The taipan is the largest venomous snake in Australia. Known scientifically as Oxyuranus scutellatus, meaning “small-shielded sharp tail”, it is most commonly known as the coastal taipan. Other names include the common taipan and the eastern taipan.
There are actually two subspecies of coastal taipans. One is found on the continent of Australia, and the other is found in New Guinea.
Danger to Humans:
The coastal taipan possesses the third most deadly toxic venom of any snake in the world. It is behind only the inland taipan and the eastern brown snake. Unlike the inland taipan, the coastal taipan does frequently have contact with people due to its tendency to hunt for prey in inhabited areas.
Contrary to its common name including the word coastal, this snake is not just found in the coastal regions. It is found in various wet habitats, including woodlands and forests. It is never found in habitats with temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the wintertime.
Coastal taipans are generally about 6 ½ feet tall but can reach lengths of up to 10 feet. Their color can greatly vary among individual snakes and can range from yellow to shades of brown. Some black coastal taipans have also been found!
Their bellies are a creamy color and often have orange or pink flecks spread throughout. The variety of colors it can be found in helps it blend into its known habitats of grass, cane fields, and even forests.
One distinguishing feature of the coastal taipan is its head and snout, which are much lighter in color than the body. The neck region features slightly raised or keeled, scales. The identification of a coastal taipan can be tricky at times, and looking at the head and snout region of the snake is often the only way to tell the difference between this species and others.
The neck and head region, other than being lighter, is also much more slender than other snakes often confused with the coastal taipan.
Coastal taipans’ favorite menu items are rats, lizards, and bandicoots. A coastal taipan has a unique way of finding and eating its prey. To locate prey, the coastal taipan will hunt with its head off the ground, which allows it to , scan, or look quickly, over its surroundings.
After the prey is spotted, it will throw itself at it in a quick attack. Instead of holding its prey after fatally biting it, it will release its prey. The prey will then usually run toward a hiding spot, but often never reaches it before the venom takes effect.
This unique way of getting a meal, called the “strike and release method”, protects the snake from being bitten or scratched by its prey.
- Special Adaptations: The coastal taipan is considered to have better eyesight than a lot of other snake species. They have a special organ called the Jacobson’s organ, which allows them to “taste” prey using their tongue!
- Reproduction: Coastal taipans are oviparous, with females laying 7-20 eggs at a time. The females lay the eggs in hollow logs, under tree roots, or in crevices, or cracks, in the ground, where it takes 2-3 months for them to hatch. The newly hatched coastal taipans grow incredibly fast and can reach 3 feet long in just a year’s time! Even babies are venomous!
- Conservation Status: Presently, the coastal taipan is not found on the list of the organization responsible for deciding the conservation status of all species on the earth. It is most commonly found in northern and eastern regions, or parts, of Australia, as well as in New Guinea. It is, like all other Australian snake species, protected by law.
Striking Statements of Fact:
- Coastal taipans are considered more dangerous to humans than the inland taipan, although their bite is less toxic. Their hunt for rats in barns and fields make it more likely for a human encounter than the reclusive inland taipan, so the likelihood of an encounter with this species makes it more dangerous.
- The coastal taipan also has the longest fangs of any snake in Australia. Their fangs can reach up to ½ an inch.