The Desert Taiga has the most toxic venom of all land snakes in the world. But fear not, there has never been a single human death from a bite from this snake !
Why has this species developed such a powerful venom ? Why are these snakes so rarely encountered by most Australians? To learn more about this fascinating snake, we have prepared a comprehensive guide detailing the entire history of Desert Taipan. 🐍 In this article you will find :
- Why the Taipan is the most dangerous snake in the world
- A detailed guide to its bite, venom and habitat
- What are the first steps to take in case of a bite?
After reading this blog, the Desert Taipan will have no more secrets for you. You will know exactly why this snake is so fascinating.
WHO IS THE DESERT TAIPAN?
DESERT TAIPAN SCALE
The only really accurate way to identify most snakes is to count the rows of scales on the back in the middle of the body and note the pattern of scales on the head and tail.
A few have body shapes that are quite distinctive, and some scale patterns are unique, but in general the color is very variable. The scales on the belly are creamy to pale yellow with a darker back edge.
On the rare occasions that you encounter a snake in the bush australienne 🏞, what you usually see is an anonymous flash of dark scales, when the tail disappears under the nearest pile of leaves or in a hollow log.
It is helpful to learn more about the general appearance and behaviour of snakes in your area or in the places you visit, so that you can understand and appreciate all these fascinating reptiles.
LENGTH OF THE TAIPAN
When incited to defend itself, the Inner Taipan flattens its body into low, S-shaped curves with its head pointing straight at the perceived threat. Most often, if approached, it takes refuge in a shelter.
WHERE THE TAIPAN LIVES
You want good news? Taiga lives in the far west and southwest of Queensland, stretching from the far west of New South Wales to the northeast corner of South Australia, and the southeast of the Northern Territory. Few people live there, hot and dry, the taipan is rarely seen.
To escape the scorching heat of this open country, the inner Taipan is home to animal burrows abandonnés🐭, deep cracks in the cracked soil, crevices in the rock and pits.
WHAT DOES THE TAIPAN EAT?
Inland, the Taipan eats only mammals, rodents and sometimes birds. The most common prey taken is the native Long-haired Rat. This snake usually hunts early in the morning, but remains active in the afternoon in cooler weather. 🧊 In extremely hot weather, it becomes nocturnal.
The snake retreats the rat into its burrow or deep cracks in the ground, then quickly bites it several times without releasing it. The venom acts so quickly that the victim has no time to defend himself.
Populations of Plague Rats fluctuate considerably from year to year. Indoor Taiga adapts to these variations by becoming quite fat in years of abundance and losing weight or changing prey in years when Plague Rats are rare. Alternative prey includes small to medium-sized mammals such as the Kultarr (a small carnivorous marsupial) and the introduced house mouse.🐁
THE ATTACK OF THE DESERT TAIGA
Taipans detect their prey by detecting movement and odor. They seem to have better eyesight than many other snakes. They quickly pull its forked tongue out of its mouth and detect the presence of animals in the air as potential prey. This chemical information is transmitted to the Jacobson's organ in, and then to cerveau🧠.
The muscular and lean body allows the snake to move quickly in pursuit of its prey. The Inner Taipan retreats the rat back into its burrow or into a crack in the ground, then quickly bites it several times without releasing it. The venin🩸 acts so quickly that the victim does not have time to defend himself, that he can even grab the prey in a bend of his body (unlike the Coastal Taipan which strikes and then releases its prey).
Now the snake is confronted with its prey, usually a large rat, which can often be much larger in diameter than its own body. Snakes cannot tear their food apart, so they have to swallow their victim whole. This is a great phenomenon! Imagine how difficult it would be for you and me if we had to swallow a whole melon without chewing it into small pieces 😨!
Snakes have amazing abilities to swallow their prey :
THE SNAKE'S JAW
First, they push the victim until he or she is properly aligned so that he or she can swallow head first. This way, they do not go against the fur, feathers or coat of their prey.
The two halves of a snake's lower jaw are not fused in the middle, but are held together by flexible muscles and ligaments. This allows them to stretch incredibly far apart while swallowing a proie😮. The upper and lower jaws don't "unhook" as is commonly believed. Instead, food passes underneath this joint along the base of the neck, which can stretch enormously around the prey.
To move the food, the snake grasps it with its fangs on either side of the jaw, moving from one side of the jaw and then the other along the prey, moving it down into its throat. During this process, it produces huge amounts of saliva to lubricate the prey as it moves forward.
HOW DOES THE SNAKE EAT ITS PREY ?
The ribs of a snake are not anchored to a sternum (as in other animals, including humans), so the ends of the ribs may stretch as food moves down the snake's body.
The snake's skin is also very elastic, with relatively small scales. This allows the body to expand considerably as the food is swallowed.
Ingesting a large animal can take several hours. After eating large prey, the snake usually spends a lot of time basking at soleil☀ to maintain a body temperature high enough to digest the meal. The venom, which stopped the victim in its tracks, now helps to digest it. Powerful enzymes in the venom help break down the dead animal's flesh.
The ability to swallow very large amounts of food means that a large snake does not need to expend energy for frequent hunting activities. It may only need to eat a few meals a year.
