From the colorful-but-deadly blue Malayan coral to the sometimes indistinguishable cottonmouth, here are 20 of the world’s most venomous snakes .
An estimated 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes each year, leading to between 81,000 and 138,000 deaths and many more amputations, according to the World Health Organization. Snakes with very potent venom aren’t always the most dangerous to people, however. Most just want to be left alone and won’t seek out encounters with humans.
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Considered the world’s most venomous snake, Australia’s rare and reclusive inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) mounts rigorous self-defense when provoked, striking with one or more bites. What makes the inland taipan particularly deadly isn’t just its high toxicity, but an enzyme that helps accelerate the venom’s absorption into the victim’s body.
Luckily, the inland taipan is rarely encountered by people and not particularly aggressive—except, of course, toward its prey, which consists primarily of small and medium-sized mammals, especially the long-haired rat.
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The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) inhabits vast areas of savannah, hill country, and forests in southern and eastern Sub-Saharan Africa. Its name comes not from its color, which is brownish or grayish-green, but from the black interior of its mouth.
The snake is not confrontational, but will aggressively defend itself when threatened by raising its head, opening its mouth, and issuing a warning hiss before striking repeatedly in rapid succession. It’s fast, traveling at speeds up to 12 miles per hour and climbing trees with ease. Encounters with humans can frequently occur when the snake takes refuge in populated areas, and the black mamba’s venom is extremely dangerous.
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The reclusive boomslang (Dispholidus typus) is native to central and southern Africa and generally blends with the browns and greens of trees and shrubs. It hunts by reaching its body outward from a tree, disguising itself as a branch until it’s ready to strike. The bloomslang’s rear fangs give it the appearance of “chewing” its victims when it strikes, then fold back into its mouth when not in use.
Blue Malayan Coral Snake
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The blue Malayan coral snake (Calliophis bivirgatus) has a pair of dazzling light blue stripes running the length of its blue-black body and a red-orange head and tail. Just don’t get too close—its venom gland extends through one-quarter of its body and produces a neurotoxin that triggers a paralysis in which the victim’s muscles tighten in uncontrollable spasms.
This snake hides in leaf litter in lowland forests of Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and western Indonesia, preying on other snakes as well as lizards, birds, and frogs. Its powerful venom makes it one of Southeast Asia’s most dangerous snakes, although it is not aggressive and human fatalities are rare.
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With subspecies present across northern Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, most of Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka, the aggressive saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus) typically hunts at night, preferring lizards and toads and sometimes baby birds. Its defensive posture is a looping figure-8, and it strikes with great power and speed. While it is rarely lethal to humans, it is one of the world’s most dangerous snakes because it produces a highly toxic venom, is often found in cultivated areas, and has an extremely aggressive temperament.
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In India, the Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) is the species responsible for the majority of deadly snake bites—tens of thousands each year. It’s one of the most deadly vipers in the world, with the majority of its victims dying from kidney failure. These nocturnal rodent-eaters bask in the sun during the day but often hide in rice paddies and croplands, posing a danger to farmers. The snakes can be yellow, tan, white, or brown, with dark brown ovals outlined in black and cream-colored rings. They move fast when threatened, coiling into an s-shape and emitting a loud hiss before striking.
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The banded krait (Bungarus fasciatus) is a relative of the cobra that inhabits South and Southeast Asia and southern China. It has a distinctive raised ridge and alternating bands of black and white or creamy yellow. Most active at night, the banded krait feeds on other snakes and their eggs, and may also eat fish, frogs, and skinks. Its venom causes muscular paralysis, and the big danger occurs when this paralysis affects the diaphragm, interfering with breathing.
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In Spanish, the fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper) is known as barba amarilla, or yellow chin. Otherwise, this gray-brown viper with diamond patterns is referred to by its French name, which means spearhead. Found in lowland tropical forests and farmlands of Central and South America, its venom causes severe swelling and tissue necrosis, making it one of the most deadly snakes in the region if the victim doesn’t receive swift medical treatment. It feeds on lizards, opossums, frogs, as well as crop pests like rats and rabbits, making it beneficial to farmers.
Olive Sea Snake
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Named for its greenish hue, the olive sea snake (Aipysurus laevis) lives along the northern coast of Australia, along with New Guinea and nearby islands. It inhabits shallow coral reefs, hunting fish, prawns, and crabs. Though surfacing every 30 minutes to two hours to breathe, this sea snake spends its entire life in water, hunting at night.
The greatest risk to humans comes when fishermen inadvertently catch them in their nets, prompting an aggressive response. But underwater, these sea snakes approach divers with curiosity. A recent study concluded that the snakes sometimes mistake divers for sexual partners and coil around them in a misguided courtship ritual. The diver is then left with the challenging task of remaining calm so as not to provoke the snake into delivering its potent neurotoxic venom.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin)
The cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) gets its name from the white interior of its mouth, which it opens wide when threatened. Also known as a water moccasin, it’s a semi-aquatic pit viper found in the southeastern U.S. It preys on turtles, fish, and small mammals. While its venom is powerful, the cottonmouth isn’t especially aggressive. However, it will strike humans in self-defense. Identifying cottonmouths can be tricky as their pattern of lighter and darker body bands often resemble that of harmless water snakes.
