According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 5 million people get bitten by snakes every year, all across the globe. Out of these, almost 2.4 million snakebites are poisonous, among which 94,000 to 125,000 are fatal. Also, almost 400,000 bites lead to amputations and other serious health problems, including infections, scarring, tetanus, and psychological sequelae.
Did You Know?
The inland taipan is the most venomous snake in the world. Deadly venom, yes. But has it caused a lot of deaths? Well, No! This snake is found in Australia, which accounts for only 2 deaths per year, on an average, due to snakebites. Which is why, this species is not on this list.
The areas where humans encounter most casualties related to snakebites are: Africa, Australia, India, and parts of Southeast Asia. You will be surprised to know, that in spite of these regions being the home of some of the most venomous snakes in the world, the maximum number of snakebites come from the non-venomous species.
While these numbers may be enough to evoke the fear of these slimy crawling creatures, the fact is that snakes aren’t the sorts who will chase you and bite you. In fact, they bite humans only when they feel threatened. It has been observed that most of the snakebites occur when the victim has either stepped on the snake barefoot, or if he or she was trying to handle the snake. A majority of fatal encounters take place in the rural world, especially in places such as Africa and India, where human settlements are very close to the snake’s habitat. Also, the fact that their favorite preys―rodents―are easily available in the kitchen and households, attracts them near human dwellings. The WHO states that the scarcity of antivenin and poor healthcare facilities have been attributed to the consequences being so severe, especially in developing countries.
Unlike the common understanding and folklore, snakes do not prey on humans. The best way to safeguard yourself around a snake is to NOT be around one. If you try to educate yourself about snakes, you will realize many of them are not as scary as we perceive them to be. But yes, an encounter with some snakes may very well be your last! The 10 guys listed below have been ranked not only based on their toxicity, but also on their encounters with humans, and the fatal consequences due to “disturbing them” by being near their vicinity.
THE 10 MOST DEADLIEST SNAKES OF ALL: OUR PICKS
The Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus)
Geographical Range: Southeast Asia
Attacking Strategy: It hides itself in a close proximity and waits for its prey to come nearer. When appropriate, it strikes speedily at its prey and holds it with a tight grip with its backwards-curved teeth. When aggressive, it won’t hesitate to strike repeatedly at the threat, but before that, it produces a hissing sound, raises its head a little above the ground, and that is enough for the threat to know that it is in serious trouble.
Aftereffects: A potential prey would succumb to death when this python wraps itself around the prey, thereby killing the prey due to asphyxiation. Then it swallows the prey on a whole. If you survive a python attack, expect serious injuries, broken bones, profuse bleeding due to the bites, and unconsciousness.
Like all pythons, this giant non-venomous snake is a constrictor. It likes to be left alone. What makes it enter our top 10 list is the fact that this gigantic reptile is known to inflict many human injuries, and even a few deaths! This huge snake can grow up to 20 feet in length and is also known to have an aggressive feeding response. Which means it won’t hesitate to attack a human in the proximity and try to eat it to satiate its hunger, even if the person is its owner. Yes, most of the casualties occur because some people have this bizarre hobby of keeping this giant as a pet. The news world is filled with stories of these pythons getting loose and attacking infants, toddlers, and even adults of the house, killing many in the process. This is one pet you would never want to keep. And the same goes for the deadly African Rock Python and the Burmese Python. Beware!
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
Geographical Range: Southeastern United States
Attacking Strategy: In its defensive position, this snake forms an ‘S-shaped’ coil while lifting the anterior half of its body from the ground. It can strike at a great speed from a distance equivalent to one-third of its total length! While in some cases it may leave after one bite, there have been instances where it has stayed firm in the same position and bitten repeatedly.
Aftereffects: The lethal dosage of this snake’s venom is estimated to be around 100 to 150mg, whereas this species is capable of yielding venom in large quantities―400 to 450 mg! A maximum yielding potential is considered to be between 858 to 1,000mg. The venom is not the most lethal one, but yes, in the absence of medical supervision, it is absolutely fatal. Symptoms post bite include: Excruciating pain, profuse bleeding from the bitten area, mouth bleeding, swelling, necrosis, and a weak pulse.
Perceived to be the most deadly snake in North America, it is the king of all rattlesnakes when it comes to its size (up to 8 feet in length), weight (up to 10 pounds), and fangs (the longest among all rattlesnake species). Although it is perceived to be aggressive, it isn’t. However, the fact that this snake tends to hide near human settlements in search of mice, frogs, and other rodents, it ends up bumping into humans, that hence leads to a dangerous meeting. Nonetheless, the easy access of antivenin prevents the consequences from being fatal. We must warn you about the juveniles though, they are more dangerous than the adults. This is because they have no control over themselves and tend to inject a much higher amount of venom in their victim. This species is responsible for the maximum number of rattlesnake envenomation in the United States.
The Mainland Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus)
Geographical Range: Southeastern Australia (including the islands of Bass Strait and Tasmania), and southwestern Australia
Attacking Strategy: A highly aggressive species, it will definitely display a fierce show when it feels threatened by someone, especially, if you are in between its route of escape. It will warn you by flattening its neck and hissing quite loudly. Also, to scare you, it will deliver mock strikes, and finally attack.
