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Oxyuranus scutellatus
General Details, Taxonomy and Biology, Venom, Clinical Effects, Treatment, First Aid , Antivenoms
Oxyuranus scutellatus ( Coastal Taipan )  [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Family: Elapidae
Subfamily: Elapinae
Genus: Oxyuranus
Species: scutellatus
Subspecies: scutellatus
Common Names
( subsp. scutellatus ) Coastal Taipan, Common Taipan
Taxonomy and Biology
Adult Length: 1.20 m
General Shape
Large in length, slender, cylindrical bodied snake with a relatively long whip-like tail. Specimens can reach a maximum length of over 3.30 metres. Head is elongate, rectangular and distinct from the narrow neck. Supraocular scale is sharply shelved exaggerating the long brow ridge ( resulting in the "scowling expression" ). From above, the eye is almost obscured from view. Eyes are relatively large with round pupils. Fangs are long for an elapid. They can exceed 12 mm in length. Dorsal scales are feebly keeled, particularly on the neck and vertebral region ) and quite glossy.
Warm temperate to tropical climate in monsoon forest fringes, wet and dry open sclerophyll forest, woodlands and sugar cane plantations
Diurnal and crepuscular snake tending to nocturnal in hot weather. Extremely efficient hunter. Its bite is fast and accurate and its venom potent. It usually releases its prey after one or more jab-like bites and follows by sense of smell until the prey succumbs to the venom. Shelters in abandoned animal burrows ( especially those under tree roots and logs ), hollow or rotting logs and in deep leaf litter. Shy and alert species which will make a brisk escape if approached and is seldom seen. If cornered or provoked it will coil in loose, open loops with the forebody slightly raised and strike and release rapidly more than once if within range.
Feeds mainly on small mammals, particularly rats, mice and bandicoots, but will also eat birds and small lizards. Its preference for rats attracts them to rubbish dumps and sugar cane plantations near human settlement in the eastern range of its distribution.
Species Map
Small (Approx 20k) version
Average Venom Qty
120 mg ( dry weight ), Garnet (1970), ( Ref : R000688 ).

120 mg ( dry weight of milked venom ), Meier and White (1995) ( Ref : R000001 ).

100 to 200 mg ( dry weight ), Minton (1974) ( Ref : R000504 ).
Preferred LD50 Estimate
0.099 mg / kg sc ( mice ), Meier and White (1995) ( Ref : R000001 )
General: Venom Neurotoxins
Pre- & Post-synaptic neurotoxins
General: Venom Myotoxins
Systemic myotoxins present
General: Venom Procoagulants
Prothrombin convertors
General: Venom Anticoagulants
Possibly present
General: Venom Haemorrhagins
Possibly present
General: Venom Nephrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Cardiotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Necrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Other
Not present or not significant
Clinical Effects
General: Dangerousness
Severe envenoming likely, high lethality potential
General: Rate of Envenoming: >80%
General: Untreated Lethality Rate: >80%
General: Local Effects
Local pain & swelling
General: Local Necrosis
Not likely to occur
General: General Systemic Effects
Variable non-specific effects which may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, dizziness, collapse or convulsions
General: Neurotoxic Paralysis
Very common, flaccid paralysis is major clinical effect
General: Myotoxicity
Uncommon, usually moderate to severe
General: Coagulopathy & Haemorrhages
Very common, coagulopathy is major clinical effect
General: Renal Damage
Recognised complication, usually secondary to coagulopathy
General: Cardiotoxicity
Unlikely to occur
General: Other
Not likely to occur
First Aid
Description: First aid for bites by Elapid snakes which do not cause significant injury at the bite site (see Comments for partial listing), but which may have the potential to cause significant general (systemic) effects, such as paralysis, muscle damage, or bleeding.
1. After ensuring the patient and onlookers have moved out of range of further strikes by the snake, the bitten person should be reassured and persuaded to lie down and remain still. Many will be terrified, fearing sudden death and, in this mood, they may behave irrationally or even hysterically. The basis for reassurance is the fact that many venomous bites do not result in envenoming, the relatively slow progression to severe envenoming (hours following elapid bites, days following viper bites) and the effectiveness of modern medical treatment.
