McCoy's taipan is a vicious reptile and is considered one of the most venomous land snakes. But because it lives in the sparsely populated areas of Australia and is quite secretive, biting accidents are rare. It is the only snake in Australia that can change its color. During the hot summer months it is light in color — mostly greenish in color, which helps to better reflect the sun's rays and camouflage. During the winter, McCoy's taipan becomes darker, allowing it to absorb more sunlight. It has also been observed that its head is darker in the early morning and becomes lighter during the day.
Origin of the species and description
Two Australian taipan, taipan (O. scutellatus) and McCoy's taipan (O. microlepidotus) share common ancestors. The study of the mitochondrial genes of these species indicates an evolutionary divergence from a common ancestor about 9-10 million years ago. Taipan McCoy was known to Australian Aborigines 40,000–60,000 years ago. Aboriginal people in what is now Goyder Lagoon in northeastern South Australia called McCoy's taipan Dandarabilla.
Video: McCoy's taipan snake
This taipan first attracted attention in 1879. Two specimens of the ferocious snake were found at the confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers in northwest Victoria and described by Frederick McCoy, who named the species Diemenia microlepidota. In 1882, a third specimen was found near Bourke, New South Wales, and D. Macleay described the same snake as Diemenia ferox (believing it to be a different species). In 1896, George Albert Bulenger classified both snakes as belonging to the same genus, Pseudechis.
Fun fact: Oxyuranus microlepidotus — a binomial name for a snake since the early 1980s. The generic name Oxyuranus is from the Greek OXYS “sharp, needle-like” and Ouranos “arch” (particularly vault of heaven) and refers to a needle-like fixture on the vault of the palate, the specific name microlepidotus meaning “finely scalable” (Latin).
Because it was determined that the snake (formerly: Parademansia microlepidota) was actually part of the genus Oxyuranus (taipan) and another species, Oxyuranus scutellatus, previously known simply as taipan (a name derived from the name of the snake in the Dhayban Aboriginal language), was classified as coastal the taipan, and the more recently identified Oxyuranus microlepidotus, became commonly known as McCoy's (or western) taipan. After the first descriptions of the snake, information about it was not received until 1972, when this species was rediscovered.
Appearance and features
McCoy's taipan has a dark coloration that ranges from rich dark to light brown-green (depending on the season). The back, flanks and tail include various shades of gray and brown, with many of the scales having a broad blackish edge. The scales marked in dark are arranged in diagonal rows, forming a matching pattern with marks of variable length sloping back and down. The lower lateral scales often have an anterior yellow edge, the dorsal scales are smooth.
The head and neck with a rounded nose are shades much darker than the body (glossy black in winter, dark brown in summer). The darker color allows the taipan McCoy to heat itself better, exposing only a small part of the body at the entrance to the burrow. The medium-sized eyes have a blackish-brown iris and no noticeable rim of color around the pupil.
Fun fact: Taipan McCoy can adapt its color to the outside temperature, so it is lighter in summer and darker in winter.
Taipan McCoy has 23 rows of dorsal scales in the midbody, with 55 to 70 divided subcaudal scales. The average length of the snake is approximately 1.8 m, although large specimens can reach a total length of 2.5 m. Its fangs are 3.5 to 6.2 mm long (shorter than those of the coastal taipan).
Now you know about the most venomous snake, McCoy's taipan. Let's see where it lives and what it eats.
Where does McCoy's taipan live?
This taipan lives on the black earth plains in semi-arid regions where the borders of Queensland and South Australia converge. It lives mainly in a small area in hot deserts, but there are reports of isolated sightings in the southern part of New South Wales. Their habitat is located far in the outback. In addition, their distribution area is not very large. Encounters between people and McCoy's taipan are rare, because the snake is very secretive and prefers to settle in areas remote from human habitations. There she feels free, especially in dry rivers and streams with rare bushes.
Taipan McCoy is endemic to mainland Australia. Its range has not been fully explored, as these snakes are difficult to track due to their stealth behavior, and because they are adept at hiding in cracks and breaks in the soil.
In Queensland, the snake has been observed:
- Diamantina National Park;
- Durrie and Plains Morney Cattle Stations;
- Astrebla Downs National Park.
Besides this appearance these snakes have been recorded in South Australia:
- Goyder Lagoon;
- Tirari Desert;
- Sturt Rocky Desert;
- near Lake Kungi;
- in the Innamincka Regional Nature Reserve;
- in the suburbs of Odnadatta.
An isolated population is also found near the small underground city of Coober Pedy. There are two old records of settlements further southeast where the presence of McCoy's taipan snake has been found: the confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers in northwest Victoria (1879) and the town of Bourke, New South Wales (1882) . However, the species has not been seen in any of these places since.
What does McCoy's taipan eat?
In the wild, the taipan maccoy only consumes mammals, mainly rodents, such as long-haired rat (R. villosissimus), plains mice (P. australis), marsupial jerboas (A. laniger), house mouse (Mus musculus) and other dasyurids, and also birds and lizards. In captivity, he can eat day-old chickens.
Interesting fact: Taipan McCoy's fangs are up to 10 mm long, with which he can even bite through strong leather shoes.
Unlike other venomous snakes that strike with one precise bite and then retreat, waiting for the death of the victim, the ferocious snake subdues the victim with a series of fast, accurate blows. Up to eight venomous bites have been known to be delivered in a single attack, often snapping its jaws violently to inflict multiple piercings in the same attack. Taipan McCoy's more risky attack strategy involves holding the victim with his body and repeatedly biting. It injects an extremely poisonous venom deep into the victim. The poison acts so quickly that the prey does not have time to fight back.
