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Queensland is home to a surprising array of snakes including some of the most venomous in the world.
Snakes evolved from a lizard-like ancestor around 130 million years. Technically, they are just another group of legless lizards.
The characters that we associate with snakes (elongate bodies, loss of limbs, venom and forked tongues) are all found in one group of lizards or another. However, snakes have taken some of these attributes to the extreme.
Australian snakes come in a surprising array of shapes and sizes. Some are small, worm-like burrowers (blind snakes), others large and muscular (pythons). There are lean, active hunters (whip snakes and taipans) and short, squat ambush predators (adders). They occupy all habitat types, including our coastal waters. Some lay eggs, others give birth to live young. Their diets vary. Some are generalists, consuming a wide variety of prey and others are highly specialised. Bandy-bandies, for instance, feed exclusively on blind snakes.
Queensland is home to some of the world’s most venomous land snakes, with more than twenty species considered capable of killing humans. However, snakes are generally shy, retiring creatures. Even dangerously venomous species pose little threat to our daily lives and will usually retreat when given the opportunity to do so. Developments in first aid and patient management have greatly improved the outlook for snakebite victims. In Australia, there are usually fewer than three snakebite deaths a year.
Medical advice is available from the Poisons Information Centre, phone 13 11 26.
First aid procedure for any snakebite from the Australian Venom Research Unit.
The Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) from south-western Queensland and adjacent areas of New South Wales and South Australia is the world’s most venomous land snake. Venom toxicity, measured on laboratory mice, indicates that its venom is four times more toxic than that of its close relative Oxyuranus scutellatus (Coastal Taipan).
The Amethystine Python (Simalia kinghorni) from north-eastern Queensland. A specimen caught at Palm Cove in 1999, measuring 5.65 metres and weighing 24 kilograms, is the largest reliable record to date.
Tongue flicking is an important aspect of a snake’s sense of smell. When the tongue is extended, odour particles adhere to its tip and are transferred to a special olfactory organ in the roof of the mouth.
No. The fastest speed recorded for a snake is 11 kilometres an hour (African Mamba) and it is likely that some of Australia’s slender, active species can also approach this speed. The fastest speed achieved by a running human is 37 kilometres an hour.
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