Nature conservation

Threatened species

Fierce Snake - profile

Indicative distribution

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The areas shown in pink and/purple are the sub-regions where the species or community is known or predicted to occur. They may not occur thoughout the sub-region but may be restricted to certain areas. ( click here to see geographic restrictions). The information presented in this map is only indicative and may contain errors and omissions.
Scientific name: Oxyuranus microlepidotus
Conservation status in NSW: Extinct
Commonwealth status: Not listed
Profile last updated: 07 Sep 2017


The Fierce Snake (Oxyuranus microlepidotus), also known as the Western Taipan, is native to Australia and is regarded as the most venomous land snake in the world. 

Although highly venomous, it is very shy and reclusive, and prefers to escape from trouble (the word "fierce" derived from its alternate name describes its venom, not its temperament).    

The Fierce Snake can reach a total length of 2.5 metres, although 1.8 metres is the more common length.   

The snake is dark tan, ranging from a rich, dark hue to a brown olive-green. Its back, sides and tail may be different shades of brown and grey, with many scales having a wide blackish edge. These dark-marked scales occur in diagonal rows so that the marks align to form broken chevrons of variable length that are inclined backward and downward. The lowermost lateral scales often have an anterior yellow edge. The dorsal scales are smooth and without keels. The round-snouted head and neck are usually noticeably darker than the body the darker colour allowing the snake to heat itself while only exposing a smaller portion of the body at the burrow entrance.


Dramatic seasonal colour changes take place, with a darker winter and lighter summer coloration. These changes are an adaptation to the harsh outback climate, the darker markings absorbing heat more efficiently in winter and the reverse in summer. The head especially may take on an almost glossy black appearance at times.  

The eye is of average size with a blackish brown iris and without a noticeable coloured rim around the pupil. It has twenty-three rows of mid-body scales, between fifty-five and seventy divided subcaudal scales, and one anal scale.


The Fierce Snake is native to the arid regions of central Australia. Its range extends from the southeast part of the Northern Territory into west Queensland. The snake can also be found north of Lake Eyre and to the west of the split of the Murray River, Darling River, and Murrumbidgee River.

Habitat and ecology

  • The Fierce Snake inhabits the black soil plains in the region where Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory borders converge. There is little cover or vegetation in these areas and the snakes utilise the deep cracks and fissures formed in the dry soil to escape predators and the searing heat.
  • The diet of the Fierce Snake is almost solely composed of small mammals, particularly native rats, which at times reach plague proportions in this region.
  • Unlike other venomous snakes that strike with a single, accurate bite then retreat while waiting for the prey to die, the Fierce Snake subdue the prey with a series of rapid, accurate strikes. It is known to deliver up to eight venomous bites in a single attack. This injects the extremely toxic venom deep into the prey. The venom is unequaled in toxicity amongst any snake anywhere in the world.
  • Fierce Snake produce clutches of between one and two dozen eggs. The eggs hatch two months later. They are usually laid in abandoned animal burrows and deep crevices. Reproduction rate is infulenced by the availability of food. If food is scarce, the snake will reproduce less.


Recovery strategies

Activities to assist this species

IBRA Bioregion IBRA Subregion Known or predicted Geographic restrictions region
Other StateQLD Known None