Despite their beautiful colors and patterns, there are many lethal snakes in the world that have the potential to kill you with just one bite.
Many snakes have the potential to kill humans. We’ll take you through the most poisonous snakes on earth, with the most lethal bites. We’ll also let you know which snakes are responsible for the most human deaths.
- 1 What Are the 10 Most Lethal Snakes in the World?
- 1.1 1) Inland Taipan
- 1.2 2) Forest Cobra
- 1.3 3) Eastern Brown Snake
- 1.4 4) Coastal Taipan
- 1.5 5) Caspian Cobra
- 1.6 6) Black Mamba
- 1.7 7) Russell’s Viper
- 1.8 8) King Cobra
- 1.9 9) Indian Cobra
- 1.10 10) Cape Cobra
- 2 Which Snake Causes the Most Deaths?
- 3 Are There OtherWays That Snakes Can Kill Humans?
What Are the 10 Most Lethal Snakes in the World?
Before we get started, how do we define the “deadliest” or “most dangerous” snakes?
You may think this is quite obvious: the snakes that can kill you most easily. However, there are many ways to interpret this question.
You may consider “deadliest” to mean “snakes with the most lethal venom.” However, the snakes with the most lethal venom are not the ten snakes responsible for the most human casualties. This is for the following reasons:
- They do not inject much venom when they bite. So, although a snake may have very potent venom, its bite may not be as dangerous as another venom-injecting snake.
- They are reluctant to bite, or often “dry bite” (bite without injecting venom).
- They are reclusive and shy away from humans, rather than acting aggressively.
To start with, we’re going to look at the snakes that, with one typical bite, have the power to kill the most humans. We’ll describe each of these deadly snakes with names and details. We’ll then look at the snakes which are responsible for the most human deaths.
1) Inland Taipan
The inland taipan is the most venomous snake on earth, with the power to kill over 200 people with one bite.
It is endemic to Australia, and can only be found in the arid outback on the border of Queensland and South Australia. According to the University of California’s Toxicology department, one bite from this snake could kill you in 30 minutes. Untreated, its bite is fatal 80%+ of the time.
The venom of the inland taipan quickly poisons every organ system in the body, including the brain. Victims of the inland taipan often suffocate to death, due to paralysis of the lungs.
Fortunately, if antivenin is administered quickly, there’s a strong chance the victim will survive.
What Does the Inland Taipan Look Like?
The inland taipan is part of the family Elapidae, so it doesn’t look like any of the typical venomous snakes you might find in North America.
It has smooth and glossy scales, round pupils and a narrow, oval-shaped head. The snake reaches an average of 6 feet in length, though some have been known to grow up to 8 feet.
Interestingly, the inland taipan has color-changing abilities. In the summer, its scales are olive green. In the winter, they darken to a rich, deep brown. This is thought to help the snake absorb more warmth in the winter months. Its head is always slightly darker than its body.
Is the Inland Taipan Aggressive?
The inland taipan is very reclusive. Its Outback habitat is rarely frequented by humans, and if it ever comes across one, this snake is far more likely to retreat than to bite.
It has a generally calm personality, and will only bite if severely provoked. Once it does bite, though, there are no second chances. “Dry” (venom-free) bites are very rare, and it tends to strike several times in quick succession.
2) Forest Cobra
The Forest Cobra is native to central and western Africa and is generally found in forests and savannas. One bite from a forest cobra could kill over 60 people.
The venom of the forest cobra is neurotoxic. This means that it kills nerve tissue found in the brain and the spinal cord. Associated symptoms include drowsiness, lack of muscle coordination, hearing loss, seizures, and paralysis. Death can occur between 30 minutes and two hours after a bite.
Luckily, like the inland taipan, bites from the forest cobra are rare, and effective antivenin is available.
What Does the Forest Cobra Look Like?
The forest cobra is the largest “true cobra” (belonging to the genus Naja). It reaches lengths of up to 9 feet, though around 7 feet is the average. Like all Cobras, the forest cobra can expand its ribs to form a menacing “hood” around its head and neck. However, it will only display this when threatened.
