Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Land Of Oz
Stepping carefully into Australia
Since living in Sydney, I’ve learned the words “venomous” and “deadly” aren’t synonymous. The confusion comes from how you define a venomous or deadly snake. Australia’s inland taipan Oxyuranus microlepidotus is considered the most venomous snake in the world. Its venom is the most toxic, but because it lives in unpopulated areas and is reclusive, humans rarely encounter this snake. There have been no reported cases of this inland viper being involved in a human fatality. However, snakes that are less venomous but that live near populated areas, and therefore are more likely to be encountered, are more deadly.
Mark O’Shea, author of Venomous Snakes of the World, explains the confusion people have between venomous and deadly snakes: “The most dangerous snake is not the most venomous. The most venomous snakes are taipans, brown snakes and sea snakes, but they have small venom yields and few snakebites to humans and few human fatalities in the scheme of things. Australia suffers two to three deaths a year, but around the world 40,000 to 100,000 people die of snakebite. Any highly venomous snake is dangerous if it bites you. Regardless of whether it is the most venomous or the one responsible for most deaths, only one bite matters at that time, the one you just received. So with that in mind I have encountered many dangerous snakes, from rattlers to cobras, sea snakes to desert vipers, but I regard the most dangerous snake I have encountered to be the Sri Lankan Russell’s viper, which featured in my film Venom.”
With this knowledge, my next adventure will be, in the short term, an exploration of my backyard. The photo included here captures the view from my balcony. On my next photo adventure, I’ll explore the trails, cliffs and oceans in the nearby parks. Wherever I walk, I’ll keep a close eye on my next step because I don’t want any of Australia’s venomous inhabitants to resort to deadly habits.
Bill Hatcher is a regular contributor to National Geographic and Outside. Visit www.billhatcher.com.
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