It is well known, the snake is one of the most dangerous animals of the Australian fauna. Indeed, Australia is home to the most venomous snakes on the planet. This country has 12 species of venomous snakes with a venom potentially lethal to humans.
In many countries, many myths and urban legends surround snakes: their ability to kill in minutes, their aggression, their size etc …
It is estimated that 3000 people are bitten each year in Australia. 200 to 300 of those bites require hospitalization. One to 3 people die each year in Australia due to snake bite envenomation. These bites are rarely synonymous with death as popular belief. By comparison, India has a much higher bite-to-death ratio than Australia.
There is an antivenom for all species of Australian snakes. In case of doubt there is even a universal anti-venom. The factor that is to be taken into account is actually access to care. In Australia, the health system is well developed.
Where are the snakes in Australia?
Snakes in Australia are present in the majority of the territory except for the highest altitudes. We can meet them in all types of environment, tropical forest, subtropical forest, arid desert, wooded plains, around lakes, rivers, agricultural, peri-urban and urban and even in the ocean!
Like all reptiles, snakes need to thermoregulate to maintain their body temperature at 30 °. Depending on the geographical area, some are seasonal. They will be active during the hottest and virtually inactive during the coldest months. However, these rules vary from one species to another and from one family to another, as does their period of daily activity. For example, the most common pythons in Australia are mostly nocturnal. But they can be seen in the early morning basking on a rock in the sun. While brown snakes and snake tigers will only be active during the day.
Here is a descriptive list of some of Australia’s best known families and snake species.
The main species of snakes in Australia
Taipans belong to the genus Oxyuranus. There are 3 species in Australia: Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus), Coastal Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) and the Western Desert Taipan (Oxyuranus temporalis).
The taipans can reach a height of 2 meters. Their colors vary according to the period and the temperature during the year. They tend to be pale during the warmer months and much darker during the colder months of the year.
Inland Taipan is considered the most venomous snake in the world. But you will have very little chance to meet him because he lives in remote areas. Because of its rank in the classification of venomous species, many specialists have tried in vain to find it. It can hide in the crevices of the desert and come out only on rare occasions.
Its distribution area is very localized. He lives in arid deserts like the desert of Simpson or in the desert plains next to Coober Pedy.
Coastal Taipan, although less venomous than Inland Taipan, remains in 3rd place in the ranking of the most venomous snakes. He can be very aggressive if he feels threatened … He is extremely quick.
It is found on the northern and northeastern part of the country south of Brisbane. He lives in different habitats such as open forests or sugar cane fields.
The famous brown snakes are one of the most known snakes in Australia. Pseudonaja comprising 9 species in Australia which are distributed throughout the country. The 2 best known are Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) and Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja mengdeni).
The Eastern Brown Snake is the snake responsible for the largest number of envenomations in Australia. He is the 2nd most venomous snake in the world. This snake operates during the day and can reach more than 2m and whose color and patterns vary from one individual to another. It can range from very dark brown to almost black to very pale brown. The head is often paler than the rest of the body.
It is a very nervous snake and flees at the sight of humans. On the other hand, if he is surprised, he will tend to stand on his own. Indeed, he is able to be aggressive to intimidate. However, he will not try to bite unless there is an aggressive response from the person. As with all snakes in Australia, there is no reason to attack a human. Unless it is provoked, but its proximity and presence in rural areas do not play in his favor.
The distribution area of Eastern Brown Snake is very large and includes most of the eastern part of the country. It can be found in all types of habitat except tropical and subtropical forests
Tiger snakes are the 2nd type of snake to cause the most envenomation in Australia. They belong to the genus Notechis and there is only one species in the territory, Notechis scutatus. Each population, depending on its location, is considered a subspecies. The subspecies Notechis scutatus scutatus (VIC, NSW, QLD) is considered the 4th most venomous snake in the world.
Its color varies from one to another. Its name comes from the fact that it can be very dark dotted with yellow stripes. But the majority of tiger snakes have no patterns, ranging from very dark brown to pale yellow-brown.
It can measure from 1 to 2m with a fairly wide shape. One of his characteristics is that his body is flat at the base of the head. So when he stands in a position of intimidation it gives him false airs of cobra.
The Tiger snake is present only in the southern part of the country, from Cervantes to Espérance for WA, and more or less from Smoky Bay in SA and all along the coast and inland, except for drylands up to Bundaberg in Queensland. It has a preference for aquatic environments, such as ponds, lakes and rivers. It is therefore not uncommon to meet him in agricultural circles such as meadows with cows that are often marshy in the south of the country.
Death adder or vipers of death (which in reality are not vipers) all belong to the genus Acanthophis. There are 7 species in Australia and they are found in the vast majority of the country. All of these species are potentially deadly. The most widespread on the territory is the Common death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus). It ranks 10th in the ranking of the most venomous species in the world.
