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Inland Taipan – World’s Most Venomous Snake is Not the Most Dangerous
People have been arguing about the most venomous snakes for as long as I can remember (and I’ve been keeping and researching snakes for over 20 years).
The reason there is so much disagreement about the most venomous snakes in the world is because people judge them by different criteria, and this inevitably leads to arguments.
For example, some people build their lists of the most venomous snakes using the LD50 test. LD50 means 50 percent lethal dose. In the case of snake venom, the LD50 is a scale used to measure the potency of a snake’s venom. It refers to the amount of poison that, when given immediately, kills 50 percent of the animals tested (in this case rats).
Other people create lists of the world’s most venomous snakes by considering venom yield, meaning the amount of venom the snake can produce in a given bite.
Thus, you can probably find dozens of lists that claim to contain the “10 most venomous snakes” in the world, and many of these lists will contradict each other.
The most poisonous does not mean the most dangerous
While I’m at it, I’d like to clarify another important point about poisonous snakes. Many people create lists of what they claim are the “most dangerous” snakes in the world, and they will simply list ten of the most venomous snakes ranked by the LD50 tests mentioned above.
But there is a big difference between a very venomous snake and a very dangerous snake. Many snakes that top the venom charts are shy and reclusive, and therefore account for very few human deaths. How can you put such snakes in the list of the most dangerous snakes in the world?
On the other side of that coin, there are some venomous snakes that, while not ranked in the top ten most venomous, still account for a large number of human deaths each year. This may be because that particular snake is found in highly populated areas far from medical care, that the snake is relatively more aggressive toward humans, or a combination of these factors.
A good example of this would be the saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), which accounts for a relatively high number of deaths in Sri Lanka. While certainly highly venomous, the saw-scaled viper does not appear on any top ten “most venomous snakes” list. However, it accounts for more deaths than any other snake within its range, largely due to its habit of hiding in human-trafficked areas.
My point is that you can’t make a list of the most venomous snakes in the world and refer to them as the “most dangerous” snakes…nor the other way around. They are two separate things and should be treated as such.
To echo that sentiment, here’s an excerpt from a Princeton University Press interview with Mark O’Shea, snake expert, TV personality, and book author Venomous snakes of the world:
“The most dangerous snake is not the most venomous. The most venomous snakes are taipans, Australian brown snakes and sea snakes, but they have small amounts of venom and few snakebites to humans and few human deaths in the scheme of things… with that in I think I have encountered many dangerous snakes from rattlesnakes to cobras, sea snakes to desert vipers, but I consider the most dangerous snake I have encountered to be the Russell’s snake of Sri Lanka…”
The Most Venomous Snake – Meet the Inner Taipan
Despite all the semantic arguments and scientific disagreements, there is one fact that most people seem to agree on. The most venomous snake, as measured by the LD50 test or any kind of criteria, is the domestic taipan snake of Australia.
The inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) possesses the most toxic venom of any snake in the world. But here again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the inland taipan—also known as the dirt snake—is the “most dangerous” or deadliest snake in the world. As we’ve discussed, the most poisonous part doesn’t always translate to the most dangerous.
In fact, the inner taipan proves it for me. Worldwide, more than 40,000 people die each year from venomous snake bites. But Australia only has 2-3 snakebite deaths each year. So how can a continent with the world’s most venomous snake, the inland taipan, have such a low number of snakebite deaths each year? The answer, of course, is that the inland taipan, although highly venomous, is not one of the deadliest snakes in the world.
Sure, it has deadly venom with the potential to kill people, but there’s a world of difference between potential and reality. The domestic taipan is the most venomous snake in the world by standards, but it is NOT the deadliest snake in the world.
* You may reprint this article online if you keep the author bio below with active links to the author site. Copyright 2007, Brandon Cornett.
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