Though there are slight color variations between forest cobras found in different regions, most forest cobras are a glossy dark brown to black. Their bellies are cream to yellow, with broad, black, horizontal bands. Some forest cobras are also speckled.
Is the Forest Cobra Aggressive?
The forest cobra is a very active and fast-moving snake but tends to avoid people if at all possible. They are said to be aggressive when cornered and will display their defensive hoods as a warning. If continually provoked, they will bite. They can strike quickly, and surprisingly far.
3) Eastern Brown Snake
Third place for the deadliest snake in the world goes to another Australian specimen: the eastern brown snake. This snake is found all along the eastern coast of Australia, including in populated habitats.
A bite from the eastern brown snake could take down 58 humans. Its venom is more toxic than the forest cobra’s – however, the eastern brown snake delivers far less venom per bite.
Like the forest cobra, the venom of the eastern brown snake is full of neurotoxins, which causes convulsions and paralysis. However, its venom also carries blood coagulants, which cause the blood to clot. Death follows inevitably after a bite unless antivenin is administered swiftly.
What Does the Eastern Brown Snake Look Like?
As its name suggests, the eastern brown snake’s primary identifying feature is its coloration. It is an even, pale to dark brown from head to tail, with no markings or patterning.
Its chin and underbelly are cream in color. It is a quite slender snake; its head and neck are an even width, and it has a rounded snout. When confronted, the eastern brown snake will rear itself up off the ground and flatten out its neck, to mimic a cobra.
Is the Eastern Brown Snake Aggressive?
Eastern brown snakes aren’t aggressive, but they aren’t as placid or human-fearing as inland taipans.
A study by Wildlife Research of over 400 interactions with eastern brown snakes found that most of the time, the snake will try to retreat or hide when confronted by a human. However, in rare cases, they will advance on the attacker.
4) Coastal Taipan
The coastal taipan is a close cousin of the inland taipan. It lives along the northern and northeastern coast of Australia. A bite from the coastal taipan could bring down around 56 people.
The coastal taipan has the longest fangs of any Australian elapid snake, at 0.5 inches. This gives it the advantage of being able to inject venom deep into its victim’s tissues.
The primary ingredient of the coastal taipan’s venom is taicatoxin, which causes red blood cells to rupture, triggering massive internal bleeding.
Over 80% of coastal taipan bites contain venom, and symptom onset is fast. If antivenin is not administered promptly, the victim will undoubtedly die between 30 minutes and 6 hours after the bite.
What Does the Coastal Taipan Look Like?
The coastal taipan looks quite similar to its central Australian relative, the inland taipan. It has the same round eyes and slim, brown body which gets darker in winter.
It has a narrow head, though when threatened it can spread its jaws out to make its head appear more spade-shaped. The coastal taipan regularly reaches 6 feet in length. In contrast with the inland taipan, the coastal taipan’s head is usually lighter in color than the rest of its body.
Is the Coastal Taipan Aggressive?
The coastal taipan, though its venom is not quite as potent as the other snakes we’ve discussed so far, is often regarded as the world’s most dangerous snake due to its tendency to bite.
Though it will not seek out confrontation with humans, if threatened the coastal taipan will not hesitate to strike and envenomate. Dry bites are very rare.
5) Caspian Cobra
The fifth place on our list belongs to another cobra: this time the Caspian cobra. It’s a close relative of the forest cobra, in the genus Naja, though it does not inhabit the same area of the world.
As its name suggests, the Caspian cobra frequents several Central Asian countries to the south-east of the Caspian Sea.
It is thought that the Caspian cobra has the most medically significant bite of any snake species in Central Asia. Its venom is the most potent of all cobra species, including the forest cobra; however, it typically injects much less per bite.
A bite from a Caspian cobra contains both neurotoxins and cytotoxins, which cause mass cell death and tissue damage. Untreated, it’s fatal over 70% of the time. Antivenin for cobra bites tends not to be particularly effective on Caspian cobra bites.
What Does the Caspian Cobra Look Like?
The Caspian cobra is a heavy-bodied snake of medium length. On average it reaches around 3.5 feet; however, some individuals have been known to reach 5 feet. Its coloration ranges from yellowish-tan to pale brown along its back.
Juveniles have thick, black bands which are most prominent on their undersides. These tend to fade in adulthood. Like all Cobras, Caspian cobras can expand their ribs to form a hood.
Is the Caspian Cobra Aggressive?
In short, yes. Like all snakes, the Caspian cobra will not actively seek out humans to engage with. However, even juveniles of the species react very defensively to human presence.
It will generally try to escape if the threat is far enough away. However, when cornered, it will spread its hood and hiss before striking repeatedly.
6) Black Mamba
The black mamba is often claimed to be the most dangerous snake in the world to encounter. This is for a good reason. It’s exceptionally territorial and is the fastest-moving snake, able to reach speeds of up to 10mph. Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, its bite is deadly.
A single bite from a black mamba could potentially be strong enough to kill over 25 people. However, a single bite is uncommon: it can bite up to 12 times in a matter of seconds.
The venom contains neurotoxins and cardiotoxins (which damage the heart), and it is arguably the most fast-acting among snakes.
Within 30 minutes after being bitten, victims can display breathing problems, heart and brain abnormalities. Antivenin must be administered immediately, as the rate of death without treatment is 100%.
What Does the Black Mamba Look Like?
Contrary to its name, the black mamba is not black in color. Its skin ranges from light grey to olive green. The inside of its mouth, however, is an inky black, from which it gets its name.
It has round pupils, smooth scales, and a slim body. One of the largest venomous snakes in the world, the black mamba can reach up to 14 feet in length, though 7-10 feet is more common. Its head is oval in shape, and typically wider than its body.
Is the Black Mamba Aggressive?
The black mamba is extremely territorial, especially while breeding. It will not generally tolerate the presence of humans. In defense, it typically rears up, spreads excess neck skin to form a small hood, and gapes open-mouthed as a warning.
The slightest provocation by the perceived threat – including any small movement – can provoke an attack. Because of its body length, it can strike extremely far, and typically bites several times in quick succession.
7) Russell’s Viper
The first member of the viper family to make our list, the Russell’s viper belongs to India. It has an infamous reputation for causing the most snakebite incidents in India and has highly toxic venom. It also, reportedly, has the loudest hiss in the snake world.
Russell’s viper has the power to kill over 20 people with a single bite. It is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Its venom causes necrosis (death) of muscle tissue, kidney failure, internal bleeding and blistering. The venom is somewhat slow acting – death can occur as late as two weeks after the bite.
Even if you survive, a bite from a Russell’s viper causes severe pain lasting for several weeks. It can also result in long-term complications such as kidney and glandular problems.
What Does the Russell’s Viper Look Like?
Russell’s vipers have stout bodies that are covered in rough, keeled scales. Coloration is usually yellow to tan, with many dark brown spots outlined in black along their bodies.
Their bodies are slightly more slender than a typical viper’s, and they do not usually exceed 4-5 feet in length. The head shape is triangular and much wider than the neck, with slit-like pupils.
Is the Russell’s Viper Aggressive?
The Russell’s viper generally prefers to avoid human contact. When approached, it will typically try to escape. However, it moves quite slowly, and cannot always get away. Being stepped on or otherwise directly threatened can provoke a swift attack.
According to a study in the Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, only about 8% of bites are dry.
8) King Cobra
The king cobra is probably the most well-known cobra worldwide. Interestingly though, it doesn’t belong to the genus Naja, which contains all the other cobras. It belongs to the genus Ophiophagus, meaning snake-eating.
The king cobra’s diet is primarily made up of other snakes, including venomous species. Native to Southeast Asia, it is the longest venomous snake in the world.
The venom of the king cobra, drop-for-drop, is the least potent on our top 10 list. However, as the snake is so large, it can potentially inject up to 1000mg per bite.
A single bite could kill 11 people. Its venom is mostly made up of neurotoxins, affecting the central nervous system. Bites can result in blurred vision, dizziness, paralysis, and even coma.
Dry bites from king cobras have been reported. Of untreated bites which result in envenomation, around 50-60% will result in death.
