HomeOutdoorsNewsWILD / LIFE: The inland taipan is the most venomous snake in the world

WILD / LIFE: The inland taipan is the most venomous snake in the world

by Caitlin Berard
Inland taipan, most venomous snake in the world
(Photo by Ken Griffiths via Getty Images)

While far from the largest snake in the world, the humble inland taipan packs a punch in terms of venom. In fact, it’s the most venomous species on Earth.

Endemic to central east Australia, the inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) goes by many names: the western taipan, the small-scaled snake, and its ferocious nickname, “the fierce snake.”

When it was originally discovered by Aboriginal Australians, however, it was known simply as dandarabilla.

Years later, the 6-foot serpent was officially documented for the first time in 1879. After this initial description, however, the deadly species largely fell into myth. With the exception of a single encounter in 1882, it remained a complete mystery.

Then, ninety years later, it was rediscovered. And it was this encounter that led scientists to the realization that the inland taipan wasn’t just any reptile – its venom is by far the most toxic of any snake on the planet.

The Stats (on average)

The largest inland taipan on record stretched just over 8 feet in length, but this is far above average. Typically, the venomous species reaches right under 6 feet and weighs only 3 pounds.

Unlike its speedy relative, the black mamba, which can hunt down prey at speeds of almost 15 mph, the fierce snake’s top slithering speed is a mere 5 mph. Its unbelievably strong venom, fast strike speed, and lethal accuracy, however, make ground speed an afterthought.

Just how venomous is the inland taipan?

With a single bite, the fierce snake injects 44 mg to 110 mg of venom. To put that into perspective, just .025 mg is needed to kill a mouse.

However, with snakes, spiders, and other creepy crawlies, it’s important to understand that the vast majority are harmless. There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on Earth and only 600 are classified as venomous, or about 20 percent.

If that number seems high, keep in mind that not all 600 venomous snakes are capable of inflicting serious harm on a human.

The bite of most venomous snakes is akin to a bee sting, not at all the fatal wound you might imagine. Only around 200 – or about 7 percent – of all snakes are able to kill or significantly wound a human.

All that said, the inland taipan is most certainly one of them.

The genius hunting style of the inland taipan

While many snakes will eat amphibians, insects, eggs, fish, and even other reptiles, the inland taipan is a far more selective serpent when it comes to mealtime. They only eat mammals.

More specifically, the majority of their diet is made up of one rodent: the long-haired or plague rat. If and when that isn’t available, they’ll eat a plains rat or a Kultarr, a small insectivorous marsupial.

Now, its favorite snack, the long-haired rat, can run at speeds of around 8 mph – nearly double that of the inland taipan. But that doesn’t really matter when a single bite is enough to incapacitate any prey necessary.

Besides, the inland taipan knows its strengths. Rather than attempt to run down its prey in the open, the venomous snake favors a more direct approach.

First, it will climb down into a rat’s burrow or into deep cracks in the soil, where it can easily corner its prey. Then, with extraordinary speed and accuracy, the fierce snake bites down multiple times, injecting venom over and over into the exact same location.

As the fast-acting venom courses through its victim’s veins, there’s no time to react, let alone fight back.

Most venomous does not equal most dangerous

Purely from a potency perspective, you could make an argument that the inland taipan is the most dangerous snake on the planet. But should you? In all honesty, that title is a far better fit for a number of other species.

The eastern brown snake, for example, is responsible for the majority of snakebite deaths in Australia. In North America, that title belongs to rattlesnakes, while copperheads are responsible for more snakebite incidents overall.

Then, of course, there’s the inland taipan’s cousin, the ill-tempered coastal taipan. Though technically not as venomous, the coastal taipan is an extremely anxious species and quick to attack when threatened, making it the most dangerous snake in Australia.

Despite its malicious moniker, “the fierce snake,” the inland taipan isn’t all that fierce. The title really refers to its venom rather than the snake itself.

Unlike its coastal relative, the inland taipan is shy and coolheaded. Like any species of wildlife, it will attack when threatened, but it’s far slower to anger than many of its fellows. As long as you maintain a respectful distance of 6 feet or more from the placid predator, it’s not a species to fear.