Which is the most aggressive snake in the world? Is it the large black mamba or the small carpet viper? Let’s find out…
The mere mention of snakes is enough to induce fear in some people. These reptiles have gained a notorious reputation, and although it is justified to an extent, majority of the times, it is because there is not enough awareness amongst the general population as to which of the species are dangerous, and which are harmless and sometimes, even helpful. Yes, some species of snakes can be really helpful to people, since they feed on rats and mice, thus keeping their population in check. Also, most snake species are non-aggressive unless provoked, so they prefer to slither away rather than attack/bite people. There are non-venomous snakes as well, which do little harm to us. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of snakes which are killed by people every month, usually when they are spotted around houses. Many of us cannot tell a venomous species from a non-venomous one, so the treatment given to snakes is more of ‘ venomous until proven otherwise’, which unfortunately means the end for many of these harmless creatures.
That said, there are of course, some snake species which are deadly venomous. Their bites can prove to be fatal for humans and other species. As per statistics, approximately 1 – 2 million snakebite cases are reported every year, of which 50,000 – 100,000 result in fatalities. Getting to know some of the more venomous and aggressive species will help to some extent. This article lists some of the more aggressive species of snakes, which are best left alone. A bite from them can be potentially fatal, if not treated in time. Which are these species? We’ll get to that, but first let us clear the air about “aggressive” snakes…
Aggressive Snakes or Dangerous/Venomous Snakes?
There is a difference between aggressive snakes and dangerous/venomous snakes. Not all dangerous/venomous snakes are aggressive, and not all aggressive snakes are as dangerous/venomous as some others. These terms cannot be used interchangeably.
When we say aggressive snakes, we mean those which have less or zero tolerance for provocation. When we say aggressive snakes, we do not imply that these species will come after you for no reason and attack/bite. But there has to be provocation or the fear of being threatened, in most cases. Maybe they feel cornered, maybe they are disturbed after they have just had a meal, maybe they were stepped on by mistake or maybe they were intentionally provoked. But there is going to be a reason for a snake attacking someone. The natural response of most snakes when confronted is to retreat, and some may simply hold their ground. But very, very few species have a reputation for advancing.
* Disclaimer : The snakes listed below (exception being black mamba, which can, at times, attack without provocation) will usually not attack unless provoked. Hence, the use of the term ‘aggressive’ is based on the assumption that their patience has been tested.
Most Aggressive Snakes
Identifying the world’s most aggressive snake is quite challenging, as the criteria for classifications are so many. In simpler terms, not all fierce snakes are dangerous, while all venomous snakes are not so aggressive. Also, the severity of snakebites is based on the age and overall health of the person (not to overlook the size and age of the snake). Thus, several factors are taken into consideration.
Most Aggressive Land Snake
One of the most aggressive and deadliest snakes in the world is the Black Mamba (scientific name, Dendroaspis polylepis), which is indigenous to Africa. The main attributes of the black mamba are its large size (in fact, second longest in the world after king cobra), lethal venom (it contains dendrotoxin), its speed and aggressiveness. With a recorded crawling speed of 4.5 – 5.5 meters per second, it is the fastest moving snake in the world.
Named after its black mouth parts, the black mamba grows to a length of about 14 feet and weighs 1.6 kg at maturity. This deadly African snake is gray, brown or olive in color and lives in woodland, savannah, swamps, rocky habitat and dense forests. When threatened, it spreads its neck flap, exposes its black mouth and hisses with a prominent sound. Even though it is touted as the most aggressive snake on land, the black mamba will only inject venom (100 – 400 mg) if it fails to scare away the attackers, with the above mentioned tactics. And it does that so that it gets a chance to flee. It hunts for chickens, bats, birds, rats and galagos.
Another short-tempered, extremely temperamental and aggressive snake is the small-sized Carpet Viper. According to data on fatalities due to snakebites, this snake has killed more people than any other snake.
Most Aggressive Water/Sea Snakes
Sea snakes are those which spend almost their entire lives in marine water. Sea snakes are amongst the most venomous snakes, some being even more so than most land snakes! They usually prefer living in warm waters, along coastal areas. Many sea snakes are pretty docile, choosing to use their venom for defense rather than aggression, but there are a few who can be quite aggressive. Notable amongst them are:
- Beaked Sea Snake (Enhydrina schistosa)
- Olive/Golden Sea Snake (Aipysurus laevis)
- Ornate Reef Sea Snake (Hydrophis ornatus)
- Stokes’ Sea Snake (Astrotia stokesii)
Sea kraits are primitive snakes, and can get aggressive if removed from the water. Sea snakes tend to be highly aggressive if they are taken out of water, because it is not easy for them to move well, making them very panicky and defensive, lashing out at all moving things. When sea snakes do bite, it is rare for them to inject a high dose of venom. They normally inject very little venom, and as such their bites can go unnoticed since they are pretty painless.
