Taipans: Australia's Deadly Snakes

The inland taipan snaking its way through the foliage. It is a highly feared snake in Australia due to its deadly venom.
The inland taipan snaking its way through the foliage. It is a highly feared snake in Australia due to its deadly venom.

The taipans are highly venomous elapids belonging to the genus Oxyuranus. The snakes are endemic to Australasia and are known for their large size, high agility, and toxic venom. Currently, three species of taipan have been recognized of which the coastal taipan has two subspecies. Here, we discuss the different species of taipans and their distinguishing characteristics.

3. Central Ranges Taipan

One of the three species of taipan is the Central Ranges taipan or the Oxyuranus temporalis. This snake was recently described in 2007 by four Australian researchers Mark Hutchinson, Brad Maryan, Paul Doughty, and Stephen Donnellan. The Central Ranges taipan is a large and agile snake that like the other taipan species possesses a highly toxic venom.

2. Coastal Taipan

The coastal taipan or the common taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) is a big and extremely venomous snake that is native to northern and eastern Australia’s coastal regions and is also found on the island of New Guinea. The coastal taipan is Australia’s largest venomous snake and the world’s sixth-most venomous snake based on its murine LD50 value. Adults of this species can attain lengths up to 6.6 feet. Research has revealed several similarities between the black mamba of Africa and the coastal taipan including the long and narrow head of the species. The body color of the snake varies from uniform light olive to reddish-brown to dark gray and black. The ventral surface is usually creamy-white to pale light yellow in color. The coastal taipans can be found in a wide range of habitats including monsoon forests, woodlands, wetter temperate to tropical coastal regions, etc. The snake feeds mainly on warm-blooded animals like small mammals and birds. The venom of this snake contains taicatoxin, a potent neurotoxin that damages the nervous system of the victim and also inhibits the blood clotting system. Death can occur 30 minutes to 2.5 hours after envenomation. Untreated victims are sure to die since the coastal taipan hardly fails to deliver a lethal dose at a single bite.

The coastal taipan has two subspecies which are the Papuan taipan or the Oxyuranus scutellatus canni found throughout the New Guinea island’s southern portion and the coastal taipan or the Oxyuranus scutellatus scutellatus which is found in parts of Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia.

1. Inland Taipan

The inland taipan or the small-scaled snake or the fierce snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) is a highly venomous taipan species that lives in central east Australia’s semi-arid regions. From its first discovery in 1879 till until its rediscovery in 1972, very little was known about this snake to the international scientific community. Later studies revealed the highly venomous nature of the inland taipan.

It is regarded as the most venomous snakes inhabiting the world today. When tested on human heart cell culture, the taipan’s venom has been found to have the greatest toxic effect than the venom of any other reptile. The snake is well adapted to act as a specialist mammal hunter. One bite of this taipan can kill 100 adult human beings. Death is quick and typically occurs within 30 to 45 minutes of the bite. The inland taipan is a very agile snake that strikes with extreme accuracy and injects venom at nearly every bite. However, the snake is also a shy and reclusive creature that does not strike unless threatened. The snakes also live in remote locations and thus contacts with human are rare. Thus, though the snake is most venomous, its disposition and rare human contact steal the title of the world’s most deadly snake from it.


More in Environment