2. The bite wound should not be tampered with in any way. Wiping it once with a damp cloth to remove surface venom is unlikely to do much harm (or good) but the wound must not be massaged. For Australian snakes only, do not wash or clean the wound in any way, as this may interfere with later venom detection once in a hospital.
3. All rings or other jewellery on the bitten limb, especially on fingers, should be removed, as they may act as tourniquets if oedema develops.
4. If the bite is on a limb, a broad bandage (even torn strips of clothing or pantyhose) should be applied over the bitten area at moderate pressure (as for a sprain; not so tight circulation is impaired), then extended to cover as much of the bitten limb as possible, including fingers or toes, going over the top of clothing rather than risking excessive limb movement by removing clothing. The bitten limb should then be immobilised as effectively as possible using an extemporised splint or sling.
5. If there is any impairment of vital functions, such as problems with respiration, airway, circulation, heart function, these must be supported as a priority. In particular, for bites causing flaccid paralysis, including respiratory paralysis, both airway and respiration may be impaired, requiring urgent and prolonged treatment, which may include the mouth to mask (mouth to mouth) technique of expired air transfer. Seek urgent medical attention.
6. Do not use Tourniquets, cut, suck or scarify the wound or apply chemicals or electric shock.
7. Avoid peroral intake, absolutely no alcohol. No sedatives outside hospital. If there will be considerable delay before reaching medical aid, measured in several hours to days, then give clear fluids by mouth to prevent dehydration.
8. If the offending snake has been killed it should be brought with the patient for identification (only relevant in areas where there are more than one naturally occurring venomous snake species), but be careful to avoid touching the head, as even a dead snake can envenom. No attempt should be made to pursue the snake into the undergrowth as this will risk further bites.
9. The snakebite victim should be transported as quickly and as passively as possible to the nearest place where they can be seen by a medically-trained person (health station, dispensary, clinic or hospital). The bitten limb must not be exercised as muscular contraction will promote systemic absorption of venom. If no motor vehicle or boat is available, the patient can be carried on a stretcher or hurdle, on the pillion or crossbar of a bicycle or on someone's back.
10. Most traditional, and many of the more recently fashionable, first aid measures are useless and potentially dangerous. These include local cauterization, incision, excision, amputation, suction by mouth, vacuum pump or syringe, combined incision and suction ("venom-ex" apparatus), injection or instillation of compounds such as potassium permanganate, phenol (carbolic soap) and trypsin, application of electric shocks or ice (cryotherapy), use of traditional herbal, folk and other remedies including the ingestion of emetic plant products and parts of the snake, multiple incisions, tattooing and so on.
Treatment Summary
Taipan bites have a very high lethality potential and require urgent assessment. Most cases will develop systemic envenoming, often rapidly, requiring antivenom therapy.
Key Diagnostic Features
Minimal to mild local reaction + flaccid paralysis, defibrination coagulopathy ± myolysis ± renal damage
General Approach to Management
All cases should be treated as urgent & potentially lethal. Rapid assessment & commencement of treatment including appropriate antivenom (if indicated & available) is mandatory. Admit all cases.
Antivenom Therapy
Antivenom is the key treatment for systemic envenoming. Multiple doses may be required.
1. Antivenom Code: SAuCSL08
Antivenom Name: Taipan Antivenom
Manufacturer: CSL Limited
Phone: ++61-3-9389-1911
Toll free: 1800 642 865
Address: 45 Poplar Road
Victoria 3052
Country: Australia
2. Antivenom Code: SAuCSL12
Antivenom Name: Polyvalent Snake Antivenom ( Australia - New Guinea )
Manufacturer: CSL Limited
Phone: ++61-3-9389-1911
Toll free: 1800 642 865
Address: 45 Poplar Road
Victoria 3052
Country: Australia
Oxyuranus scutellatus ( Coastal Taipan ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Oxyuranus scutellatus ( Coastal Taipan ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Oxyuranus scutellatus ( Coastal Taipan ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
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