Did you know Australia is, in fact, not home to the largest variety of snakes in the world? With nearly 400 different species within its borders, that accolade belongs to Mexico. That said, Australia does hold one reptilian record: the country with the most venomous snakes.
And now, thanks to a successful identification by researchers at the University of Adelaide, it has at least one more.
Interestingly, the snake isn’t some elusive species previously unknown to scientists. Instead, the desert whip snake, also known as Demansia Cyanochasma, has been mistaken for a different species for decades.
After careful study of the snake’s genetics, however, they realized the venomous whip snake is remarkably similar to the yellow-faced whip snake and western reticulated whip snake in appearance but is its very own species.
“It’s really a successful and widespread animal, it’s just that it’s taken this long to be able to work out it’s actually a distinct species and not the same thing as you see on the west coast or the east coast [of Australia],” SA Museum honorary researcher Mark Hutchinson told ABC.
“It’s taken the addition of the genetic profiling that (geneticist James Nankivell) was able to do.”
As the second portion of its scientific name, cyanochasma, suggests, the desert whip snake’s body possesses a blueish hue. On the smaller side of the serpent world, it has a slender frame and stretches only about 2 feet in length.
“They grow to about 70 cm long and they are very slim,” Hutchinson explained. “That means their head is very small and their fangs are very short for their size.”
When it comes to snakes, venomous doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous
Despite being a venomous species, the desert whip snake isn’t considered a danger to humans. Instead, the little desert-dweller uses its venom to hunt “small, fast-moving lizards.”
A bite would hurt and cause swelling, but it wouldn’t result in any long-term damage, let alone be fatal. Like any species of wildlife, however, it’s best to leave them alone.
“They will certainly bite if you try to pick them up or handle them,” Hutchinson said. “But there are no records of significant bites coming from these snakes.”
Australia is home to around 140 species of land snakes, with an additional 32 recorded species of sea snakes.
Using worldwide statistics, you could expect about 17 (or 10 percent) of these to be venomous. This is Australia, however, home to the widest variety of venomous snakes in the world. As a result, the percentages look a little different.
Out of the 170 or so snakes in the country, a whopping 100 of them (give or take) are venomous – almost 60 percent! That said, seldom few are capable of inflicting a fatal wound. Only 12 possess such potent venom that their bite could kill a human.
As always, though, it’s important to remember that even the most venomous snakes the country has to offer don’t pose a massive threat if left alone.
The inland taipan, for instance, is native to Australia and considered the world’s most venomous snake. Like most snakes, however, the inland taipan is a shy animal and will do whatever it can to avoid contact with humans.