There are approximately 600 species of venomous snakes around the world. Many venomous snakes pose little to no threat to humans unless provoked but 2.7 million cases of snake envenoming still happen each year. Most of these occur in subtropical regions where human-snake interactions are unavoidable due to the terrain.
Many venomous snakes have beautiful bright colors and unique and interesting features. To be admired from afar of course! Here’s a look at some of the most venomous snakes in the world.
10. King Cobra
King cobras are the largest of all venomous snake species, growing up to an impressive 18 feet long. They are known for their unique hooded appearance and signature hissing sound. Their eyesight is impeccable, and they can spot movement over 300 feet away.
While their venom isn't the most toxic, it’s the amount released that is deadly. King cobras will often strike with multiple bites quickly releasing much more venom than is typical of other snakes. As the old adage goes “the dose makes the poison” and king cobras release enough to take down an elephant!
King cobras are found throughout forested and swampy areas of Southeast Asia. While most that live in cobra territory have a healthy respect for the animal and steer clear, king cobras are often idolized by “snake charmers”. This has led to some detrimental outcomes including death.
Native to sub-Saharan regions of Africa, the boomslang is a medium-sized, brightly colored venomous snake. They spend most of their time lounging in trees and preying on birds and lizards. They are also known to raid nests for eggs.
While boomslangs are known for their highly toxic venom, they're also known for being inordinately docile for a venomous snake. Fatal boomslang envenomation on humans is extremely rare with less than 10 cases ever being documented. This includes the death of famous herpetologist Karl Schmidt in 1957.
Schmidt was handling a captive-bred juvenile boomslang at the Lincoln Park Zoo when he was bitten. At the time, not as much was scientifically known about the boomslang, and Schmidt did not think the small bite would prove fatal. After his death, Schmidt's colleagues started studying boomslang venom. This led to many breakthroughs on hemotoxins and made Karl Schmidt and boomslangs famous in the scientific research world.
8. Saw-Scaled Viper
Saw-scaled vipers are found throughout the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. They are smaller than most other highly venomous snakes, coming in at around 2 feet, but they are one of the most aggressive viper species.
Saw-scaled vipers prefer rocky and sandy habitats. They have darker color patterns and blend seamlessly with their surroundings leading to higher rates of accidental human interactions. They are known to strike quickly and deliver potent venom that can render life-threatening effects within hours if not treated. Although difficult to officially track, it is believed that these vipers are responsible for the most snakebites and fatalities.
7. Tiger Snake
Like many of the venomous snakes that call Australia home, the tiger snake is one that strikes both a sense of fear and fascination. These snakes can grow quite large, reaching lengths of up to 7 feet. Their size is mostly dependent on available prey. Some populations have been observed with increased sizes due to larger and more abundant prey sources in a particular area.
Tiger snakes have a varied diet, including birds, lizards, aquatic species, and even bats! They are excellent swimmers and can remain underwater for up to 9 minutes. While they are mostly reclusive in nature, tiger snakes can be fiercely aggressive when threatened. Their venom is extremely toxic and can be fatal if antivenom treatment is not sought immediately.
6. Black Mamba
Known to be one of the deadliest, fastest, and most venomous snakes in the world, black mambas are not to be trifled with! Their venom is one of the most toxic and can bring on neurologic and cardiac symptoms within mere minutes. Although antivenom exists, black mamba bites, unfortunately can still result in death.
Black mambas are found throughout savannas and woodlands of Southern and Eastern Africa. They prefer low-lying areas and can move through the ground at shocking speeds of up to 12 miles per hour. They hunt small mammals and birds but have been known to take down smaller snakes as well. Black mambas can reach lengths of up to 14 feet and are the largest venomous snake in Africa.
Part of the viper family, the fer-de-lance is well camouflaged and highly venomous. While not outwardly aggressive, if the fer-de-lance feels threatened in any way, it will lash out. Their venom possesses a powerful anticoagulant that can quickly lead to necrosis of limbs. Thanks to antivenom, fatalities from fer-de-lance bites are low, but amputations of necrotic tissue can be common.
The fer-de-lance can be found throughout the jungles and rainforests of Mexico, Central America, and South America. They feed on everything from small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, including other snakes. Their ability to thrive in agricultural environments has posed a threat to banana and coffee farmers in Central and South America.
4. Russell’s Viper
The highly venomous Russell’s viper is one of the most feared snakes in Southeast Asia. Their venom is a vicious cocktail of toxins that can cause everything from neurological effects to blood loss and multi-organ failure.
These vipers are very adaptive and can be found in a variety of habitats. In Sri Lanka, their affinity for rice paddies has had deadly consequences for farmers. The Russell’s viper is also the leading cause of snake bite fatalities in several countries including India,Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma.
3. Coastal Taipan
The coastal taipan is known as “the most dangerous snake in Australia”. They are very vigilant and reactive snakes, often striking with the slightest sense of movement. They tend to bite multiple times, releasing a high dose of their toxic venom. Their venom can cause an array of life-threatening effects, including blood loss, paralysis, and organ damage. Prior to the development of antivenom, their bite almost always resulted in death.
Coastal taipans average a length of 6 feet and are mostly found in the northeastern coastal areas of Australia as well as Papua New Guinea. They mostly prey on small mammals and birds. Some find it fascinating; others find it terrifying; coastal taipans often travel with their heads raised above the landscape as they “scan” for prey.
2. Eastern Brown Snake
While the eastern brown snake is not particularly aggressive, its adaptability to populated areas and highly toxic venom make them very dangerous. These snakes are prevalent throughout eastern Australia.
They can thrive in a range of habitats and have adapted to developed areas. They have no issue taking shelter in backyard woodpiles, sheds, or potted plants. This has led to an increase in accidental confrontations and deadly consequences for both the snakes and humans. Many bites occur during landowners trying to chase off or kill snakes on their property.
The venom of an eastern brown snake contains an unfortunate mix of neurotoxins, coagulants, cardiotoxins, and nephrotoxins. These affect almost the entire body system, including the brain, heart, kidneys, and blood. Immediate medical intervention is needed if bitten. Eastern brown snakes are known as the “second most toxic land snake in the world”.
1. Inland Taipan
Holding the unfortunate title of “world’s most venomous snake”, the inland taipan is not a snake you’ll want to cross paths with! Thankfully, most people never will unless you plan to trek deep into the Australian Outback. They live in very remote arid regions, far from populated areas, and are rarely ever spotted. Inland taipans spend most of their time in underground burrows, and they are actually known to be quite docile. Although it’s not recommended that you try to handle one!
The venom of an inland taipan is considered the most dangerous due to its high toxicity and increased absorption factor. It contains hyaluronidase, an enzyme that increases the absorption rate of the toxins.
Although the inland taipan can pack a punch with their noxious venom, there are no reported cases of fatalities from one. Thanks in part to their remoteness and docile nature. Most reported bites occurred with snake handlers or those attempting to hold these snakes as pets. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from the inland taipan and the inland taipan will stay away from you!