Because they live in such a remote and inhospitable part of the country, are shy and retiring by nature, most of the information on the breeding behavior of the taiga comes from observing snakes in captivity.
Mating takes place in the spring, anytime from August to December. Like the coastal taipan, the male indoor taipan may participate in a spectacular competition called ritualistic fighting. In this showdown, they wrap themselves around each other's bodies like a coiled rope, struggling against each other until the strongest snake forces its rival's head to s écraser💪. The struggle can last for hours, until the strongest male finally wins the right to mate with the female.
If the female is receptive, he rubs his chin from top to bottom of his body and then twists the lower part of his body underneath hers. Males have two sexual organs, called hemipenis, but only one at a time is used for mating. Mating can last several hours and a female can mate with more than one male during the breeding season.
THE EGGS OF THE TAIPAN
About 2 months after mating, the female lays up to 20 eggs, with an average clutch of 16 eggs. Older females (which have a larger body size) generally lay more eggs than younger ones. Taipan eggs have an elongated shape, with a tough, permeable shell. Females generally do not mate every year due to the high energy costs and risks associated with reproduction.
After depositing her œufs🥚, the female abandons the nest. The hatching takes place about 2 months later.
The young snakes grow very quickly under favorable conditions. Males and females reach approximately the same size. Males reach sexual maturity at about 16 months of age and females at about 28 months of age.
Captive snakes generally live 10 to 15 years. A Taipan at the Australian Zoo lived to the age of 20 years!
WHAT IS THE MOST DEADLY VENOM ?
DESERT TAIPAN VENOM
The venom of Taipan is by far the most powerful venom of all earthly snakes in the world. For example, it is about 50 times more toxic than the venom of the Indian cobra. ☠
Venom is actually a powerful cocktail of enzymes and other agents that paralyze nerve endings, destroy muscle tissue and cause severe bleeding.
The accepted standard for comparing the toxicity of snake venoms was developed in the 1970s by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL) in Melbourne. Tests were carried out by injecting live mice and measuring the amount of venom needed to kill 50% of the test animals,giving a number called LD50 (or Lethal Dose 50): the smaller the number, the more toxic the venom. The LD50 for indoor Taiga is 0.025mg/kg. Expressed in other units, a single bite can kill up to 250,000 souris🐁.
DESERT TAIPAN BITE
The real number of a particular snake doesn't mean much (except for all these mice!): dead is dead. The relative danger of venomous snakes depends on many factors, such as the amount of venom injected, the length of the fangs, the sensitivity of the victim to the toxin, and the likelihood of being bitten.
Indoor taiga has shorter fangs (3.5 to 6.2 mm long, or about 1 inch ¼) than coastal taiga, and injects only about 1/3 less venom per bite. They are also shy and solitary, and because they live in such remote locations, they rarely come into contact with people.
The few people who have been bitten have been snake handlers, such as those who catch snakes to extract their venom, or park rangers naturels🏞.
There has been NO human death recorded as a result of an indoor Taipan bite!
In contrast, less venomous snakes like cobras and vipers that live in the most densely populated continents of Asia and Afrique🌍tuent tens of thousands of people each year.
DESERT TAIPAN VS. BLACK MAMBA
Taipan venom is extremely strong, it is the most powerful snake venom there is, at least against mice. Black mamba venom, on the other hand, is extremely fast. ⚡
We have good reason to believe that the venom of taipan is specially designed to kill rats as quickly as possible. But the way it works by interfering with the rat's blood will probably not work well against the mamba.
Black mamba venom is designed to kill birds as well as mammals quickly, and this is an important point. If you have seen Jurassic Park 🦎, you know that birds are descended from dinosaurs.
TAIPAN VS MAMBA
These species are closely paired, each with its own special weapon that it could use to win the fight. Remember that the reason these snakes fight is because one of them wants to eat the other, and only a stupid snake whose eyes are bigger than its stomach would try to eat a snake that is bigger than it is.
So who would win ?
Although both species are highly venomous and each of their venoms is beautifully designed to subdue their natural prey, the biological reality is that the winner would probably be the biggest snake of the day, regardless of the species. ↔
This is an important lesson for us when it comes to snakes: despite their impressively toxic venoms, they generally don't like to fight with animals much larger than themselves.🍗
FIRST AID IN CASE OF SNAKE BITE
Anyone in the Australian bush should wear some large elastic pressure bandages.
First aid for any snake bite follows the same basic procedure. Priorities are to stop the spread of venom and seek medical help:
Immediately call a médecin👨⚕️.
Reassure the victim and keep them calm. The venom spreads through the lymphatic system, muscle contraction must be minimized. Avoid any movement
Do not cut or wash the bite area. Wrap the site with the pressure bandage (or other fabric bandage), then wrap the bitten limb starting at the ends and working up to the bite. This prevents the venom from spreading through the lymphatic system. Wrap tightly (as for a sprain).
WRAP THE BITE OF THE TAIPAN
Immobilize the limb with a splint. The victim should then be transported as quickly as possible to the nearest hospital, preferably by ambulance.
All Australian hospitals and medical clinics have specific anti-venes, as well as kits that allow staff to identify the type of snake by taking a sample from the bite site. It is not necessary to kill or capture the snake to identify it. You just expose yourself to an additional risk of being bitten.