and heathland areas.

This small snake - 40 to 50 cm - can be gray, brown or red with a number of irregular crossbands over its body.
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- Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus)

This species inhabits desert regions of central and western Australia. It is usually found in porcupine grass, stony flats, sandy ridges and rocky outcrops but will also venture in the outskirts of built-up areas, such as Alice Springs. It is often seen at night soaking up the heat from the roads.

More slender than the Common Death Adder, the Desert Death Adder is shorter than 70 cm in length, with a beautiful brick-red color and conspicuous yellow bands.

The Desert Death Adder feeds on lizards such as skinks and dragons. Its live-born babies can deliver a nasty bite from the start, despite their tiny size.

- Other Death Adders are found in Australia: the Northern Death Adder (Acanthophis praelongus), which is found north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the New Guinea Death Adder (Acanthopis laevis) in the Torres Strait, and several other species with more restricted ranges.

6) COPPERHEADS

- Lowland Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus)

These medium-sized black to brick red snakes (they measure around 1 meter) are only found in Victoria, Tasmania, the highlands of New South Wales and maybe the southern parts of South Australia - including some Bass Strait islands.

It has the particularity of being active when temperatures are generally too cold for snakes and of being the only venomous snake found above the snow line.

The Copperhead is usually found around wetlands, rivers and creeks, but can also occur in woodlands, grasslands and heath country; it feeds on frogs, lizards, and now and then small mammals, birds and other snakes - including its own young- which it hunts during the day, except when it is too hot.

A threatened Copperhead will first try to discourage attackers by flattening its neck and raising it off the ground while hissing loudly and displaying mock bites.

It will, however, bite if further provoked. This species has a highly potent venom which has already been fatal to humans. Copperheads are born live and fully equipped with venom, which is already toxic enough to be considered dangerous to humans.

Sources:

http://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/australian_venomous_snakes.html
Australian Venomous Snakes

http://arachnophiliac.info/burrow/tenmostvenomous.htm
The Ten Most Venomous Snakes

http://www.convictcreations.com/animals/snakes.htm
Australian snakes

http://home.iprimus.com.au/gunnado/snakes.html

http://www.reptilepark.com.au/animals.asp?catID=16
Australian Reptile Park.

http://members.iinet.net.au/~bush/nuchal.html

http://www.avru.org/general/general_gwardar.html


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