Aftereffects: A bite from this highly venomous reptile may cause severe symptoms including pain, tingling, inability to breathe, sweating, numbness, and paralysis. Its venom is highly neurotoxic and coagulant. It tends to damage blood vessels and can also inflict renal failure. Death is for certain in the absence of immediate medical attention.
An interesting thing about tiger snakes is that these have various sub-species. The mainland tiger snake stands second on the list of snakes that have caused most human casualties in Australia due to snakebites. Though it is typically banded with yellowish stripes, some specimens are also seen without stripes. There was a time when tiger snake was the leading cause of human bites in Australia, however, according to the Australian Reptile Park, tiger snakes have declined in numbers due to the decline in the number of frogs, which happen to be their preferred food.
The Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
Geographical Range: Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia
Attacking Strategy: Though it will choose to flee from human exposure, if provoked, it forms an ‘S-shaped’ coil and raises its anterior body from the ground. The anterior is raised parallel to the ground if slightly threatened, and in an upright position when severely threatened. It spreads its neck and opens its mouth slightly. The strikes are sudden with great accuracy.
Aftereffects: With the second-most toxic venom among all land snakes, the mere 2mg released in a bite is enough to kill a human. Yes, this species doesn’t eject a great amount of venom, and the little amount is more than enough! When it bites, it releases between 2 to 10mg of venom which is neurotoxic and may cause symptoms including diarrhea, convulsions, dizziness, paralysis, renal failure, and cardiac arrest.
The eastern brown snake is responsible for 80% snakebites in Australia, irrespective of the fact that Australia is the home of 50 of the most venomous snakes in the globe! This fact is enough to tell us about the aggressiveness and fierceness of this snake species. In its quest for finding prey, the brown snake (which may actually not be brown as there are different variations in its coloration) ends up wandering in human settlements, which perhaps is the main cause of the unfortunate incidences. It stands out in its toxicity and aggression, but because Australia is equipped with adequate access to antivenin quite easily, a minimal percentage of attacks turn out to be fatal in nature. This is where this snake lags behind (which is good). Even though it has everything that makes it 100% fatal to us humans, timely medical intervention prevents most complications.
The Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
Geographical Range: Sub-Saharan Africa
Attacking Strategy: The black mamba is not really black in color, its name comes from the bluish-black colored inner mouth, which it opens wide when ready to attack. It raises up to one-third of its body from the ground and flexes its neck. It also produces a hissing sound to warn the threat, and strikes multiple times, biting and releasing its deadly venom into the victim.
Aftereffects: The lethal dose is estimated to be 10 to 15mg, whereas the average quantity of venom injected is approximately 120mg! However, larger species are known to deliver up to 400mg in a single bite! The venom is so quick in its effects that it can kill an adult human within 20 minutes. Symptoms due to neurotoxicity may include severe pain, respiratory paralysis, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. In the absence of immediate medical assistance, death is only a few minutes, or hours away.
There is a reason why a black mamba’s bite is called the kiss of death, and the species itself is famously called by an expert, death incarnate. This snake has all it takes to top this list, and most people consider it to be the most deadly snake indeed! It can travel up to 12.5 miles per hour, making it the fastest land snake in the world. It is the fourth most venomous snake in the world, the second most longest venomous snake, and does not hold the title for causing most human fatalities. However, its incredible speed, aggressive nature, and agility makes it one of the most lethal creatures on the planet.
The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)
Geographical Range: Africa, Southwestern Arabian Peninsula
Attacking Strategy: When furious, this snake resorts to a typical serpentine locomotion and do so at a rapid speed. It hisses in a continual fashion and emits a very loud noise. The defensive posture is this: It tightly coils itself and forms an ‘S-shape’ from the fore part of its body. It strikes at an extremely fast speed and gets back to its defensive position, only to strike back again.
Aftereffects: Its venom is lethal to an adult human at a dosage of 100mg, where this snake is known to yield up to 750mg of venom. Symptoms include bleeding, pain, swelling, nausea, blistering, tissue necrosis, and immobilization. Without immediate treatment, death is likely to occur within 25 hours.
This snake species happens to the one responsible for killing most humans in Africa due to snakebites―accounting to nearly 32,000 deaths per year! The coloration and patterns on this snake makes it very good at camouflaging, and this is the reason why most of its victims end up stepping on it accidentally, succumbing to its ferocious and deadly reaction. Its wide geographical range also adds to the increased human encounters and casualties due to the attack.
The Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii)
Geographical Range: India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Indonesia
Attacking Strategy: It forms a series of S-loops, raises the anterior one-third of the body and produces a hissing sound that is of no match to any other snake! Once in that position, it throws itself at the victim at a lightning speed and bites with even more force and aggression. It is said that its bite is forceful enough to take a grownup man off the ground!