What Does the King Cobra Look Like?
Juvenile king cobras are very distinctive: black in color, with thin white or yellow crossbands along their bodies. As they get older, the king cobra’s main color fades to brown, and markings become less distinctive.
Adult king cobras can reach up to 19 feet long; the average is 10-13 feet. Like all Cobras, it can expand its ribs to form a menacing hood.
Is the King Cobra Aggressive?
King cobra bites are somewhat rare because they are typically non-confrontational. When approached by a human, the king cobra is more likely to try to escape than to fight.
However, they will stand their ground when provoked and are not afraid to attack. Feign-strikes (with the mouth closed) and dry bites usually come first, followed by true bites.
9) Indian Cobra
The Indian cobra is, of course, native to India. It’s one of the “big four” species of India, responsible for thousands of snakebite deaths each year. Found in abundance throughout the country from the north to the south, it inhabits a diverse range of habitats, from forests to urban areas.
A bite from an Indian cobra is not the most toxic, but can still be powerful enough to kill ten people. Their venom is neurotoxic and cardiotoxic, and quite fast-acting. It inhibits the nerves, resulting in paralysis. If the is particularly serious, it can result in respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
Antivenin is typically very effective, but untreated bites result in death around 10-30% of the time.
What Does the Indian Cobra Look Like?
The Indian cobra has a large hood which displays contain two large black spots, one on each side of the neck. These act as “false eyes,” to scare away predators.
The back of the hood usually has a dark marking in the shape of a pair of spectacles. The Indian cobra’s colors can range from cream to dark brown, and they can reach up to 5 feet in length.
Is the Indian Cobra Aggressive?
According to the University of Adelaide’s clinical toxicology resources, the Indian cobra has a mild disposition. It will usually try to escape when a predator is approaching as the first course of action.
If it is cornered, the Indian cobra will display its impressive hood while hissing and rearing up. It will only strike as a last resort, but when it does, it has the potential to bite repeatedly.
10) Cape Cobra
The cape cobra is found exclusively at the southernmost tip of Africa, in the countries of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.
Though it may only sit at number 10 on our list, its venom should not be underestimated. It is regarded as one of the most dangerous cobras in Africa because it can often be found in residential areas.
A bite from the cape cobra may be toxic enough to kill at least eight people. Like so many of the snakes on our list, its venom is neurotoxic. It generally targets the heart, nervous system and respiratory system.
Usually, symptom management is sufficient enough to help victims through the attack. Antivenin may be necessary if the victim has received a lot of venom. If left untreated, death from lung paralysis can occur up to twelve hours after the bite.
What Does the Cape Cobra Look Like?
The cape cobra is also called the “yellow cobra” and “copper cobra” because of its striking coloration which can appear yellow, gold or brown.
Some variants are speckled with dark spots or blotches. Young cape cobras have much darker throats than adults. Like all Cobras, they can expand their ribs to form a hood, as a warning to predators.
Is the Cape Cobra Aggressive?
Rather than fleeing from danger, the cape cobra tends to stand its ground when confronted by a potential predator. It positions the front half of its body upright, hisses and displays its hood as a warning. It is not averse to striking and will freely do so in response to any sudden movements.
Which Snake Causes the Most Deaths?
So, you’re now intimately familiar with the ten most venomous snakes in the world. If you come across any of the above on your travels, your best bet is to avoid it at all costs. You could easily meet your end if bitten by any one of them.
However, just because they have deadly bites does not necessarily mean that they pose a real threat. Many of the above species are responsible for very few human deaths. This is due to their reclusiveness, reluctance to bite, and the abundant availability of antivenin.
So, which snakes are responsible for the most human deaths in each continent? Let’s find out.
Fatal snakebites in North America are quite rare.
In the US, though there are up to eight thousand snakebite incidents per year, only 5 to 6 of them result in death. North America’s venomous snakes are not deadly enough to have made the top 10 list, and most of the continent’s citizens have easy access to hospitals and antivenin treatment.
North America is home to several species of pit viper, including rattlesnakes, and also one elapid (the coral snake). Though our coral snakes are the most venomous, bites are extremely rare.
