Today I’ve decided it’s time for a snake. I haven’t blogged about one yet, and that’s a shame, because I really like snakes. As much as I have a pretty classic fear in spiders, I am the opposite when it comes to our slithery friends. I just think they are really neat creatures, and I feel bad that I have not posted about one yet.
So let’s get to it! The inland taipan is a species of snake, considered to be the most venomous land snake in the world. I’d like to go on a small tangent here and just elucidate the difference between venomous and poisonous. I think most of us know the difference if we take a moment to think about it, but still many people use the two terms interchangeably. Venomous animals actively inject a toxin into their enemies, using things like fangs or stingers. Poisonous animals indirectly harm another animal, either by being eaten or by being touched. So just keep that in mind when talking about snakes or spiders or frogs or whatever. I’m not going to jump all over you for mixing them up or get mad or anything, but it’s something to think about.
So anyway, back to the most venomous snake that lives on land. The inland taipan lives where pretty much every single extremely dangerous animal lives, Australia. It lives in the central part of Australia (hence ‘Inland’), in arid climates. Like all snakes, the taipan’s body temperature is controlled by its environment. This snake has an interesting adaptation to help with this; in the summer when the air is hotter the snake is a light brown-green, and in winter it’s a dark brown, in order to absorb more heat when the air is colder. Here’s a picture comparing the taipan in two different seasons:
Now back to the fun part. The venom of the inland taipan is hundreds of times stronger than that of a diamondback rattlesnake, and fifty times deadlier than an Indian cobra’s. Its venom is so fast acting that the taipan’s prey goes limp almost right after the snake bites it. Luckily for us, it prefers rodents and birds to human flesh. In fact, the taipan is a very shy snake, and tends to flee from threats instead of attacking. The taipan has an alternate name, the fierce snake, but this refers to the potency of its venom, not its personality.
The main component in inland taipan’s venom is Taipoxin. This substance is the most deadly neurotoxin found in any snake venom. The toxin prevents the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is needed to move muscles. Hence, the victim is paralyzed, and dies from asphyxiation because the lungs cannot move. I wont go into technicalities about how lethal this toxin is (LD50s and such), but I will say it’s really, really, really toxic.
Basically the point of this post is don’t go out looking for inland taipans, and if you do, definitely don’t get bitten by one. Although we do have an antivenin for taipan bites, so it’s not the end of the world if you get bit, as long as you get the cure in time. I still wouldn’t recommend it. As much as I like snakes, I wouldn’t go looking for venomous ones. And neither should you.
Cover image by Bjoertvedt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons