Coastal Taipan Fact File
The coastal taipan is the largest species of venomous snake in Australia. Their length may reach up to 3.5m (11.5ft) long and weigh up to 5kg (11lbs). Males have a slightly larger body than the females.
They have a moderate or slender body. Their head is large and long with an angular brow. The eye features an orange-brown iris and a round black pupil.
Their body is covered by keeled scales which are colored tan or yellowish, blackish or reddish brown. On the underside they are cream with orange spots. Across the face and snout they have a cream flush. This may darken as they age but the snout remains pale.
The coloration of a coastal taipan is slightly variable across the seasons.
Coastal taipans have a similar appearance to the related eastern brown snake and they are often confused for this species.
Coastal taipans are carnivores. Their diet includes mammals such as rodents, bandicoots and quolls. They will also feed on birds with reptiles such as lizards also being eaten. Food is swallowed whole.
Their food sources have expanded with the introduction of domestic rats and mice.
Due to the large size of the prey items they consume they may only need to eat a few times each year.
Food is struck quickly and injected with their potent venom. They will then release the prey and wait till it dies. This reduces the risk that they are attacked by the prey item.
Their venom comprises two parts. One acts on the nervous system to stop the muscles from working while the other prevents the blood from clotting so they bleed to death.
They can sense their food by flicking out the tongue which captures scents that are then processed by the Jacobson’s organ on the roof of their mouth.
Australia and New Guinea are the native home of the coastal taipan. As their name suggests they are found along the coast of Australia from Western Australia across the Northern Territory and Queensland down to New South Wales.
They can be found in a wide variety of habitats including rainforests, sclerophyll forest, woodlands, grassy paddocks and sand dunes.
With the expansion of human habitations they may be found in cane fields or rubbish tips.
Coastal taipans will shelter in an abandoned burrow, hollow log or piles of vegetation.
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Mating can occur anytime between March and December with gravid females spotted during spring.
Males engage in a ritualistic combat display when competing for breeding rights. The pair will coil around one another and work to force the head of their opponent to the ground. These displays may last for hours.
A female will lay between 7 and 20 eggs which are shaped like a pill. These soft shelled eggs are placed in a hollow log, under a tree root or in a ground cavity.
These incubate for an average of 68 days before hatching. The length of the incubation is dependent on the temperature.
Females abandon the nest after laying the eggs and have no involvement in raising their young.
Males will reach sexual maturity at 16 months old while females develop later at 28 months old.
Most of their activity occurs at dawn and dusk. When it is extremely warm they will become nocturnal. They are most active in late winter and early spring.
Predators and Threats
The coastal taipan rarely faces predators as adults. Younger animals will be preyed upon by goannas and birds of prey.
Humans kill them due to the perceived threat to human safety.
Prior to the development of antivenom few people had survived a bite from the coastal taipan. Since this anitvenom was developed in 1956 the number of deaths has been reduced. They are still regarded as one of the most dangerous species in Australia.
Humans catch them to keep in the pet trade.
The name ‘taipan’ comes from the Aboriginal people of the Cape York Peninsula.
Coastal taipans are also known as eastern taipans.
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By Danny S. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58424600
By AllenMcC. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4442021
By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35477739
By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus) close-up, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40775403
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Beatson, C., 2020. Coastal Taipan. [online] The Australian Museum. Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/reptiles/coastal-taipan/> [Accessed 15 November 2020].
Billabong Sanctuary. 2020. Billabong Sanctuary – Australian Native Wildlife Park Townsville. [online] Available at: <https://www.billabongsanctuary.com.au/coastal-taipan/> [Accessed 15 November 2020].
Australia Zoo. 2020. Check Out Our Coastal Taipan At Australia Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.australiazoo.com.au/wildlife/our-animals/taipan/> [Accessed 15 November 2020].
Tallowin, O., Parker, F., O’Shea, M., Hoskin, C., Vanderduys, E., Amey, A. & Couper, P. 2018. Oxyuranus scutellatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T42493166A42493177. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T42493166A42493177.en. Downloaded on 15 November 2020.