New Species of Venomous Snake Identified in Australia

The desert whip snake won't kill you, but a bite will cause some pretty serious pain
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desert whip snake in australia
The desert whip snake's body transitions from a copper color to blue and back to copper near the tail. Mark Hutchinson / Wikimedia Commons

After being misidentified countless times as one of the 14 other species of venomous whip snakes that live in Australia, the desert whip snake has received its own classification, researchers from the University of Adelaide report. It took a series of tissue analyses for biologists to differentiate Demansia cyanochasma from the other whip snakes.

“Unlike other species of whip snake, the desert whip snake has a blueish body with a copper head and tail. It also doesn’t have as much black on its scales as its closest relative,” DNA researcher and study author Dr. James Nankivell writes in the press release. “These subtle but consistent differences in external appearance and genetic evidence have led to us identifying this new species of whip snake.”

The snake’s coloration is the inspiration for its name. Cyanochasma translates into “blue gap,” researchers write. Its blue body separates the copper-colored head and tail.

Whip snakes are active hunters that chase down their prey before delivering a fatal bite. They can achieve land speeds of up to five miles per hour and do most of their hunting during the day. This distinguishes them from most other snakes, which typically lie in wait until their prey comes within striking range. Whip snakes commonly feed on lizards and their eggs.

While the desert whip snake is technically poisonous, its venom is only effective on smaller animals, and researchers say that a bite from one won’t kill a human. (Although it will cause a painful wound and swelling.) They’re also more likely to slither away from you than sink their fangs into your ankle.

“Bites from whip snakes are extremely rare as they are very shy and tend to flee at the first sign of danger,” says Nankivell.

He also explained in an interview with 9News that whip snakes are the most diverse family of venomous snake species in Australia, and that slight differences in coloration are the only way to tell them apart.

“There are 15 species we know of but it’s possible more species are out there,” he said. “Probably in the tropics.”

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The desert whip snake joins a long list of species that humans visiting or living in Australia must be on the lookout for, both on land and in the water. One time, a spearfisherman had to ward off an attacking bull shark by stabbing it with his spear gun. Another time, former OL shooting editor Jim Carmichel stood down a water buffalo that didn’t yet realize a bullet had gone through its heart.