In certain forums on the web we find lists purporting to rank the most dangerous and/or venomous snakes in the world. Unfortunately one can take one's pick as there are a number - and none of them agree with each other.
The criteria for judging the most dangerous snakes should be simple. In fact only one factor can legitimately be used - human deaths attributed to the specific species.
Contributing factors would be the distribution of the species, aggression, venom yield, toxicity of venom, habits of the snakes.
Obviously a fairly venomous species that is found in vast reaches of the earth will kill more humans than a violently venomous species known to live on only one inaccesible grassy knoll on an uninhabited Patagonian island.
However when all is said and done - the only accountable factor MUST be the body count of the species.
As to the most venomous we run into similar problems of definition. The effect of snake venom is measured in mouse units. The standard test is to measure how many standard sized mice a given weight/volume of venom will kill. From there an estimation and extrapolation is made to a standard 70 kg human male.
The problems inherent here are:
Australia's crop of highly venomous elapids feature high on many lists.
Yet Australia has had, over the last 20 years, a confirmed mortality rate
averaging less than 2 per annum and a guestimated maximum of 3.1 per annum.
(These are people who die from snakebite in remote places and where medical
science does not make a diagnoses).
This translates, roughly, to a mortality rate of 1:8 million per annum. Distributed roughly among 16 highly venomous snakes. Average per species thus is 1 fatality per snake species every 8 years. The vaunted "most venomous snake on earth" the Fierce Snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) has yet to be implicated in a single fatality. The range of the snake is small and the population extremely thin. So despite the fact that an average yield of venom from this snake can kill 250 000 rats, just how dangerous is it?
On the other hand the humble Russell's Viper kills humans by the
hundreds. It seldom if ever figures in the "most dangerous snake" lists!
The Cobras of Sri Lanka kill an average 5 people out of every 100 000
population per annum. Translated to the Australian scenario this would
mean around 900 deaths per annum.
What these lists are giving us is the POTENTIALLY most dangerous snakes. A true list of the most FATAL TO MAN snakes would give us some very humble but widespread and moderately venomous snakes.
|Asian pit vipers - from 2 to 5 ft. long, throughout Asia||reactions and mortality vary, but most bites cause tissue damage and mortality is generally low.|
|Australian brown snakes - 4 to 7 ft. long||very slow onset of cardiac or respiratory distress||moderate mortality, but because death can be sudden and unexpected, it is the most dangerous of the Australian snakes||antivenom.|
|Barba Amarilla or Fer-de-lance - up to 7 ft. long, from tropical Mexico to Brazil||severe tissue damage common||moderate mortality||antivenom.|
|Black mamba - up to 14 ft. long, fast-moving, S and C Africa||rapid onset of dizziness, difficulty breathing, erratic heart-beat||mortality high, nears 100% without antivenom.||antivenom.|
|Boomslang - under 6 ft. long, in African savannahs||rapid onset of nausea and dizziness, often followed by slight recovery and then sudden death from internal hemorrhaging||bites rare, mortality high||antivenom.|
|Bushmaster - up to 12 ft. long, wet tropical forests of C and S America||few bites occur, but mortality rate is high.|
|Common or Asian cobra - 4 to 8 ft. long, throughout S Asia||considerable tissue damage, sometimes paralysis||mortality probably not more than 10%||antivenom.|
|Copperhead - less than 4 ft. long, from New England to Texas||pain and swelling||very seldom fatal||antivenom seldom needed.|
|Coral snake - 2 to 5 ft. long, in Americas south of Canada||bite may be painless, slow onset of paralysis, impaired breathing||mortalities rare, but high without antivenom and mechanical respiration.||antivenom.|
|Cottonmouth water moccasin - up to 5 ft. long, wetlands of southern U.S. from Virginia to Texas.||mortality low, but tissue destruction can be extensive||antivenom.|
|Death adder - less than 3 ft. long, Australia||rapid onset of faintness, cardiac and respiratory distress||at least 50% mortality without antivenom.||antivenom|
|Desert horned viper - in dry areas of Africa and western Asia||swelling and tissue damage||low mortality||antivenom.|
|European vipers - from 1 to 3 ft. long||bleeding and tissue damage||mortality low||antivenoms.|
|Gaboon viper - over 6 ft. long, fat, 2-inch fangs, south of the Sahara||massive tissue damage, internal bleeding||few recorded bites.||antivenom.|
|King cobra - up to 16 ft. long, throughout S Asia||rapid swelling, dizziness, loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, erratic heartbeat||mortality varies sharply with amount of venom involved, most bites involve nonfatal amounts||antivenom.|
|Kraits - up to 5 ft. long, in S Asia||rapid onset of sleepiness, numbness||up to 50% mortality even with antivenom.||antivenom|
|Puff adder - up to 5 ft. long, fat, south of the Sahara and throughout the Middle East||rapid large swelling, great pain, dizziness||moderate mortality often from internal bleeding||antivenom.|
|Rattlesnake - 2 to 6 ft. long, throughout W. Hemisphere. Rapid onset of severe pain, swelling||mortality low, but amputation of affected digits is sometimes necessary||Mojave rattler may produce temporary paralysis.||antivenom.|
|Rinkhals, or spitting, cobra - 5 ft. and 7 ft. long, S Africa||squirt venom through holes in front of fangs as a defense||venom is severely irritating and can cause blindness.||antivenom.|
|Russell's viper or tic-polonga - over 5 ft. long, throughout Asia||internal bleeding||moderate mortality rate, bite reports common||antivenom.|
|Saw-scaled or carpet viper - up to 2 ft. long, in dry areas from India to Africa||severe bleeding, fever||high mortality, causes more human fatalities than any other snake||antivenom.|
|Sea snakes - throughout Pacific, Indian oceans except NE Pacific||almost painless bite, variety of muscle pain, paralysis||mortality rate low, many bites are not envenomed||some antivenoms.|
|Sharp-nosed pit viper or One Hundred Pace Snake - up to 5 ft. long, in S Vietnam and Taiwan, China||the most toxic of Asian pit vipers, very rapid onset of swelling and tissue damage, internal bleeding||moderate mortality||antivenom.|
|Taipan - up to 11 ft. long, in Australia and New Guinea||rapid paralysis with severe breathing difficulty||mortality nears 100% without antivenom.||antivenom.|
|Tiger snake - 2 to 6 ft. long, S Australia||pain, numbness, mental disturbances with rapid onset of paralysis||may be the most deadly of all land snakes though antivenom is quite effective.||antivenom.|
|Yellow or Cape cobra - 7 ft. long, in southern Africa||most toxic venom of any cobra, rapid onset of swelling, breathing and cardiac difficulties||mortality high without treatment||antivenom.|
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