Are Brown Snakes Poisonous (Venomous) or Dangerous?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: December 29, 2022
© Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com
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When you talk about brown snakes, some people will exhibit utter fear, saying they are deadly and highly venomous. Others will say that they are relatively harmless and contain no venom. Well, they are all right. There are two types of brown snake species found in two different regions.

In North and Central America, there are these slender, 21-inch long North American brown snakes. While in Australia and Papua New Guinea, brown snakes, called eastern brown snakes, refer to huge fast-moving, 7-feet snakes that are also highly venomous. So, are brown snakes poisonous or dangerous? North American brown snakes are not poisonous, venomous, or dangerous. However, their Australian counterparts are highly venomous and extremely dangerous to humans. Bites of an eastern brown snake can cause severe symptoms of envenomation and sometimes might even kill people.

Do Brown Snakes Bite?

A coiled brown snake on a white background
All species of brown snakes bite.

©Eric Isselee/Shutterstock.com

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Both the North American and Eastern brown snakes can bite when threatened or provoked, but their bites have different severities on people. For one, North American brown snakes don’t have fangs; instead, they have specialized teeth and jaws that help them bite. On the other hand, their venomous counterparts bite and deliver potent venom into their victims’ bodies using their fangs. Their venom is powerful enough to paralyze and kill their prey, while it can also be strong enough to cause severe complications in humans.

The North American brown snakes (Storeria) in the United Sates are harmless. They lack fangs and venom, but instead, they have specialized sets of teeth and jaws that help them eat their prey. They usually dine on earthworms, snails, grubs, salamanders, beetles, and slugs. Their customized set of teeth aids them in pulling these invertebrates out of their shells. Since they are not venomous, there is no reason to be terrified if you see one. Apart from their petite size, they also lack sharp teeth that can tear your skin, so if they bite, they’re entirely harmless. Besides, Northern brown snakes are not aggressive. Since they usually prey on invertebrates, it doesn’t want anything to do with humans. 

However, the Eastern brown snake (Pseudechis textilis) is an entirely different story. This snake possesses short but sharp fangs that penetrate human skin and deliver a very potent venom. Eastern brown snakes are significantly larger than their American counterparts. They can grow as long as 7 feet, which is intimidating enough for humans. Not to mention their highly venomous and painful bites, yikes! People bitten by an eastern brown snake should call medical help right away because their bites contain venom. They have relatively small fangs in comparison to other venomous snakes in Australia. However, their venom potency is so high that the eastern brown snake is responsible for causing more snakebite fatalities than any other species in the country. Thankfully, eastern brown snakes are not aggressive and do not often bite. The only times they bite are when they feel highly provoked. 

Are Brown Snakes Dangerous to Humans?

A King Brown Snake, coiled in the sand
The Eastern brown snake is a very dangerous and highly venomous species.

©Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

Although both species can bite, only the eastern brown snake is dangerous to humans. North American brown snakes are small and possess zero venom, making them harmless. They can bite occasionally, but only when provoked. On the other hand, the eastern brown snake is a very dangerous species whose bites cause severe symptoms and serious complications. Eastern brown snakes are even more dangerous because they dwell in residential and populated residences and can strike at people when cornered or startled.

In Australia, the eastern brown snake is highly feared. Its venom is one of the most potent globally, which doesn’t help its already fearsome reputation. Although these snakes venom can be potent, they only have short fangs, growing up to 4 mm. Because of their small fangs, they cannot deliver vast amounts of venom, making them less harmful than the potency of their venom suggests. Eastern brown snakes do not bite often. They can inject up to 4 mg of venom into their victims when provoked, but despite injecting less venom, a bit from an eastern brown snake is life-threatening.

The venom of eastern brown snakes is a mixture of complex toxins that can do various types of damage to their prey and even to the human body. The most harmful ingredient of their venom is the neurotoxin which disrupts the connection between the brain and nerve tissues, causing paralysis. Paralysis in an Eastern brown snake’s victim includes immobilization of vital organs like lungs, heart, and diaphragm, resulting in respiratory failure and even cardiac arrest. The Eastern brown snake’s venom also acts as an anticoagulant, preventing blood clots. Their bites would initially be painless and hard to pinpoint, but they can lead to progressive paralysis and excessive bleeding when left untreated. Although rare, there are recorded fatalities related to an eastern brown snake bite; fatalities are often caused by bleeding in the brain due to coagulation disturbances. 

How to Avoid Brown Snake Bites?

Biggest Snakes: The King Brown Snake
Brown snakes won’t bite unless provoked.

©Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

The Northern brown snake and Eastern brown snake can cope and thrive in human-populated areas. People sometimes call both types “city snakes” because they routinely wander through residential and urban areas. There is no problem running into Northern brown snakes because they almost always run away and hide from you. They are not aggressive creatures and can be handled. People sometimes mistake northern brown snakes for copperheads because they can look similar. It unfortunately results in unnecessary killings of these poor creatures. Still, if you’re trying to avoid confrontation with them, you have to keep out of their way.

On the other hand, eastern brown snakes deliver a life-threatening bite when provoked, so the best way to avoid getting bitten is to stay as far away from them as possible. If you come across one, remain calm and never try to catch them without professional help.

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The Featured Image

Biggest Snakes: The King Brown Snake
The King Brown Snake usually shelter in burrows, deep soil cracks, logs, rock piles, and timber or rubbish piles when living near humans.
© Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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