Snakes. Love them or loathe them, you’ve got to give them their dues. No other type of animal quite excites both our horror and fascination. Culturally they are often seen as the very embodiment of evil, yet lovers of snakes will attest to being absorbed by their cold charisma and sudden flashes of lethal movement. When a snake strikes, we peer into the jaws of nature at its most beastly in the jiffy before its jaws sink into flesh – and you better hope not yours. Yet part of what intrigues us is not only their deadly quality and the toxic venom many species are armed with; no part of it is their amazing adaptability. The image of thousands of serpents writhing in a pit slithers to mind, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, but snakes can be found almost anywhere on our planet – land, sea or air.
Let’s start close to home with arguably the deadliest snakes of all. Big, strong and highly venomous, Taipan snakes are not the sort of creatures you’d want to encounter in a bad mood. These suckers are aggressive when provoked, able to bite victims several times and are extremely fast strikers. They’re also no slouches in the beefcake stakes, growing up to 12 feet long. The Coastal Taipan is thought to be the third most venomous snake in the world and the largest such snake in Australia. There were no known survivors of a Taipan bite before an anti-venom was developed, and its cousin the Inland Taipan is more lethal still.
Steve Irwin playing with an Inland Taipan or Fierce Snake
The Inland Taipan, a.k.a. the Fierce Snake, has the highest toxicity of any snake on earth. We’re talking venom 50 times more potent than your average cobra, so you better believe it can pack a punch. The venom acts to clot the victim's blood, blocking arteries and veins, and a single bite contains enough poke to kill a man many times over. Yet despite all this, the Fierce Snake has a relatively mild temperament, so is not easily angered – unless trapped, when multiple, rapid bites may be inflicted. Lucky for us, its diet consists primarily of small mammals like rats, because if humans were on the menu, we’d be in big trouble.
We’re taking to the water now to go swimming with Sea Snakes, another of the most deadly of serpents on the planet due to the high potency of venom most species pack. Usually completely aquatic, these eel-like ocean dwellers have adapted to their marine environment with a paddle-like tail and compressed body for swimming, but do need to come to the surface to breathe every so often. They prey on fish, and while some species have docile dispositions and bite only when provoked, others are much more aggressive, meaning swimmers in the warm tropical waters of the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans must be wary.
Beaked or Banded Sea Snake
The 4-foot Beaked Sea Snake is the most venomous of its briny brethren and quick to attack when bothered. It has been known to strike divers for no apparent reason and is reportedly responsible for more than half of all Sea Snake bites and 90% of all related deaths. This is one dangerous bad boy. When venom is injected, the bite is not painful and may not even be noticed, but its effects are a different matter. After early symptoms such as headache and sweating, aching, stiffness and tenderness ensue, followed by rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue and paralysis. Thinking again about that Australian diving trip?
Flying Tree Snakes
Until recently, the only time we’d heard of airborne snakes was in the Samuel L Jackson cult classic, Snakes on a Plane, but snakes don’t need human help to fly. They can do it all by themselves. Actually, Flying Tree Snakes are technically able to glide rather than fly, but even so these South and Southeast Asian jungle denizens can make some serious headway as they sail through the air – traveling distances as far as 328 feet before landing. After first slithering up towards the top of the canopy, the snake hurls itself into the ether, twisting and propelling itself away from its launch pad before landing on another tree or the forest floor.
Paradise Flying Tree Snake landing on a branch
How are the different species of Flying Tree Snake able to perform this remarkable feat of nature? They flatten out their bodies to up to twice their normal width, forming a concave shape that acts like a parachute, then undulate in mid-flight with an S-shaped motion that gives them stability and control as they glide. Deadly is a bit of a misnomer for these aerial acrobats, for while they are known to strike humans, their bite is only mildly venomous, and the chances of one landing on someone walking through the jungle are pretty slim. They’re more likely to be gorging on critters like lizards, birds and bats. No death from above for us then, thank frog.
Go flyingsnake.org for comprehensive information on the flying snake.
Please note that the most venomous snakes, like Taipans and Sea Snakes, often yield small amounts of venom yields and have inflicted comparatively few snakebites on people, resulting in few fatalities. Far less venomous snakes may actually be more dangerous because of other factors, such as greater aggression towards humans, how populated the areas they inhabit are, and whether or not there is medical care nearby.