It is a fairly small snake, usually about sixty centimeters with a maximum of 1m to 1.20m for larger species. It has a relatively stocky shape. The coloration varies according to the species but its colors are generally an alternation of stripes in perfect adequacy with the environment in which it evolves. Thus the species of the center are often of a mixture of brown-red-orange colors.
Another interesting fact is that this snake is the fastest in the world!
This snake is calm, it moves only very little and only at night. He prefers to ambush his prey by confusing himself in his environment. He is able to use the tip of his tail as a lure to attract small vertebrates. It is this placid behavior and camouflage that make this snake dangerous. Bites usually occur because the snake seeks to defend itself.
The majority of species occur at night in fairly dry climates such as desert, rocky or open forests. Some species, however, can be found in tropical or subtropical forests.
And the others !
Then come other species such as the famous pythons, some of which make them the most impressive snakes in Australia (Amethystine python or Scrub python and Olive python are the largest snakes in Australia). Pythons are absolutely not poisonous, they are constrictor snakes. They kill their prey by smothering it after wrapping around it. They can still bite to defend themselves and the size of their hooks will cause intense pain and a good wound!
The most common python in Australia is the Carpet Python, it has several subspecies specific to each region of Australia with distinctly different colors depending on the subspecies. It is this snake that likes to sneak in cereal boxes, in the roofs of homes or in the toilet bowls of large cities on the edge of the forest like Brisbane!
The largest specimens of pythons are capable of ingesting prey of an impressive size. Recently in the Mount Isa area of the QLD, an Olive Python attacked a fresh water crocodile!
There are other fairly common snakes such as Red Belly black snake or Brown tree snake. Although they are poisonous and potentially dangerous (for the Red belly black snake), they are rarely responsible for envenomations.
Precautions to take
Forget now the old saying that venomous snakes are those with cat’s irises. This does not apply in Australia (and even in Europe by the way, see the snake of Montpellier which is venomous).
There are several simple rules to follow if you do not want to cross snakes or be inadvertently bitten:
- When hiking, stay on marked trails and avoid walking in the tall grass if you can not see where you put your feet.
- We generally avoid to walk in the Australian nature in flip flops see barefoot, shoes of stairs are still preferable …
- Snakes do not have external ears but they still have an inner ear, which means they are not deaf, but they do not really react to the human way. Your bursts of laughter or conversations will not make them run away, but they are extremely sensitive to vibrations. So you’ll be more likely to scare them by walking loudly
- Unless you are an expert, keep your distance if you see one. Some species are similar and it is better to leave them alone. Do not panic, avoid sudden movements and leave quietly keeping an eye on him. No snake will start chasing you if you have not provoked it prior.
- If you come across a snake in or near your home, the best thing to do is to call a snake catcher. There are professional snake catchers all over Australia who will quickly and safely remove the snake. Contact details for snake catchers can be found on Google. However, this is a paid service.
- There are professional snake handling training courses available to teach you how to catch and handle snakes. This will prepare you for a chance encounter and is certainly the best way to dispel the myths about snakes.
One last tip, if you want to preserve your chances of survival in Australia, avoid starting to hunt rabbits with snakes like him:
In case of bite
If, despite everything, you are bitten by a venomous snake, whether or not you know the snake, there is a specific protocol to follow. For the majority of cases, it greatly delays the spread of venom in the body and even prevents the onset of symptoms before treatment.
- Approximately 3,000 people are bitten by snakes each year in Australia.
- 13% Maximum of bite cases require the administration of an antivenom.
- Australia has an average of 2 snakebite-related deaths per year.
- Dogs are bitten 85% of the time on their property, compared to only 26% of cats.
- About 88% of animals bitten by a snake survive their injury.
- Australia is home to over 140 species of snake, including 20 poisonous species.
- The Eastern Brown Snake is responsible for more than 60% of snakebite-related deaths.
- The Inland Taipan is the most venomous snake in the world.
- Only 58% of WA residents surveyed can correctly identify venomous snake species.
- 29 people died from snakebite between 2010 and 2019 in Australia.
- 2018 was Australia’s deadliest year with 9 snakebite-related deaths.
- 22 November 2022 is the latest recorded snakebite death (Gayndah, QLD – Eastern Brown Snake).
Useful references and apps
If you want to learn more about snakes and reptiles there is a reference book in Australia: “A Complete Guide To Reptiles Of Australia“.
There is also a free app to help you identify snake and spider species: Critterpedia. Take a picture of the animal and the app will tell you what species it is, how dangerous it is etc.
There are also free apps for each state and territory of Australia to discover the wildlife: museumsvictoria.com.au/apps/national-field-guide-apps