Poisonous Snakes of India

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Snakes are one of the most dreaded and feared creatures in the entire Animal Kingdom. Though many religions have depicted snakes to be holy and to be worshipped, but still, most of the human race is obsessed with attaching the tag of fear with anything that is related to snakes.

India, with its vast variety of climates and natural vegetation, is home to more than 200 species of land snakes. It is therefore, obvious that encounters with snakes is very common all around the country. And so, it is all the more essential to know important facts about snakes, contrary to myths that go around demonizing all snakes.

Despite the large no. of snake species, there are only 5 species of venomous (poisonous) snakes in India. They are :

1. The King Cobra
2. The common Cobra
3. The common Krait
4. Russel’s Viper
5. Saw-scaled Viper

The most important thing when finding a snake unexpectedly is to find out whether it is a venomous or non-venomous snake. The following chart makes it easy to ascertain this very fact.

The important points to know about each of these poisonous snakes are as follows:

1. The King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

One is not expected to encounter a King Cobra usually, unless one ventures deep into the dense rain forests, which are the homes to this highly poisonous snake. The King Cobra can be identified by its large size (upto 12-13 feet) and a “^” sign on its neck. It does not bear the usual ‘spectacle’ mark like the common Cobra. It’s venom is neurotoxic (affects the nervous system) as well as slightly cardiotoxic (affects the heart).

2. The Common Cobra (Naja)

One of the most commonly recognized of Indian snakes, the Cobra is easily identified by its hood and a single or double spectacle mark on the hood. Though the hood cannot be seen in a dead Cobra, the snake retracts its hood usually while in motion. It can grow to a length of 2 metres. The common Cobra is a somewhat aggressive snake, having a neurotoxic and slightly hemotoxic (affects the blood) venom.

3. The common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus)

The Krait is probably the most common poisonous snake found across India. Though it is smaller than a cobra in length, it’s body is darker in color ranging from a blue-black to a bluish grey. The most striking mark of identification is the presence of white cross bands throughout its body. It is essentially a nocturnal hunter and is seldom encountered during the day. It has an extremely neurotoxic venom which leads to rapid muscle paralysis. It’s venom is much more toxic than that of a cobra.

4. Russel’s Viper (Daboia russelii)

The Russel’s Viper is another common Indian poisonous snake which is less closely associated with human settlements than cobras or Kraits. It is also a nocturnal hunter ,but ,becomes diurnal during cool days. When threatened, they curve their body in the form of ‘S’ shaped loops and produce a hissing sound louder than any other snake. They can be easily identified by the presence of 3 series of dark brown spots on the back of a yellow, tan, or brown body. The important point in the identification is the presence of a black ring around each of these spots and further intensified by a rim of yellow or white. There are other harmless snakes with similar dark spots on their backs, but they are not circumscribed by a black ring. The Russel’s Viper has a highly hemotoxic venom.

5. Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus)

It is a small snake which may grow up to two and a half feet. It has small, white, diamond-shaped and somewhat square patches along the middle of the back. The head has a distinct white mark, which may sometimes resemble a trident. When disturbed, it coils itself up in the shape of the figure ‘8’. It rubs its body producing a sound like that of sandpaper. Each of its scales is ridged in the middle like a saw, hence its name, the saw-scaled viper. Its venom is highly hemotoxic.

Though the above five are the only poisonous snakes one can find in India, the various sea-snakes are an addition to these poisonous snakes, as all sea snakes are deadly poisonous. But it is rare to encounter a sea snake commonly.

Apart from these, the only other snake which can cause some harm to humans is the Python. But pythons are usually very lazy creatures and not usually big enough to trouble adult humans.

In spite of the presence of such common poisonous snakes around human habitat, still the most commonly found snake in everyday-life is the harmless ‘Rat-snake’. It is a dull colored average sized snake which feeds on rodents as its name suggests. It is commonly mistaken to be poisonous, and hence is killed.

One can find the various remedies for a snake-bite all around. But what is important is to keep a few important tips in mind when encountering a snake.

  • Do not panic and run around on seeing a snake. There may be other snakes around too which you might step upon.
  • Stay dead still if you are within striking distance of the snake.
  • Hold your nerves. Do not disturb or provoke the snake. It will more often than not move away from you itself.
  • Do not approach a snake when it is cornered. (For that matter, any animal that is cornered is expected to attack when approached !)
  • Using the above features, try to identify whether the snake is poisonous or not. But do not try to handle it by yourself or by any stick or any other object.
  • The snake is bound to move to a hiding place. Keep a lookout for his movements if it is entering a house or a room while keeping a safe distance. (So that it can be easily found if and when some wildlife support staff arrives for help.)
  • Never try your agility even if the snake looks tired and still. It can attack with the quickest of reactions if you get too close.
  • Most importantly, do not kill the snake just because it is a snake. Snakes are living beings too and will not harm you unless you disturb them.

Picture Credits: Google Images

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Hitesh said...

i have seen some..... but not in the urban areas thank god to tht...... i have seen some... but that was when i was in Uttrakhand when it wasn't uttrakhand..... meaning then it was U.P.

don't know which of these category they belonged......but i found out that people don't get killed by snakes that often but because of the fear of snakes........ people let their guard down....and are really afraid of them........ when snakes aren't that lethal......

November 2, 2010 at 10:55 PM
Kaddu said...

I have seen some of these snakes safely tucked away in those baskets you know... the "sapera" shows that we watched as kids! :p

Then we had a live snake visit my apartment building last month. That one was probably not poisonous, didn't look anything like these 5, but it got killed nevertheless. In fact, that incident actually led to the creation of this post. 'Coz people don't really know which snakes are dangerous & which aren't.

November 2, 2010 at 11:48 PM
Shobhit said...

Exactly ! :)

Hitesh, looking at the extent and speed of urbanization, more and more wild animals are now turning to cities. Though I doubt whether the snakes which you saw in Uttarakhand (when it was U.P.) have kept their loyalities with U.P. :P More so because U.P. is no less troublesome to animals than it is for humans... :P

Co-incidentally, as Kaddu pointed out elsewhere, I managed to catch a small snake in my house just the next evening of this post being published and rescued it to safety. :)

November 3, 2010 at 1:20 AM
Avada Kedavra said...

very informative shobhit! Never knew so much about snakes!

November 9, 2010 at 3:05 PM
Paras Lehana said...

Today, a snake entered my house and I didn't know about till it entered my room. It was about 1 m long and brown in color. As soon as I told my parents, they called out the security guards guarding the Campus I'm living in. Though I hated it, they killed it. :(
We humans are not the superior of all the species... we are just a part of the Planet Earth. Just because we are scared of snakes, we have no right to kill them. The incident made me read articles like this one and through my research done today, I've concluded that the snake I encountered today in my house was non-venomous. I really didn't want to kill it (even if it was venomous - at least, we can try the other ways first!). I can remember how the poor snake was getting threatened by us. Obviously, we know they don't enter our houses to kill us. Brutal killing of that poor guy really made my day bad. :(

Well, the article is really awesome. I wanted one specifically on Indian Snakes. Animal Control is really pathetic here and the articles like these ones are really helpful.

Thanks Sir :)

Paras Lehana (17)
Jammu, JK, North India, India

September 30, 2013 at 11:49 PM

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