Aftereffects: The lethal dose varies from 40 to 70mg, however, a single bite can release venom in quantities ranging from 21 to 268mg! Symptoms include painful swelling, bleeding gums, blood in urine, blood in sputum, dizziness, vomiting, and facial swelling. Death may occur due to sepsis and cardiac failure. Kidney or respiratory failure may also cause death.
There is a reason why experts take that extra caution when handling this creature. You don’t want to mess with this one! In some cases, it has been observed that this snake thrashes aggressively and attacks the victim from different directions, and that too, with great accuracy and speed. Because of its unpredictable nature, lightning speed, fierceness, and the fact that it is found in developing countries where medical attention is not widely available, the Russell’s viper is one of the most dangerous snakes. In fact, in Burma, this species is responsible for 90 percent of the total snakebites, most of them being fatal in nature.
The Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus)
Geographical Range: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal
Attacking Strategy: When there is no way out, the common krait coils up with its head concealed and vibrates its body. It also lifts its tail to alarm the threat. However, when it bites, it holds on to the victim so that enough venom is released to kill it.
Aftereffects: The lethal dose is 2.5mg, whereas the snake is capable of injecting 10 to 30mg venom during a bite. The bite is painless, and there are no immediate symptoms, which makes it all the more deadly. However, later, symptoms including tightness in facial muscles, inability to see or speak, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and progressive paralysis occur. Death occurs due to respiratory failure.
The common krait is perhaps not a deadly encounter during the day, but at night, it gets highly aggressive and that is when it has attacked most humans. In rural or underdeveloped areas where this snake is found, most people sleep on the ground. In the night, it is likely to enter the homes for food, or perhaps for finding a shelter during rains. When humans end up rolling over it during their sleep, the snake is bound to bite. What makes this creature more deadly is because its bite is almost painless, most people do not even realize that they have been bitten, as the pain is more or less like a mosquito bite or an ant bite. Many end up dying during their sleep, without waking up. There are many other snakes who are more venomous than the common krait, perhaps with more fierce attacks, but the subtlety that this snake possesses makes it a mysterious killer.
The King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
Geographical Range: India, Southern China, and Southeast Asia
Attacking Strategy: It raises up almost one-third of its anterior body from the ground, as if looking in your eyes, displays its fangs and produces a strong hissing sound, which may sound like a growling dog! It can also move forward and attack while raising up from the ground. It strikes even when the prey “thinks” to be in a safe zone, considerably far from the snake.
Aftereffects: The lethal dose is considered to be 20mg, but many a time, the cobra can inject up to 200 to 500mg in a single bite, or perhaps even more, which makes it all the more deadly. Symptoms include extreme pain, blurriness, drowsiness, paralysis, cardiovascular collapse, and coma. Death usually occurs due to respiratory failure. Huge quantities of antivenin are required immediately for the victim to survive.
There are many species of the cobra, but this one is truly the king of all! It is not that the venom of this snake is the deadliest, neither is the fact that its highly aggressive, it is because the king cobra releases a significant amount of venom when it bites, and it can also bite more than once. This reptile happens to be the longest venomous snake in the world, with records of being around 18 ft in length. While this snake is shy in nature and avoids human encounter, the fact that it is chased by most snake charmers for their interests, leads to fatal consequences. When cornered, it can get highly aggressive, and hence, we may say, that most people who have died of its bite are probably those who have tried to handle it.
The Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus)
Geographical Range: Parts of the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, and Central Asia
Attacking Strategy: It often stays buried in the sand. When threatened, it rubs its oblique scales with each other to produce a hissing sound. It forms an S-shaped coil or a double coil that looks like the figure eight, where the head is poised in the center, thereby allowing it to release itself like a spring.
Aftereffects: The lethal dose of a saw-scaled viper’s venom is estimated to be 5mg for an adult, whereas it releases up to 12mg during the bite. The venom causes swelling and blisters at the site. It may also cause hemorrhage, acute renal failure, blood vomiting, and loss of tissues. In absence of antivenin, death is inevitable.
Leaving behind the king cobra, and even the most feared, the African black mamba, the saw-scaled viper is attributed to be responsible for the maximum number of documented deaths. When it comes to the toxicity, it is a clear winner as well. We know that the inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) has been certified to be the most venomous snake in the world, however, according to the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, it should be noted that the testing for toxicity were done on mice. While they give a fair idea about the toxicity of different snake species on small preys, these tests may not accurately portray how toxic they are to human beings. Also, the aggressiveness and ill temperament of the saw-scaled viper adds to the fact that it is the ultimate, deadliest, and murderous snake on the planet.
So there we are! Our top four are no one else but the four snakes that are collectively known as the Big Four. These are the four venomous snakes that have been given this special title for being responsible for the maximum number of snakebites in South Asia, with a majority of them being in India. As you must have noticed, most of the highly venomous snakes such as the Cottonmouth, Eyelash palm pit viper, Boomslang, and the Belcher’s sea snake have not been included in this list. Agreed that these snakes have the potential to kill their victim in a fraction of a second. We also agree that their toxicity is far more severe that those listed above, but the fact that these snakes are not responsible for a majority of casualties, and that it is quite unlikely to find them in normal human settlements, makes them venomous, but not potentially deadly to humans!