Taipans are amongst the most feared and deadly snakes in the world, combining extremely potent and copious amounts of venom, long fangs and an accurate strike! There are 2 species of Taipans in Australia, the Coastal Taipan, found along the high rainfall Eastern coast and all through Cape York Peninsula; and the Inland Taipan, found along the drainage system for the Lake Eyre Basin. Both species, in their adult lives, feed almost entirely on rats. The venoms of both are highly toxic – the Inland Taipan venom is probably the most toxic of any snake in the world being 50 times more deadly than the Thai Cobra. The venoms are rich in neurotoxins, have a powerful clotting agent, and possess potent muscle destroying components.
Species include Common (Eastern) Tiger snake and Black Tiger snake. Tiger snakes are found in the wetter parts of eastern Australia, including Tasmania, most of Victoria, much of NSW, south eastern Queensland and the south-west of Western Australia. Their colour is highly variable. Tiger snakes have mainly a darker ground colour with lighter irregular cross bands but occasionally un-banded and even black specimens occur. They are highly venomous – bites from this species can cause a number of symptoms, which include paralysis, clotting difficulties and muscle weakness. To the untrained person, they can be easily confused with Brown snakes, Rough Scaled snakes, or even some harmless snakes like the Fresh Water snake and Carpet Pythons.
There are 4 species of Brown snakes – the Common Brown snake, Western Brown snake, Ingram’s Brown snake and the Speckled Brown snake. The Common Brown snake is responsible for most snakebites, with the others contributing occasionally to the tally. All of them use constriction as a method of prey restraint. All are highly dangerous although the venom yields from Speckled Brown snakes tend to be low. Although the venom from Ingram’s Brown snake and Speckled Brown snake haven’t been studied, they are assumed to be similar to the other two. The venom contains potent neurotoxins and a powerful clotting agent. About 70% of all bites & deaths to humans and animals in Australia are caused by the Brown snake.
There are 4 main types of Black snakes – they are the King Brown snake or Mulga snake, which is not a Brown snake as the name implies but a Black snake. The other 3 are the Spotted Black or Blue-Bellied snake, the Collett’s snake and the Red-Bellied Black snake. The venoms of all Black snakes have similarities but the Red-Bellied Black snake has a clotting agent when the others are anticoagulant. All have muscle destroying properties and are weakly neurotoxic. Black snake anti-venom can be used on all of them however Tiger snake anti-venom is used on some preferentially because it is cheaper.
- Rest the casualty
- Do not panic
- Apply direct pressure over the bitten area
- Apply a firm broad bandage over the bite area first, then bandage down the limb and continue to bandage up the full length of the limb. The bandage should be as tight as you would apply to a sprained ankle.
- Immobilise the limb with a splint
- CALL FOR MEDICAL AID!
Snake bite to limbs
- Do not wash venom off the skin
- Do not cut the bitten area
- Do not try to suck venom out of wound
- Do not elevate the limb
- Do not remove the bandage
- Do not walk or run – get help to you
- In Australia we are fortunate to have a Venom Detection Kit made by CSL Ltd, which can advise which anti-venom to use.
Further reading: Mirtschin, P.J. and Davis, R. (1992). Snakes of Australia Dangerous & Harmless. Hill of Content Sutherland, S.K. and Tibballs, J.(2001). Australian Animal Toxins. Oxford University Press.