We’ll just go right out and say it: This land Down Under is packed with critters and creatures that can do some pretty hefty damage to humans. From prowling dingoes to potently poisonous spiders, there’s a whole host of fauna that you should be wary of before you touch down in the home of BBQ shrimp and walkabouts. And that’s not even mentioning the venomous snakes in Australia…
Sadly, there are quite a few. Yep, the dusty Outback and the lush rainforests of this forever sun-soaked country are just about the perfect habitat for dangerous serpents. Scientists estimate there’s something like 170 snake species in Oz overall, of which a whopping 100 or so are considered venomous. That’s 100 encounters you probably don’t want to have between your surf sessions and hikes in the Blue Mountains.
The good news is that snakebites and snakebite deaths are particularly rare in Australia – the latest average is around just two deaths per year (compare that to a whopping 58,000 per year in India!). However, just one glimpse at some of the most venomous snakes in Australia listed below and we don’t think you’ll want to be getting up close and personal. Let’s begin…
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Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
No list of the most venomous snakes in Australia could possibly be complete without a mention of the eastern brown snake. These ubiquitous serpents are the plague of the Aussie people. They are the sole perpetrator of 60% of total human fatalities from snakebites in the country and possess a venom that’s officially ranked as the second most powerful on the planet.
Part of the problem with eastern brown snakes is that they happily reside in areas that are also populated by people. From the suburbs of Sydney to the parks of Melbourne all the way up to sunny Brisbane and the Gold Coast, these guys simply love to cross paths with us. They can also be quick to get defensive and will attack without hesitation.
Said attack will often involve the injection of a venom that leads to hypotension, uncontrolled bleeding, kidney failure, sweating, and blood clotting. Strangely, there’s not often any swelling at the site of contact, but death can occur within a matter of hours if left untreated.
Inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)
The inland taipan is certainly up there with the most venomous snakes in Australia. How else do you think it got the nickname the fierce snake? Some scientists actually think that these guys have the strongest venom of any snake in the world. It’s at least four times stronger than that of the coastal taipan and a single bite is enough to kill over 100 adult men!
Thankfully, encounters with inland taipans are very rare. They don’t like human contact at all, preferring to slink away whenever there’s a disturbance. What’s more, they only inhabit small parts of eastern Australia, in the black soil plains that mark the border between Queensland and NSW far inland from the developed coastal enclaves and surf towns.
Remarkably, the inland taipan changes color with the seasons. In the peak of the summer months, it will turn paler in order to deal with the scorching sun. In the winter, it will turn a darker hue of brown and olive to help them bask and keep warm.
Mainland tiger snake (Notechis scutatus)
You probably won’t mistake a mainland tiger snake for anything else. Just as the name implies, these guys sport a striped patterning that resembles the great man-eating mammals of Bengal. Usually, the coloring is yellowish orange interspersed with dark olive greens and brown. However, there can be tiger snakes with no pattern to speak of.
Notechis scutatus have a range that’s centered on South Australia. They are also found in quite high numbers on the island of Tasmania. They’re very common in those regions and some estimations put it that they are responsible for a whopping 17% of identified snakebite incidents in the country every year.
You do not want to be a part of that statistic! Victims of a mainland tiger snake often feel intense pain at the site of contact, which then develops into holistic symptoms such as uncontrolled sweating, nausea, and eventual full-body paralysis. As many as 60% of bites will prove fatal if left untreated.
Coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)
Preferring the hotter, more humid reaches of northern and eastern Australia, the coastal taipan lives mainly on the shores north of Brisbane and east of Darwin. It’s also present on the tropical island of New Guinea across the Torres Strait. They can reside in a number of different habitats, from thick jungle to open farmland.
Reigning as the second-longest of all the venomous snakes in Australia, these guys routinely grow to over two meters. They are slender from snout to tail, with a narrow head that’s barely any thicker than the main body. Color wise, you’ll want to keep a look out for a shock of ochre, orange, and red, with the odd touch of darker brown dotting the length of the torso.
Becoming highly aggressive whenever they’re cornered, coastal taipans have pushed themselves into the top three most deadly snakes on the globe with a venom that’s based on taicatoxin, one of the strongest neurotoxins out there. They can kill within a matter of hours, though there is now a good antivenom thanks to the efforts of one Kevin Budden, who died from envenomation during his attempt to milk a specimen back in the 1950s.
Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis)
Sometimes known as the king brown snake, the mulga snake is actually a branch of the black snake family. It’s named for the habitat where it mainly lives – mugla is the word for the arid brush landscapes that account for 20% of inland Australia. The range is big, going from the tip of the Northern Territories all the way to the surf beaches of northern Perth (that’s over 2,300 miles across!).
The mugla has the dubious honor of being Australia’s largest venomous snake. It can clock up sizes of 2.5 meters from end to end but can easily exceed three meters in more rural environments. They differ depending on the region. Ones in NT tend to be tanner and paler. Those from WA have darker scale patterns with a cream underbelly.
Now, the venom: An unusual mix of tissue-killing chemicals that leads to necrosis at the site of contact and intense pain throughout the body. Deaths from these are rare (the last recorded fatality was in 1969), but they do still account for around 4% of the total number of snakebites in the home of BBQ grills and Aussie rules.
Common death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)
With a name like the common death adder, it’s hardly a surprise that this bad boy makes it onto our list of the most venomous snakes in Australia! And it really is a bad boy – this critter is known to have the fastest bite strike of any snake in the country, and potentially any snake in the world. It can go from rest mode to full attack – like teeth-in-arm attack – in less than 0.1 seconds!
So, you’ll want to keep your distance, especially because the venom that’s injected is also up there with the most potent in the world. It’s a highly concentrated neurotoxin that can leave victims totally paralyzed and dead within just a couple of hours. Yikes!
Common death adders remain very widespread in the populated parts of eastern Australia. They’re present in New South Wales and Queensland, but also have a range that extends throughout the coastal parts of South Australia and even into WA. You’ll notice them for their elongated fangs and dark brown-black camo with a pale underbelly.
Red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)
One thing’s for sure, the red-bellied black snake certainly shouldn’t be called the yellow-bellied black snake. These guys are confident in attack and have a venom that can lead to serious complications and sickness thanks to a cocktail of neurotoxins and myotoxins that stop proper blood flow and have disconcerting impacts on major senses (lots of victims report losing their sense of smell!).
One of the most common snakes in the east-coast regions of New South Wales and Queensland, this critter is thought to be responsible for something like 16% of the total number of snakebites in Australia each year. Thankfully, no deaths have yet been recorded.
You’ll be able to spot them on account of the brooding purplish color pattern that turns into a dash of bold reddish scarlet on the underside (hence the name). Capable of growing to around two meters in length at full adulthood, they actually aren’t considered quite as dangerous as other elapid snakes in Oz since they don’t tend to inject as much venom per bite.
The most venomous snakes in Australia – our conclusion
There are all sorts of venomous snakes in Australia. In fact, there’s upwards of 100 venomous serpents to be found in this vast, continent-sized nation. Some are considered among the most dangerous snakes on the planet, like the eastern brown snake, which has the second most powerful venom of any snake, anywhere. Others are less deadly but still very common, like the red-bellied black snake, which is thought to account for over 15% of total annual snake bites in the country.