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Genus/Species

 

Oxyuranus spp., Taipans

Clinical entries

Species

  • 1. Oxyuranus microlepidotus
  • 2. Oxyuranus scutellatus
  • 3. Oxyuranus temporalis

 

  • O. microlepidotus = Parademansia microlepidota
  • O. scutellatus = O. scutulatus
  • O. temporalis was newly described in 2007 (only one known specimen to date)

Taxonomy

Serpentes; Elapidae; Elapinae/Hydrophiinae

Common names

Taipans

  • 1. Fierce snake, Western taipan, Inland taipan, Small-scaled snake
  • 2. Taipan, Common taipan
  • 3. Central Ranges Taipan

 

 

Fig. 4.61 Oxyuranus scutellatus.

 

Distribution

Australia and New Guinea. See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information.

 

  Map 37

  Oxyuranus scutellatus

  Oxyuranus microlepidotus

→    Oxyuranus temporalis: Walter James Range, Western Australia

 

Biology

Larger, slender and agile snakes. Head large, long and angular, slightly distinct from the body. With a length of up to more than 2.5 m these are the largest Australian elapids.

O. scutellatus: colouring light to dark brown, copper red or olive green, O. scutellatus canni from New Guinea has an orange stripe along the length of its spine. The sides of the head are always a light fawn colour. They are found on thorn bush plains, savanna and in forested areas. Frequently also on sugar cane plantations and close to farms. The venom fangs are unusually long for members of the elapid family (up to 12 mm). The taipan is usually shy and tries to escape when it comes into contact with humans; however, if really threatened it can strike repeatedly!

O. microlepidotus: the body is somewhat sturdier than that of O. scutellatus. The venom fangs are also distinctly shorter, with a maximum length of 6 mm. As they are shy and prefer to live hidden away in unpopulated, arid areas inland, this species went undiscovered for a long time. In contrast to their reputation as "fierce snake", they are far less willing to bite than the common taipan. At present very little is known about their habits.

Risk

According to experimental investigations in laboratory mice, O. microlepidotus is considered the most venomous terrestrial snake in the world. However, due to its shy behaviour and tendency to live in scantily populated areas it is exceptionally rare for bites to occur.

O. scutellatus is responsible for serious cases of envenoming in Australia. Multiple bites and bites on the trunk are not rare. In New Guinea, O. sutellatus canni is a frequent cause of serious envenoming and sometimes fatalities. In a study from the central province of Papua New Guinea, 149 patients with taipan bites were seen over a 30-month period. The cause was identified (ELISA) in all cases. Systemic envenoming occurred in 110 patients and 8 cases were fatal (Currie et al. 1992a).

Literature (biological)

Cogger 1986, Covacevich et al. 1988, Doughty et al. 2007, Mirtschin et al. 1990, O'Shea 1990, Sutherland 1983, O'Shea 2005