FAQ: Snakes

Snakes | Spiders | Jellyfish | Other

I am planning a trip to the outback, including remote areas, and I am wondering whether I should take antivenom with me in case of snakebite?

It is not advisable to purchase antivenom as part of a general outback or extended camping trip. Nor do we advise it for isolated cattle or other stations. This is for several reasons. Firstly, anyone travelling in remote parts of Australia are far more likely to need medical attention from falls, motor vehicle accidents, dehydration and other accidents and illnesses, than for snakebite. Therefore the best preparation is to make a plan, in case of any of these events, to obtain help and get to medical attention. Preparation and prevention are the best ways to stay snake smart. If a bite does occur, then appropriate first aid the pressure-immobilisation technique is used to "stop the clock on the movement of venom" to allow the patient to get to medical care. Detailed explanation.

What is the most venomous Australian snake?

This question can be answered several ways. If we consider the question as - which snake has the most toxic venom - then our best answer is the inland or western taipan (also known as the fierce or small-scaled snake). An average bite or milking from this snake can potentially kill more laboratory mice than any other Australian snake. But this is an artificial test as this snake normally preys on the plague rat and no-one has tested its venom on that animal. Also, this snake lives far away from people in central Australia and has never been known to kill anyone (it's actually not very fierce at all but note that it can cause a potentially life-threatening illness). An alternative question is - which snake bites and kills more people than any other? This practical approach to the 'most dangerous snake' leads us to the brown snakes. There are 8 species of brown snakes which, as a group, are more widespread and cause more bites and deaths from snakebite than any other group of Australian snakes. The eastern brown is the leading cause of death from a single species. But when considering the risks from an individual snake bite, the coastal taipan is probably the most dangerous as, due to its multiple, rapid and highly efficient 'strikes', it is the snake most likely to successfully inject a potentially lethal amount of venom (it has the longest recorded fang length of any venomous Australian snake at 13mm).

What is the largest of Australia's venomous snakes?

The longest of our venomous snakes is the coastal taipan, which may grow up to 3.3 metres, but averages about 2.5 metres in length (note that according to the Queensland Museum, the longest recorded length for the coastal taipan as recorded in Australian museum collections is 2.9m - that snake, known as 'Terrence' to his friends, weighed 6.2kg!). The mulga snake is close behind, said to be able to grow up to 3 metres, but it averages about 1.5 metres. But where the mulga snake wins is that it is the heaviest of our venomous snakes and it has the world record for the greatest venom output from a single milking (1350mg). Fortunately death from mulga snake bite is now very rare (a specific antivenom is available and made by CSL Limited). The longest recorded non-venomous Australian snake is the scrub or amethystine python at 5.65m (from north Queensland).

I have seen a snake around my garden and I wonder how I can identify it ?

Some types of snake are very distinctive and can be readily identified from a distance. Examples include the large scrub pythons found in and around gardens in Queensland, the copperhead (the only snake that lives above the snowline in the Australian Alps) and the red-bellied black snake. However in general one needs to be very careful about the potential for the mis-identification of snakes due to the risk of thinking it is a harmless snake when in fact it is dangerous. This is particularly true of 'brown coloured' snakes. If you have a snake around your home it is best to call in an expert snake removalist than risk a misidentification. For interest check the AVRU website for some characteristics of the appearance, behaviour and habitat of the important venomous species. Your regional museum website should also have useful information on the snake in your area.

Can I get bitten by a snake in the city?

Yes. In fact, a recent snakebite fatality in Australia was a bite occurring in surburban Sydney. Indeed, previous snakebite deaths have occured in suburban Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. However this is less common than deaths in regional or rural areas of Australia.

Can I get bitten by a dead snake?

Yes. The biting reflex remains intact for many hours after the snake has died. Consequently there have been many cases of poisoning from the bites of dead snakes reported by doctors in Australia, the USA and elsewhere. That is why, if you find a dead snake you should be very careful about disposing of it to make sure neither you nor anyone else, especially children, can be harmed by it. This problem also reflects the fact that venom can remain toxic for a very long time after the snake has died, and a scratch from a fang could introduce venom under the skin. So 'stuffed' snakes, such as can be seen for sale in many Asian countries, and snake fangs, can be potentially very dangerous, just like a live snake.