Water snakes are different from sea snakes. While sea snakes live in marine waters, water snakes are usually found in freshwater. Also, unlike sea snakes, water snakes do not spend their entire lives in water, and are capable of living on land as well. The northern water snake shown above is generally more aggressive than other types, but usually not unless provoked.
Aggressive Snakes in Different Continents
The above snakes are considered to be some of the most aggressive in the world, but getting down to specifics, let’s take a look at aggressive snakes in every continent.
Apart from the black mamba, the cobra family and the python family are considered to be the other slightly aggressive groups in Africa. Spitting Cobras, Cape Cobras and Egyptian Cobras are feared because of their temperamental natures. The African Rock Python is also known to show aggression at times. The venom of cobras can be quite potent, and should be treated immediately. Spitting cobras can spit venom accurately as far as 2m!
The King Cobra is one of the most feared snakes in Asia! King cobras are known to be highly aggressive, with very low tolerance for provocation. While they generally do not harm humans, they will not hesitate to strike if you mess with them. The King Cobra’s fearful reputation is enhanced by the fact that it is the largest venomous snake in the world, apart from being very agile and super fast. They inject a high dose of venom when they bite, which can kill an adult human within 15 minutes!
* Both images show a Coastal Taipan.
In Australia, the Taipans and the Eastern Brown Snake are the ones to look out for. While the Taipans are generally shy, they will strike easily on being provoked. The Inland Taipan is the most venomous snake in the world, but it is less aggressive compared to the Coastal Taipan (which is less venomous). Taipans usually avoid humans, but if you do come across one, give it a wide berth and steer clear, because if they bite, they will inject a lot of their potentially fatal venom. The Eastern Brown snake too, has a reputation for striking. It is the second most venomous snake in the world, and is very aggressive when provoked. It is mostly active at night, but can be seen during the day as well.
Most European snakes seem to be pretty gentle, but amongst them the ones to look out for are Ladder Snakes, Whip Snakes and the European Viper. While the Ladder snakes are non-venomous, they are known to be highly defensive and aggressive and show very less patience, striking easily and repeatedly if handled or provoked. The Whip snakes, being non-venomous, are not dangerous to humans, but are still pretty temperamental. The European Vipers on the other hand, are quite venomous, and have gained a reputation that is not entirely justified. They are quite timid, but bite people in panic when they are stepped on, which can happen often considering their habitat!
Although the aggression of these snakes cannot be downplayed, the Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin, is more a case of the bark being worse than the bite. But their bites, if delivered, have the potential to kill. The Cottonmouth is the only semi-aquatic viper in the world, and is also able to bite when under water. It has a host of defense mechanisms, including a vibrating tail, loud hissing sounds, snapping jaws, gaping at threats and exposing its white mouth, and emitting a foul odor! If any or all of these fail to work, the Cottonmouth can deliver a fatal bite when sufficiently provoked.
Rattlesnakes are responsible for a number of deaths due to envenomation every year. Their venom of Tropical Rattlesnakes is extremely toxic, and can cause irreversible blindness and paralysis, among other things. When provoked or threatened, they can strike very quickly. Adult rattlesnakes can control the amount of venom injected in a bite, but they usually bite with an intention to kill. Bushmasters, sometimes also referred to as “mute rattlesnakes”, are a genus of the venomous S. American pit vipers, and are the longest vipers. They are mostly nocturnal so contact with humans is pretty minimal. But their bites are extremely painful, and even juveniles can deliver a fatal bite. They are known to strike repeatedly when agitated, and inject a large amount of venom with each bite. The Fer-de-Lance is a species that is easily vexed. They are very fast and strike quickly. What is also scary is that their venom is extremely fast-acting and lethal, often causing paralysis, and temporary or permanent short term memory loss. And no place is safe from them, because although mainly terrestrial, they can also climb trees and swim.
Antarctica is the only continent without snakes!
It is always a good idea to have some knowledge about the snakes found in the area that you are living in. You can refer to the ‘danger quotient’ assigned in numerical values to identify the most venomous snake types of a particular area. This will not only help you be informed about these species, but also help you make quick and informed decisions in case of a bite.