The Top 6 Most Venomous Snakes in Taiwan and How to Handle Them (Terrestrial)
Occasionally you will hear Taiwanese refer to a defunct snake research facility which used to exist behind Jiantan during the Japanese colonial area as being the source of snakes in Yangmingshan. You might also hear that snakes didn't exist in Yangmingshan until the Japanese released them into the wild as they adandoned the facility. As exciting as this sounds, the facility was used to the production of antivenin and Yangmingshan was already covered with indigenous venomous snakes of many species at that time.
You might be surprised to learn that Taiwan is one of the most species diverse countries when it comes to venomous snakes. In fact, there are 16 species of venomous snakes in Taiwan, and over 40 species in total.
When hiking in the mountains, there are 6 species of terrestrial snake (meaning they live primarily on land) that everyone should be conscious of. Taiwan also has its fair share of aquatic snakes, some of which are venomous, but their habitat is confined to the east coast and outlying islands.
Each of these six terrestrial species has the opportunity to take a life, however, statistically this is nearly never the case.
Only one third of snake bites reported in Taiwan involve venomous snakes.
Even if you were to be bit by a venomous snake, you can rest easy knowing that the mortality rate for venomous snake bites in Taiwan is less than 1%! This is because for even the most potent of venom, Taiwan has stockpiled an ample amounts of antivenin.
Top 6 Common Venomous Snakes in Taiwan
Chinese Green Tree Viper, Bamboo Viper 赤尾青竹絲
#1 Bites (~30%) / #5 Deaths
- Very common throughout Taiwan up to 1500 m.
- Prefers forests and mountainous terrain
Length: Up to ~90cm
Identifying Characteristics: Triangular head, red eyes, white stripes along both side of body, reddish-brown tail
Taiwan Habu, Brown Spotted Pit Viper, Chinese Habu 龜殼花
#2 Bites (~23%) / #4 Deaths
- Very common throughout Taiwan up to 1000 meters altitude.
HIGHLY VENOMOUS / NOTORIOUSLY AGGRESIVE
Length: Up to ~150cm
Identifying Characteristics: Flat triangular head that is distinct from the body. Eyes high on head.
Many-Banded Krait 雨傘節
#3 (~5%) Bites / #2 Deaths
- Very common throughout Taiwan: forests, bamboo forests, swamp, residences up to 1000 meters altitude.
Length: Up to ~180cm
Identifying Characteristics: Oval head, pattern of white / mottled gray bands running down length of body
Chinese Cobra 眼鏡蛇
#4 (~13%) Bites/ #3 Deaths
- Prefers less-humid cultivated land up to 1000m (less common in Northern Taiwan)
- Up to 2 meters long
Length: Up to ~200cm (Large)
Identifying Characteristics: Broad, triangular head slightly disctinct from body; body color white to gray with glossy scales
Hundred-Pacer, Chinese Moccasin, Chinese Sharp-nosed Viper 百步蛇
#5 (~1.5%) Bites / #1 Deaths
- Central and Southern Taiwan, in mountainous terrain between 500-1500m in elevation. Rare.
- Culturally significant to indigenous populations
Length: Up to ~150cm
Identifying Characteristics: Head is distinct and triangular with a nose that looks like an upturned snout, head color is yellow to dirty white.
Russell's Viper 鎖蛇
#6 (0.5%) Bites / #6 Deaths
- Localized areas of southern and south-eastern Taiwan, up to 500 m altitude. Rare. (Hualien / Taidong / Pingtung)
Length: Up to ~130cm
Identifying Characteristics: Distinct triangular head, large and prominant nostrils located on side of nose, white to light brown blotches down body
If You See a Snake:
- Back Away slowly.
- Find a route around the snake that is greater than 3-4 times its body length. ( >2m )
- Attempt to handle or startle the snake. Most snakes are not aggressive by nature but bite out of fear or when they feel they have no options left. Most snakes will choose to leave the area peacefully given the chance. GIVE THEM THE CHANCE.
If You Are Bitten By a Snake:
- Ensure the safety of yourself and other team members first.
- Remember the snake’s identifying characteristics.
- Stop any major blood loss.
- Splint the wound if on an extremity and keep it below heart level. Use a marker to draw circles (and write the time) with to track the swelling.
- Keep the patient warm and hydrated.
- Notify emergency services (119) in Taiwan and start heading back to the trailhead.
- Do not try to remove the venom in any way. *
- Do not try to capture or kill the snake. This could result in further bites.
*Venom is typically absorb within 15 seconds. The margin of success is negligible and your time is better spent providing efficient aid to the victim. This includes venom removal kits.