Snake Bites


Snake Identification

Before the advent of polyvalent antivenoms it was extremely important to positively identify the snake. Although less important now, it remains highly desirable, because snake-specific antivenoms are less hazardous to the patient than polyvalent antivenoms. Snake identification can be very difficult if it was seen fleetingly or in poor light. Scale patterns and colours can be quite unreliable, especially for brown snakes.

Venom identification kits, on the other hand, can often accurately identify the type of snake in 30 minutes, and thus reliably and safely reduce the need for administration of polyvalent antivenom.

If identification is uncertain, ALWAYS treat as if the snake was unidentified.

I have pictures of the the following venomous Australian snakes, with some details of their distribution, venom characteristics, and the type of antivenom to use:


Common or Eastern Brown Snake

Pseudonaja textilis

The Brown Snake may be found all over Australia. It has extremely potent venom, and although the quantity of venom injected is usually small, this snake causes more snakebite deaths in Australia than any other. Sudden and relatively early deaths have been recorded. It's venom causes severe coagulation disturbances, neurotoxicity, and occasionally nephrotoxicity (by a direct action of the venom), but not rhabdomyolysis. The Gwardir is also known as the western brown snake, and the Dugite is a spotted brown snake found in Western Australia. All need brown snake antivenom. See also



Oxyuranus scuttelatus

The taipan may be found mostly along the non-desert areas of north and north-east Australia (from Brisbane to Darwin). It is an aggressive, large, slender snake, and may be coloured any shade of brown but always has a rectangular head (large in proportion to the body) and red eye. Venom output is high and causes neurotoxicity, coagulopathy, and rhabdomyolysis, and the amount retrieved from just one milking from one taipan is enough to kill many million mice. Paralysis is difficult to reverse unless treated early. Untreated, a good bite will almost certainly be fatal.


Tiger Snake

Notechis scutatus

The tiger snake lives in the temperate southern areas of Australia. The characteristic stripes are not seen all year round, and there is a totally black variant found around the Flinders Ranges area of South Australia. As well as neurotoxicity and coagulopathy, rhabdomyolysis (due to Notexin in the venom) is very likely if treatment is delayed. Untreated mortality is about 45%.


Death Adder

Acanthopis antarcticus

The death adder has strongly neurotoxic venom; coagulation defects are usually minor and rhabdomyolysis is almost never seen. The postsynaptic paralysis is easily reversed by antivenom. It has characteristic appearance and may be striped.



Austrelaps superbus

The copperhead is found in Tasmania, Victoria, and the western plains of NSW. It's venom has neurotoxic, coagulopthic and myotoxic actions, however, despite its large venom output, bites are rarely fatal. Use tiger snake antivenom.


Rough Scaled Snake

Tropidechis carinatus

The rough scaled snake is found mostly in northeastern non-arid areas. It may be striped, and hence confused with the tiger snake. It is extremely ill-tempered, and has venom with neurotoxic, coagulopthic and myotoxic actions.


King Brown or Mulga snake

Pseudechis australis

The king brown (or mulga) snake is found in all arid parts of Australia, and has the greatest venom output, with neurotoxic, coagulopthic and myotoxic actions, but of relatively low toxicity. It has a strongly defined dark crosshatched pattern on its scales, and is more related to the black snakes than the brown. The king brown needs black snake antivenom. See also


Redbellied Black Snake

Pseudechis porphyriacus

The redbellied black snake is found in all eastern non-arid areas. While the venom has neurotoxic, coagulopthic and myotoxic actions, it is not as potent as most, and no deaths after a redbellied black snake have yet been reported. Black or tiger antivenom may be used.


Small Scaled or Fierce Snake

Oxyuranus microlepidotus

The small scaled snake (sometimes called the inland taipan or fierce snake) has the most potent venom in the world, but is restricted to relatively uninhabited areas of south-western Queensland, so, fortunately, not many people get bitten. Use taipan antivenom.