Alice Springs Reptile Centre
Australia has a disproportionate number of deadly snakes, that is venomous snakes whose venom can cause death. Our guide claimed 18 of 20 of the world’s deadliest snakes, but a quick check on Wikipedia did not confirm this. That said, the list of the 10 deadliest snakes included 5 Australian snakes, and the most deadliest, the “Inland Taipan” that hangs about – well, approximately where I am writing this post. Happy thought! But, why does Australia have so many deadly snakes? Well, it is because in the places they live, the prey is scarce, and so you want to make sure it dies quickly when bitten, otherwise you (the snake) goes hungry.
So, a few snake facts. They are cold-blooded and warm themselves bylying in the sun, in open spaces, like paths. So, be careful walking along paths, and especially crossing logs; step onto the log, and look on the other side. Snakes do not have ears – unlike lizards – and so they can’t hear you. They can however sense vibrations and movements. So, if you ever find yourself standing beside a snake, by all means call out for help, but do not move a muscle. Wait until help arrives or the snake chooses to wiggle away. Australian snakes – and this is important – mostly have very short fangs (less than 3mm) so you can protect yourself by wearing trousers and socks. Moreover, when they bite, the poison does not reach the bloodstream (as a rule) but is rather transported through your lymphatic system (the bitten person’s system, not yours). Hence, the treatment of snakebite aims at reducing this flow – more below.
We were fortunate to be able to handle an Olive Python – obviously non-venomous – and that was an interesting experience, especially as he (she?) wrapped round my wrist twice, and applied quite a bit of pressure.
“Just for “fun”, here are a few random facts about particular Australian snakes:
Eastern Brown Snake: Widespread along the east coast, and ranked second most venomous in the world, but its fangs are relatively small. Whew!
Speckled Brown Snake: Widespread in the Barkly Tableland (we drove through it), highly venomous, and preyed upon by the Spencers Goanna – Go Goanna!
Inland Taipan, placid and shy, but one of the largest Australian snakes (up to 2.5m) and the most venomous snake in the world. Shy is good.
Death Adder (three species): who knew we had Death Adders? Remarkably, they can strike at 1/20th of a second, and they are highly venomous.
Treating (Australian) snakebite. The general principles are: reduce lymphatic flow by applying tight, wide bandages around the affected limb; further immobilize the limb and patient for the same reason; and get medical treatment as fast as is humanly possibly. If you have an EPIRB, use it! Naturally,you should carry a snakebite kit – at least in your car – and preferably when you do walks.
I have cut-n-paste the treatment of snakebite from Just been bitten by snake (ABC Science) as I feel it is more likely you will read it now. Your life or someone else’s life could depend on knowing this stuff. Just as an example, my cousin, Stewart, was bitten by a Tiger Snake, and he was walked a short distance to a carpark, resulting in many weeks in intensive care, and feeling dreadful for 6+ months.
RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) updated guidelines for treating snake bites
Do NOT wash the area of the bite or try to suck out the venom. It is extremely important to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits.
Do NOT incise or cut the bite, or apply a high tourniquet. Cutting or incising the bite won’t help. High tourniquets are ineffective and can be fatal if released.
Do bandage firmly, splint and immobilise to stop the spread of venom. All the major medical associations recommend slowing the spread of venom by placing a folded pad over the bite area and then applying a firm bandage. It should not stop blood flow to the limb or congest the veins. Only remove the bandage in a medical facility, as the release of pressure will cause a rapid flow of venom through the bloodstream.
Do NOT allow the victim to walk or move their limbs. Use a splint or sling to minimise all limb movement. Put the patient on a stretcher or bring transportation to the patient.
Do seek medical help immediately as the venom can cause severe damage to health and even death within a few hours.