People have been arguing over the most venomous snakes for as long as I can remember (and I’ve been keeping and researching snakes for more than 20 years).
The reason there is so much dispute over 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 by using the LD50 test. LD50 stands for lethal dose 50 percent. In the case of snake venom LD50 is a scale used to measure the potency of a snake’s venom. It refers to the amount of venom that, when given all at once, kills 50 percent of the animals tested (mice, in this case).
Other people create lists of the most venomous snakes in the world by considering the venom yield, meaning the amount of venom the snake can produce with a given bite.
Thus, you can probably find dozens of lists that claim to contain the “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes” in the world, and many of these lists will conflict with each other.
Most Venomous Does Not Mean Most Dangerous
While I’m at it, I’d like to clear up another important point regarding venomous 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 snake as ranked by the LD50 tests mentioned above.
But there is a big difference between a highly venomous snake and a highly dangerous snake. Many snakes that are high on the venom charts are shy and reclusive, and therefore account for very few human fatalities. How could you put such snakes on a list of the world’s most dangerous snakes?
On the flip side of that coin, there are certain venomous snakes that, while they do not rank in the top-ten most venomous, still account for a large number of human fatalities each year. This might be because that particular snake is found in highly populated areas far from medical care, that the snake is comparatively 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 it is certainly highly venomous, the saw-scaled viper does not appear on any top-ten lists of “most venomous snakes.” However, it accounts for more deaths than any other snake within its range, largely because of its habit of hiding itself in areas trafficked by humans.
My point is, you cannot make a list of the most venomous snakes in the world and refer to them as the “most dangerous” snakes … nor the opposite. They are two separate things, and they need to 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 author of the book 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 venom yields and few snakebites to humans and few human fatalities in the scheme of things … with that in mind I have encountered many dangerous snakes from rattlers to cobras, sea snakes to desert vipers but I regard the most dangerous snake I have encountered to be the Sri Lankan Russell’s viper…”
Most Venomous Snake – Meet the Inland Taipan
Despite all of the semantic arguments and scientific disputes, there is one fact that most people seem to agree on. The most venomous snake, measured by the LD50 test or any type of criteria, is the inland taipan snake of Australia.
The inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) possesses the most toxic venom of any snake in the world. But here again, that does not necessarily mean that the inland taipan — also known as the fiece snake — is the “most dangerous” or deadliest snake in the world. As we discussed, most venomous does not always translate to most dangerous.
In fact, the inland taipan proves this point for me. Worldwide, more than 40,000 people die each year from venomous snakebite. 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 relatively low number of snakebite deaths each year? The answer, of course, is that the inland taipan, while highly venomous, is not one of the deadliest snakes in the world.
Sure, it has lethal venom with the potential to kill humans, but there is a world of difference between potentiality and reality. The inland taipan is the world’s most venomous snake by most standards, but is by far NOT the world’s deadliest snake.
* You may republish this article online if you keep the author’s bio below with the active hyperlinks to the author’s site. Copyright 2007, Brandon Cornett.