Australia is full of animals that aren’t what they seem. “Cute” creatures can disembowel you, poison you, or write off your car. So a shy and reclusive reptile known as the “fierce snake”? Sounds suspicious doesn’t it?
And you’re completely right. The inland taipan’s alias refers to its venom, and there’s enough in one bite to kill 100 people. Say hello to the world’s most venomous snake!
I say venomous rather than deadly, because unlike the Asian saw-scale viper, which lives nearer humans and kills about 5,000 people a year, the inland taipan has racked up precisely zero kills due to its shyness, chilled demeanour, and a readily available anti-venom. It’s like comparing a vicious dog and a nuclear power plant: the former is a more common threat, but set off the normally docile latter and you can be irreversibly screwed in minutes.
Suffocation, convulsions and paralysis are just some of the delights of the worst possible snake bite. It also causes something deeply unpleasant called rhabdomyolysis, but I’ll leave you to look that up yourself lest you spit coffee all over your screen. Depending on the severity and number of bites, you could be seeing the pearly gates within 45 minutes.
Before you grab any sticks and torches, remember that this animal spends its time not killing hundreds of people. It might also be key to a new treatment for congenital heart disease. Snake-wrangler Dr. Bryan Fry, for example – lovingly described as “David Attenborough on acid” – believes the muscle relaxant properties of the venom could be used to increase blood flow.
If you’re still not convinced, don’t worry, because the inland taipan mainly lives in remote desert hellscape areas. What’s more, of the 11 documented bites, only 2 have been due to brushing up against them in the wild, and one victim was John Robinson, a friend of “Barefoot Bushman” Rob Bredl, who somehow survived without anti-venom but suffered heart and muscle damage.
The others were caused by keepers handling specimens in zoos, or pets. Yes, you read that right: pets. You can keep the world’s most venomous snake in a tank in your bedroom. Requiring the highest possible reptile licence to own one indicates a slight drop in the levels of crazy, but only slight. One of the 9 unfortunate owners was reptile-loving Youtuber Nathan Chetcuti, who took weeks to recover.
I’ve milked the venom enough now, so what about the snake itself? Well, it has a seasonal wardrobe to cope with the desert heat – lighter in summer and darker in winter – and enjoys hunting rats, which can reach plague-like proportions on its home turf. And if the prey drops too low, the inland taipan just won’t breed as much. Either that, or it needs a break from its marathon mating sessions. Speaking of which, the males have a strict no-biting policy when fighting over a female, and wrestle each other instead. Perhaps “sensible snake” would have been a better name.
Latin: Oxyuranus microlepidotus
What? The most venomous snake in the world
Where? Australia (where else), mainly where the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland meet
How big? Up to 2.5 m/ 8 ft long
Endangered? Vulnerable overall, and considered extinct in Victoria and New South Wales.
Probable motto: I could apparently kill you, but I don’t feel like it today.
They sound interesting. Do they need my help/help being avoided at all?
Although loss of habitat is a concern, the inland taipan isn’t part of any conservation efforts at the moment. It’s also already protected by Australian law, so unlike most other animals so far, it’s fairly covered!
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
Beatson, Cecilie. 2015. “Inland Taipan, Oxyuranus microlepidotus”. Australian Museum.
Bochenski, Natalie. 2015. “Bryan Grieg Fry ‘like David Attenborough on acid‘”. Brisbane Times.
“Fierce snake – profile“. 2017. New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage.
Gardiner, Stephanie. 2012. “Mystery over boy bitten by world’s most venomous snake.” The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Immediate first aid for bites by Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)“. No date. Toxicology.
“Inland taipan“. No date. BBC Nature.
“Inland taipan“. No date. Billabong Sanctuary.
“Oxyuranus microlepidotus. Inland taipan“. No date. Encyclopedia of Life.
“Oxyuranus microlepidotus (MCCOY, 1879)“. No date. The Reptile Database.
Pultarova, Tereza. 2017. “Pet snake nearly kills teen: why the inland taipan is so deadly“. Live Science.
“Reptiles – fierce snake.” No date. Australia Zoo.
“The taipans“. No date. Barefoot Bushman.
Weinstein, S.A. et al. “Neurotoxicity with persistent unilateral ophthalmoplegia from envenoming by a wild inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus, Elapidae) in remote outback South Australia”. 2017. Toxicon 137:October 2017, 15-18.
“Western taipan“. No date. Queensland Museum.
“What are the world’s deadliest animals?” 2016. BBC News.
Wolfe, Natalie. 2017. “Teen snake catcher Nathan Chetcuti fighting for life after inland taipan bite“. News.com.au.
Zimmer, Carl. 2005. “Open wide: decoding the secrets of venom“. The New York Times.
Featured image credit: Kapa65