Deaths are usually caused by Eastern and Western diamondback rattlesnakes. These are the largest and most toxic rattlesnakes on the continent.
South America is home to more species of dangerous snake due to its tropical climate. Out of these, the two responsible for the most human deaths are pit vipers: Bothrops atrox and Bothrops asper.
Though they are different species, they are both commonly nicknamed “Fer-de-Lance” meaning spearhead. The venom of both types of Fer-de-Lance is fast-acting. They both inhabit populous areas and can be aggressive when approached.
Africa is home to the notorious black mamba. A bite from a black mamba almost always results in death, due to its extraordinarily potent and fast-acting venom.
Antivenin is available, but it must be administered quickly for the victim to survive. It’s thought that only around 2% of snakebite victims in sub-Saharan Africa receive antivenin, due to its low availability.
The other most dangerous snakes in Africa include:
- The West African Carpet Viper. Some sources claim that this snake is responsible for the most deaths in Africa due to its constant contact with humans. It likes to live and hunt in farmlands.
- The Puff Adder. This is a deadly viper found throughout most of central and southern Africa. It is reportedly quite aggressive and also inhabits highly populated areas.
Each year in Asia, up to a million people suffer a venomous snakebite. Over 40,000 of these result in death. This makes up almost half of the worldwide annual death toll from snake bites.
The snakes that are responsible for causing the most incidents are referred to as the “Big Four.” They are:
- The Common Krait, an elapid with very potent venom, found in a variety of habitats from Pakistan to West Bengal in India. Though it is reluctant to bite, it is also unwilling to let go once it has bitten, allowing it to inject a large amount of venom.
- Russell’s Viper, the seventh most lethal snake in the world, is responsible for up to half of all Asian snakebite fatalities. Bites usually happen when stepping on the snake by mistake.
- The Saw Scaled Viper, a small yet lethal snake with an aggressive demeanor, kills 5,000 Indians per year. It’s known for the characteristic sizzling noise it makes from rubbing its scales together.
- The Indian Cobra, the world’s ninth most venomous snake, bites over 100,000 people per year in Asia. Between 5 and 20% of these bites are fatal.
Australia is home to many species of highly venomous and dangerous snake, including the most venomous snake in the world, the inland taipan.
However, inland taipan bites are relatively uncommon. As they inhabit the deserted Australian outback, they very rarely encounter humans and are quite placid even when they do.
The crown for the most dangerous snake in Australia belongs to the eastern brown snake. This snake is thought to be responsible for 60% of all snakebite-related deaths in the country.
This is because they live in populated areas, such as farms and residential areas. Coming in at a close second is the coastal taipan, which is famed for its aggressive nature.
The highly venomous Belcher’s sea snake also inhabits the waters of Australia. However, due to its docile nature, bites are quite rare.
Out of all the continents on earth, Europe has the least venomous snakes. This is mostly because venomous snakes tend to live in warmer climates, and much of Europe is in the temperate zone. However, many European countries are home to a limited number of species in the viper family.
According to the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, deaths from snakebite in Europe are rare. There are less than 30 reported deaths per year across the whole continent.
The most common perpetrators include:
- Asp Vipers, common in France and Italy.
- Sand Vipers, also known as nose-horned vipers, found in southeast Europe.
- Common Vipers found widely throughout most of Europe. They are the only venomous snake found in the United Kingdom.
- Lataste’s Vipers, also known as snub-nosed vipers, found in Portugal and Spain.
Are There OtherWays That Snakes Can Kill Humans?
Snakes that don’t possess venom kill by another means constriction. Constrictors, such as rat snakes and gopher snakes, are usually harmless to us. However, in the tropical parts of the world, some species grow so large that they have the power to kill humans.
The most common perpetrators are reticulated pythons. These massive beasts can reach over 20 feet long in adulthood.
In their native South Asia, they are occasionally responsible for human injury and death. Specimens have even been found with human remains in their digestive systems. Other large snakes, such as green anacondas, also have the power to kill.
The only constrictor potentially large enough to cause harm in America is the Burmese python, of which there is an introduced population in the Florida Everglades.