About a third of adult humans have a snake phobia (ophidiophobia). Even if you’re not terrified of snakes, chances are you would jump like an acrobat if a snake were to slither unexpectedly between your legs while walking through tall grass.
Scientists have found that humans were hardwired to fear snakes during our evolutionary process. And that may not be such a bad thing because there are plenty of snakes that can kill a human with one swift strike.
Interestingly, the infamous rattlesnake portrayed in so many cowboy movies does not make this list. Although rattlesnake bites are the leading cause of snakebite injuries in North America, if treated promptly the bites are rarely fatal.
Hopefully you’ll never encounter one the cold-blooded killers listed below.
10. The saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus)
This viper is found in parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, and especially the Indian subcontinent. It is responsible for more serious snakebites and deaths than any other species, and it is a strong candidate for the title of deadliest snake in the world, since scientists believe it to be responsible for more human deaths than all other snake species combined. Its venom, however, is lethal in less than 10 percent of untreated victims, but the snake’s aggressiveness means it bites early and often.
9. Indian Cobra (Naja naja)
It is also known as spectacled cobra, Asian cobra or binocellate cobra and is a species of the genus Naja found in the Indian subcontinent and a member of the “big four” – the four species which inflict the most snakebites in India. This snake is revered in Indian mythology and culture, and is often seen with snake charmers.
An average cobra is about 1.9 meters, and the most distinctive and impressive characteristic of the Indian cobra is the hood, which it forms by raising the anterior portion of the body and spreading some of the ribs in its neck region when it is threatened.
Though it is responsible for many bites, only a small percentage are fatal if proper medical treatment and anti-venom are given. Mortality rate for untreated bite victims can vary from case to case, depending upon the quantity of venom delivered by the individual involved. According to one study, it is approximately 15–20%, but in another study, with 1,224 bite cases, the mortality rate was only 6.5%.
8. Tiger Snake (Genus Notechis)
Also known as the Taiwanese krait or the Chinese krait, it is a highly venomous species of elapid snake found throughout much of central and southern China and Southeast Asia.
Research has shown that this species of snake is the most venomous terrestrial snake in all of Asia and the 7th most venomous snake species on earth. The many-banded krait gained worldwide attention after a juvenile specimen bit and killed Dr. Joe Slowinski on September 11, 2001 in Myanmar. He died 29 hours after being bitten.
The local symptoms of victims bitten by the many-banded krait are usually neither serious swelling nor pain; the victims merely feel slightly itchy and numb. Systemic symptoms occur, in general, one to four hours after being bitten by this snake. Symptoms may include bilateral ptosis, diplopia, discomfort in the chest, general ache, weak feeling in limbs, ataxia, glossolysis, loss of voice, dysphagia, tunnel vision, and difficulty breathing. In case of serious bite, suppression of breathing may occur, leading to death.
6. Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
The black mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 20km/h.
These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. Its bite delivers about 100–120 mg of venom, on average; however, it can deliver up to 400 mg. If the venom reaches a vein, 0.25 mg/kg is sufficient to kill a human in 50% of cases.
The initial symptom of the bite is local pain in the bite area, although not as severe as snakes with hemotoxins. The victim then experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, excessive salivation (including foaming of the mouth and nose) and pronounced ataxia (lack of muscle control). If the victim does not receive medical attention, symptoms rapidly progress to severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, pallor, shock, nephrotoxicity, cardio toxicity and paralysis.
Eventually, the victim experiences convulsions, respiratory arrest, coma and then death. Without antivenin, the mortality rate is nearly 100%, among the highest of all venomous snakes. Depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours. One snake expert called this species “death incarnate,” to South African locals the black mamba bite is known as the “kiss of death.”
5. Yellow-bellied Sea Snake or Pelagic Sea Snake (Pelamis platura)
This species of sea snake is found in tropical oceanic waters around the world. Males may grow up to 720 millimetres and females up to 880 millimetres.
These snakes are helpless on land, and they sometimes form large aggregations of thousands in surface waters. They use their neurotoxic venom against their fish prey.
Sea snake venom can cause damage to skeletal muscle with consequent myoglobinuria, neuromuscular paralysis or direct renal damage. The venoms of significant species of sea snake are neutralized with Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Ltd (of Melbourne, Australia) sea snake (Enhydrina schistosa) antivenom. If that preparation is not available, tiger snake or polyvalent antivenom should be used. No deaths have been recorded from bites in Australian waters.
4. Coastal Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)
This large, highly venomous snake is native to the coastal regions of northern and eastern Australia and the island of New Guinea. According to most toxicological studies, this species is the third-most venomous land snake in the world.
The coastal taipan is primarily diurnal, being mostly active in the early to mid-morning period, although it may become nocturnal in hot weather conditions. When hunting, it appears to actively scan for prey using its well-developed eyesight, and is often seen traveling with its head raised slightly above ground level. Once prey is detected, the snake ‘freezes’ before hurling itself forward and issuing several quick bites. It is not a confrontational snake and will seek to escape any threat. When cornered, though, it can become very aggressive and may strike repeatedly.
Its venom contains primarily taicatoxin, a highly potent neurotoxin known to cause hemolytic and coagulopathic reactions. In case of severe envenomation, death can occur as early as 30 minutes after being bitten, but average death time after a bite is around 90 minutes and it is variable, depending on various factors such as the nature of the bite and the health state of the victim. Untreated bites have a mortality rate of 100% as it always delivers a fatal dose of venom.
3. Dubois’ Sea Snake (Aipysurus duboisii)
These sea snakes, which can grow up to 148 cm in length, are found in places such as Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and the northern, eastern and western coastal areas of Australia and live at depths of up to 80 meters. They have medium aggressiveness, and will bite if provoked, but not spontaneously. Their fangs are 1.8 mm long, which are relatively short for a snake. It is the most venomous sea snake, and one of the top three most venomous snakes in the world.
2. Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
Often referred to as the common brown snake, it is considered the world’s second most venomous land snake that is native to Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Because of their mainly rodent diet, they can often be found near houses and farms.
It takes only 1/14,000 of an ounce of its venom to kill an adult human.
Unfortunately, its preferred habitat is also along the major population centers of Australia. The Brown snake is fast moving, can be aggressive under certain circumstances and has been known to chase aggressors and repeatedly strike at them. Even juveniles can kill a human. The venom contains both neurotoxins and blood coagulants. Fortunately for humans, less than half of bites contain venom and they prefer not to bite if at all possible. They react only to movement, so stand very still if you ever encounter one in the wild.
1. Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)
This is an extremely venomous snake endemic to semi-arid regions of central east Australia.
The inland taipan is considered the most venomous snake in the world. It is estimated that one bite possesses enough lethality to kill at least 100 full grown men, and, depending on the nature of the bite, it has the potential to kill someone in as little as 30 to 45 minutes if left untreated. It is an extremely fast and agile snake which can strike instantly with extreme accuracy, often striking multiple times in the same attack.
The good news is that the inland taipan is usually a quite, shy and reclusive snake with a placid disposition. Also, because it lives in such remote locations, the inland taipan seldom comes in contact with people; therefore it is not considered the deadliest snake in the world.