kids encyclopedia robot

Inland taipan facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Fierce Snake (Inland Taipan)
Conservation status

Data Deficient (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Genus: Oxyuranus
Species: O. microlepidotus
Binomial name
Oxyuranus microlepidotus
(McCoy, 1879)
Places where the Inland Taipan lives (in red)

The inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus), also commonly known as the western taipan, the small-scaled snake, or the fierce snake, is an extremely venomous snake of the taipan (Oxyuranus) genus, and is endemic to semi-arid regions of central east Australia. Aboriginal Australians living in those regions named the snake Dandarabilla.

The inland taipan is the most venomous snake in the world; based on the median lethal dose value in mice, its venom, drop for drop, is by far the most toxic of any snake – much more so than even sea snakes – and it has the most toxic venom of any reptile when tested on human heart cell culture.

Unlike most snakes, the inland taipan is a specialist mammal hunter so its venom is specially adapted to kill warm-blooded species. It is estimated that one bite possesses enough lethality to kill at least 100 fully grown men, and, depending on the nature of the bite, it has the potential to kill someone in as little as 30 to 45 minutes if left untreated. It is an extremely fast and agile snake that can strike instantly with extreme accuracy, often striking multiple times in the same attack, and it envenoms in almost every case.

Although extremely venomous and a capable striker, in contrast to the rather aggressive coastal taipan, the inland taipan is usually quite a shy and reclusive snake, with a placid disposition, and prefers to escape from trouble. However, it will defend itself and strike if provoked, mishandled, or prevented from escaping. Also, because it lives in such remote locations, the inland taipan seldom comes in contact with people; therefore it is not considered the most deadly snake in the world overall, especially in terms of disposition and human deaths per year. The word "fierce" from its alternative name describes its venom, not its temperament. Like every Australian snake, the inland taipan is protected by law.

Taxonomy

The two Australian taipans; the coastal taipan and the inland taipan shared a common ancestor. Alignments of the mitochondrial ND4 genes from these species indicate an evolutionary divergence from the common ancestor around 9-10 million years ago.

The inland taipan would have been known to Aboriginal Australians 40,000-60,000 years ago and is well known to them today. To the aboriginal people from the place now called Goyder Lagoon in north-east South Australia, the inland taipan was called Dandarabilla.

The inland taipan first came to the attention of Western science in 1879. Two specimens of the fierce snake were discovered in the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers in northwestern Victoria.

In 1967 a tour guide was bitten in far southwest Queensland, and barely survived. What was thought to be at the time a western brown snake was, after its rediscovery in 1972, identified as an inland taipan. The word "fierce" from its alternative name, fierce snake, describes its powerful venom.

In captivity

According to the International Species Information System (retrieved 2004), inland taipans are held in three zoo collections: the Adelaide Zoo and Sydney Taronga Zoo in Australia and Moscow Zoo in Russia. In the Moscow Zoo they are kept in the "House of Reptiles" which is not usually open for the general public.

The inland taipan is also on public display in Australia at the Australia Zoo, Australian Reptile Park, Billabong Sanctuary, Cairns Tropical Zoo, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Shoalhaven Zoo. The snake is also on display at several locations outside of Australia.

Private ownership law

In Australia, it is only legal to privately own an inland taipan with the highest venomous class reptile licence.

Description

Fierce Snake
Brown-coloured (winter)
FierceSnakeOlive
Olive-coloured (summer)

The inland taipan is dark tan, ranging from a rich, dark hue to a brownish light-green, depending on season. Its back, sides and tail may be different shades of brown and grey, with many scales having a wide blackish edge. The round-snouted head and neck are usually noticeably darker than the body (glossy black in winter, dark brown in summer), the darker colour allowing the snake to heat itself while only exposing a smaller portion of the body at the burrow entrance. The eye is of average size with a blackish brown iris and without a noticeable coloured rim around the pupil.

The inland taipan averages approximately 1.8 metres (5.9 ft) in total length, although larger specimens can reach total lengths of 2.5 metres (8.2 ft). Its fangs are between 3.5 and 6.2 mm long. Inland taipans adapt to their environment by changing the colour of the skin during seasonal changes. They tend to become lighter during summer and darker during the winter. This seasonal colour change serves the purpose of thermoregulation, allowing the snake to absorb more light in the colder months.

Diet and behaviour

In the wild, the inland taipan consumes only mammals, mostly rodents. Unlike other venomous snakes that strike with a single, accurate bite then retreat while waiting for the prey to die, the fierce snake subdues the prey with a series of rapid, accurate strikes. It is known to deliver up to eight venomous bites in a single attack, often snapping its jaws fiercely several times to inflict multiple punctures in the same attack. Its more risky attack strategy entails holding its prey with its body and biting it repeatedly. This injects the extremely toxic venom deep into the prey. The venom acts so rapidly that its prey does not have time to fight back.

Images for kids

kids search engine
Inland taipan Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.