McCoy's taipans are rarely seen in the wild with humans due to their remote location and brief surface appearances during the day. If they do not create much vibration and noise, they are not disturbed by the presence of a person. However, care must be taken and a safe distance must be observed as this can result in a potentially fatal bite. Taipan McCoy will defend himself and strike if provoked, mistreated, or prevented from escaping.
Character and Lifestyle Features
The inland taipan is considered the most venomous snake on earth, with venom many times stronger than that of a cobra. After a snakebite, death can occur within 45 minutes if antiserum is not administered. She is active day and night depending on the season. Only in the middle of summer, McCoy's taipan goes hunting exclusively at night and retreats during the day to abandoned mammal burrows.
Interesting fact: In English, the snake is called “wild ferocious snake.” The Taipan McCoy got this name from farmers because it sometimes follows cattle in the pastures while hunting. Due to its discovery story and strong toxicity, it became the most famous snake in Australia in the mid-1980s.
However, McCoy's taipan is a rather shy animal that runs and hides in case of danger in holes underground. However, if escape is not possible, they move into a defensive position and wait for the right moment to bite the attacker. If you come across this species, you can never feel safe when the snake makes a quiet impression.
Like most snakes, even McCoy's tailan retains its aggressive behavior as long as it thinks it's dangerous. Once he understands that you do not want to harm him, he loses all aggressiveness, and it is almost safe to be in close proximity to him. To date, only a few people have been bitten by this species, and all have survived thanks to the prompt application of proper first aid and hospital treatment.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Behavior typical of male combat has been recorded in late winter between two large but neosexual individuals. During an approximately half-hour fight, the snakes intertwined, raised their heads and front of the body, and “plunged” at each other with their mouths closed. Taipan McCoy presumably mates in the wild in late winter.
Females lay their eggs in mid-spring (second half of November). Clutch size varies from 11 to 20, with an average of 16. The eggs measure 6 x 3.5 cm. They take 9-11 weeks to hatch at 27-30°C. Newborn babies have a total length of about 47 cm. In captivity, females can produce two clutches during one breeding season.
Fun fact: According to the International Species Information System, McCoy's taipan is kept in three zoo collections: Adelaide, Sydney and the Moscow Zoo in Russia. At the Moscow Zoo, they are kept in the “House of Reptiles”, which is usually not open to the general public.
Eggs are usually laid in abandoned animal burrows and deep crevices. The rate of reproduction depends partly on their diet: if there is not enough food, the snake breeds less. Captive snakes usually live 10 to 15 years. One specimen of the taipan has lived in the Australian Zoo for over 20 years.
The species goes through “ups and downs” cycles, with populations growing to plague size during good seasons and virtually disappearing during dry seasons. When the main food is plentiful, snakes grow quickly and become fat, however, once food is gone, snakes must depend on less common prey and/or use their fat reserves until better times.
Natural enemies of McCoy's taipan
When threatened, McCoy's taipan can demonstrate threat by raising the front of the face in a hard, low S-curve. At this time, he directs his head in the direction of the threat. If the attacker chooses to ignore the warning, the snake will strike first if possible. But this does not always happen. Very often, McCoy's tampai just crawls away very quickly and only attacks if there is no way out. It is an extremely fast and agile snake that can strike instantly with extreme accuracy.
The list of Taipan McCoy's enemies is very short. The reptile's venom is more toxic than any other snake. The mulga snake (Pseudechis australis) is immune to most Australian snake venom and is also known to eat young McCoy taipans. In addition, the giant monitor lizard (Varanus giganteus), which shares the same habitat and readily preys on large venomous snakes. Unlike most snakes, the inland taipan is a specialized hunter of mammals, so its venom is specifically adapted to kill warm-blooded species.
Fun Fact: It has been estimated that a single snakebite has enough lethality to kill at least 100 adult males and, depending on the nature of the bite, can be fatal in as little as 30-45 minutes if left untreated.
Taipan McCoy will defend and strike if provoked. But because the snake lives in remote places, it rarely comes into contact with humans, so it is not considered the deadliest in the world, especially in terms of human deaths per year. The English name “ferocious” indicates its poison rather than its temperament.
Population and species status
Like any Australian snake, McCoy's taipan is protected by law in Australia. The snake's conservation status was first assessed for the IUCN Red List in July 2017, and in 2018 it was designated as Least Concern for Extinction. This species is listed as Least Concern because it is widespread in its range and its population is not declining. Although the impact of potential threats requires further research.
The conservation status of the McCoy taipan has also been determined by official sources in Australia:
- South Australia: (Regional Outback Status) Least Concern;
- Queensland: Rare (pre-2010), Critically Endangered (May 2010 — Dec 2014), Least Concern (December 2014 — present);
- New South Wales: believed to be extinct. Based on the criteria, it has not been recorded in its habitat despite surveys at times appropriate to their life history and type;
- Victoria: regionally extinct. Based on the criteria “As for extinct, but within a specific region (in this case the state of Victoria) that does not cover the entire geographic range of the taxon.
McCoy's taipan snake is considered extinct in some areas, t .to. exhaustive covert surveys in known and/or expected habitats, at appropriate times (daily, seasonal, annual) throughout the region failed to record single individuals. Surveys were carried out over a period of time corresponding to the life cycle and life form of the taxon.