Eastern Coral Snake
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The eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) is the most venomous coral snake in the United States, though it might not seem so at first because its bite doesn’t cause much pain or swelling. However, the venom contains a powerful neurotoxin that affects a person’s speech and vision. Luckily most bites to humans aren’t fatal. They are shy, burrowing creatures that inhabit woodlands and marshy wetlands, feeding on lizards, frogs, and other small snakes.
Common Death Adder
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The death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) inhabits a variety of ecosystems across large swathes of Australia, including rainforests, woodlands, and grasslands. It hides out under loose sand, leaves, or low shrubs, lying it wait to ambush prey. The death adder lures prey by coiling, bringing the tip of its tail near the head and wriggling it like a worm to attract frogs, lizards, birds, and small mammals. It has a grey to reddish-brown body with darker crossbands, and long fangs. Encounters with humans are rare, but as its name suggests, its bite can be fatal if not treated promptly.
South American Bushmaster
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The bushmaster (Lachesis Muta) inhabits northwestern South American forests, including parts of Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and is the largest venomous snake in the western hemisphere. The patient pit viper is known to stake out prey for days or even weeks at a time, but upon finding its intended target, the snake strikes quickly, releasing a large amount of venom in just one bite.
Eastern Brown Snake
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The eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) is a member of the elapid snake family, with fangs at the front of its jaw. It comes in various shades of brown with a creamy, spotted underside and is found in eastern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea. Its defensive posture is to rear up into an “s” shape. After a strike, it coils around its victim. Its venom is a potent neurotoxin that leads to hemorrhaging, paralysis, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. Generally reclusive, it hunts by day and burrows at night.
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The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is the largest venomous snake in the world, found in northern India and southern China and the Malay peninsula, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This aggressive snake has frighteningly long fixed fangs that release a neurotoxin to paralyze prey and inhibit breathing.
The king cobra inhabits areas alongside forest streams and mangroves, along with agricultural areas and trees. Its preferred diet is other snakes and sometimes rodents. Its low hiss and moan can sound like a dog growl, but despite having a formidable reputation, it mostly avoids people unless threatened.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
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The eastern diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus) is one of 32 species of rattlesnake, and the most venomous in North America. It inhabits coastal lowlands of the Carolinas to the Florida keys, and west to Louisiana. The snake lies in wait to ambush rabbits, birds, squirrels, and small rodents, providing an important ecosystem service by controlling rodent populations. When threatened, it coils and rattles its tail in warning. It can strike up to two-thirds of its body length, injecting a hemotoxin that kills red blood cells and damages tissue.
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The copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) is a large pit viper found in the eastern and southern United States. Its five subspecies have varied habitats ranging from forests to wetlands, but it also lives in areas of denser human habitation, including suburban developments, which elevates people’s risk of being bit though copperhead bites are rarely fatal to humans.
The copperhead climbs bushes or trees to stalk rodents, small birds, lizards, and frogs. It can also swim. Copperheads hibernate during winter but emerge on warmer days to bask in the sun.
Beaked Sea Snake
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The aggressive beaked sea snake (Hydrophis Schistosus), so named for its beak-like nose, releases venom several times as powerful as a cobra and is responsible for the majority of sea snake bites, though it rarely attacks humans. It dives up to 100 meters in coastal waters as well as mangroves, estuaries, and rivers to hunt catfish and shrimp using its sense of smell and touch. While it’s known to be aggressive, this sea snake doesn’t often attack humans. It is found mainly in the coastal waters off South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Madagascar.
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The little stiletto snake (Atractaspis bibronii) is a burrowing dark brown snake with a white underbelly that ranges across grasslands and forests of southern and eastern Africa. It has very long fangs on the side of its head to stab its prey sideways, dagger-like. This serves the snake well since its prey include small mammals and lizards that inhabit old termite mounds.
Mainland Tiger Snake
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The tiger snake (Notechis scutatus), named for its tiger-like stripes, inhabits creeks, rivers, and wetlands across southern Australia and nearby islands. It preys on fish, frogs and tadpoles, lizards, birds, and small mammals and will also consume carrion. This ground-dwelling snake is also a great climber. Although it prefers to escape rather than fight, the tiger snake’s defensive maneuvers are impressive: It raises up, hisses loudly, and inflates and deflates its body in warning. If it feels further threatened it will strike, releasing a dangerous neurotoxin.
THE MOST VENOMOUS SNAKES In The World
Meet the top 10 most poisonous snakes in the world.
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