Snakes Harmful and HarmlessTM


1980-2016 (March)

Since 1980 there have been 51 deaths (33 involving brownsnakes) Australia-wide attributed to snakes (some of interstate's recent Australian deaths – 60 yr male March 2013 Sth Bellingen, NSW - believed bitten by Stephens' Banded Snake, succumbing 7 days after bite; 26 yr male April 2013 Darwin, NT - bitten while handling "brown" snake prior to running; and 59 yr female November 2013 Raymond Terrace, NSW - believed bitten in garden.

A six year old girl from near Walgett, NSW died after believed bitten on 5th Feb 2016. No one was initially aware she had taken a bite. The message here is that brownsnake bites are most often painless!

The following 13 deaths in WA could have resulted from snakebite envenomation (8 from treading on snake and 5 from handling snake) -  

Cervantes - 4 Oct 1986: female, 61 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis). Bitten 3pm on lower leg. No first aid applied. Walked a considerable distance after bite. Died 4.30pm.

Carnarvon 24 April 1989: female, 33 months. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis) Unwitnessed bite to lower leg, therefore no first aid applied. Snakebite determined as cause during autopsy.

Derby 24 Feb 1993: male, 31 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis). Unwitnessed. Snake in bucket, victim found unconscious with head injuries. Assumed to have been bitten resulting in a fall. Antivenom administered at Derby Hospital but with no improvement patient air-ambulanced to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital where he died. Although in the literature as death from snakebite, personal communications with medical scientists involved suggest inconclusive evidence for confirmation as such.

Spearwood (Perth) 1 Nov 1993: female, 72 years. Spotted Brown Snake or Dugite (Pseudonaja a. affinis). Felt sick while hanging out washing and queried whether a snake sighted a half hour earlier may have bitten her. Died 22 hours later from cerebral haemorrhage.

Fitzroy 6 Feb 1994: male, 2 years. Northern Death Adder (Acanthophis cryptamydros). Child believed to have trod on snake at night although bite not witnessed. Died 3 hours later. Snakebite determined by autopsy.

Tarmoola [Gold Mine], North of Leonora 4 Dec 1997: male, 33 years (Murray Plane). Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis). Man inebriated and handling snake that he and friends found in miners' quarters during the night of 1 Dec. Signs of multiple bites on hands. No immediate first aid. Air-ambulanced to Royal Perth Hospital where he subsequently died on 4 Dec. - determined to be deceased while on ventilator.

Broome Region 31 Oct 1998: male, 9 years. Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus). Lad believed to have trod on snake in the early morning although bite not witnessed. Died in vehicle while being transported from Bidyadanga community to Broome Hospital, 180 kilometres north.

High Wycombe (Perth) 5 Nov 1998: male, 14 years, 11 months. Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus). Lad bitten on left hand while photographing/filming snake on afternoon of 3 Nov. No immediate effective first aid for hypersensitivity. Extremely rapid collapse possibly related to an anaphylactic episode. Heart stopped in ambulance, defibrillation required to restart. Both polyvalent and specific antivenom administered. Determined to be deceased while on ventilator.

Broome Rifle Club 29 Nov 1999: male, 35 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis). Snake caught by caretaker on the afternoon of 27 Nov. and was bitten while showing his son the snake being placed in a bag. Received 4 ampoules of Brown Snake antivenom in Broome Regional Hospital shortly after, before being air-ambulanced to Royal Perth Hospital. Determined to be deceased while on ventilator.

Carnarvon 15 Jan 2009: female, 60 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis). Treated in Carnarvon Hospital, but deteriorated rapidly.

Gingin 26 Nov 2010: male, 43 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis) less than 42cm in length. Treated at Joondalup Medical Campus - originally thought to be tiger snake (Notechis scutatus). Bitten on toe while in house on computer. No immediate first aid. Note: Small brown snakes have been involved in several deaths, with the smallest individual documented involving an 18cm specimen implicated in the 1982 death of a 27 yr old female in Western NSW.

Laverton 8 Oct 2014: male, 41 years. Western Brown Snake or Gwardar (Pseudonaja nuchalis). Grabbed snake while trying to kill it - bitten multiple times on hand and arm. Refused first aid - collapsed 45 minutes later.

Fremantle (South Beach) 15 August 2015: female. 75 years (Anne Wortham). On location (coastal), assumed to be Spotted Brown Snake or Dugite (Pseudonaja a. affinis). Bitten on heel mid-afternoon while walking alone, walked home and collapsed when husband taking her to car to transport her to hospital. Ambulance called, arriving five minutes later, but medics were unable to revive her. 

©Brian Bush 2016 -


Sutherland, S.K. 1992. Deaths from snake bite in Australia, 1981-1991. Med. J. Aust. 157: 740-745.

Sutherland, S.K. & Leonard, R.L. 1995. Snakebite deaths in Australia 1992-1994 and a management update. Med. J. Aust. 163: 616-618.

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