Papuan black snake

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Papuan Black Snake
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Genus: Pseudechis
P. papuanus
Binomial name
Pseudechis papuanus
Peters & Doria, 1878

The Papuan black snake (Pseudechis papuanus) is a venomous snake of the family Elapidae native to New Guinea. Reaching around 2 m (7 ft) in length, it is a predominantly black snake coloured grey underneath.[1]


The Papuan black snake is one of several species in the genus Pseudechis commonly known as black snakes. It was described in 1878 by Wilhelm Peters and Giacomo Doria in 1878 from material collected in southeastern New Guinea.[2]

A study of mitochondrial DNA showed the Papuan black snake to be the next closest relative to a pair of Australian species, Collett's Snake (P. collettii) and the blue-bellied black snake (P. guttatus), and is likely to have had its origins in Australia and diverged from a common ancestor in the Pliocene.[3]


A solidly built snake with a wide round head and slight neck, the Papuan black snake is ranges from 1.2 to 1.7 m, with occasional individuals exceeding 2 m long. The longest specimen recorded was 2.44 m. The head and upperparts are dull or glossy black, or occasionally dark brown, and underparts are blue-grey or gunmetal grey. The neck is whitish with yellow and grey tinges. The labial scales are sometimes pale around the mouth and front of head.[4]


The Papuan black snake has 19 to 21 rows of dorsal scales at midbody, 205 to 239 ventral scales, 43 to 63 subcaudal scales, and a divided anal scale.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The range is southern New Guinea, both in Papua New Guinea and West Papua province of Indonesia, as well as offshore islands. In Papua New Guinea, it has possibly already vanished from Port Moresby and Central Province and is declining in Western Province.[5] It just enters Australian territory as it occurs on Boigu and Saibai Islands in far northern Torres Strait off the New Guinea coast.[4]

Destruction of its habitat, killing of snakes by locals, and poisoning by the introduced cane toad have contributed to its decline.[5]


The venom of the Papuan black snake is the most potent of all members of the black snake genus Pseudechis. Unlike those of other black snakes,[6] the venom is predominantly neurotoxic in its effects, with muscle weakness and paralysis ensuing over 2 to 21 hours after being bitten. This can be life-threatening and intubation may be required.[7] It is slightly more toxic than the equatorial spitting cobra (Naja sumatrana) and three times less toxic than that of the taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus).[8] A postsynaptic neurotoxin isolated has been given the name of papuantoxin-1, and can be treated with CSL black snake antivenom (used for the king brown snake (Pseudechis australis)).[9]

Although widely feared in Papua New Guinea's Central Province, it is responsible for only a small minority of snakebites, eclipsed by the more dangerous taipan.[10] Identifying snakes after snakebite can be difficult as victims are often bitten while walking through long kunai grass and hence the snake is not seen clearly.[7]The Mekeo people know it as auguma, "to bite again", from its habit of repeatedly biting. Some local people in New Guinea believe it and the taipan to be opposite sexes of the same species. The Kiwai people believe the snake to be an agent of a magic-man known as Ove-devenor who sends it to kill enemies. People bitten will often seek out another magic-man instead of going to a hospital, thus dangerously delaying treatment.[5]

The first to extract Papuan black snake venom for scientific purposes was Australian herpetologist Ken Slater in the mid-1950s. He sent it to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne for antivenom research.[11]


  1. ^ Museum of Tropical Queensland (2011). "Papuan Black Snake". Queensland Museum website. Townsville, Queensland: The State of Queensland (Queensland Museum). Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  2. ^ Peters, Wilhelm (1878). "Catalogo dei Rettili e dei Batraci raccolti da O. Beccari, L.M. d'Albertis A.A. Bruijn nella sotto-regione Austro-Malese". Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genova (in Italian). 13: 323-450 [409-10].
  3. ^ Wüster, W.; A.J. Dumbrell; C. Hay; C.E. Pook; D.J. Williams & B.G. Fry (2005). "Snakes across the Strait: Trans-Torresian phylogeographic relationships in three genera of Australasian snakes (Serpentes: Elapidae: Acanthophis, Oxyuranus and Pseudechis)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 34(1): 1-14.
  4. ^ a b c Mirtschin, Rasmussen & Weinstein 2017, p. 120.
  5. ^ a b c O'Shea, Mark (2008). Venomous Snakes of the World. New Holland Publishers. p. 119. ISBN 1-84773-086-8.
  6. ^ Mirtschin, Rasmussen & Weinstein 2017, p. 121.
  7. ^ a b Lalloo, David; Trevett, Andrew; Black, Julie; et al. (1994). "Neurotoxicity and haemostatic disturbances in patients envenomed by the Papuan black snake (Pseudechis papuanus)" (PDF). Toxicon. 32 (8): 927–36. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(94)90371-9.
  8. ^ Kamiguti, A.S.; Laing, G.D.; Lowe, G.M.; Zuzel, M.; Warrell, D.A.; Theakston, R.D.G. (1994). "Biological properties of the venom of the Papuan black snake (Pseudechis papuanus): Presence of a phospholipase A2 inhibitor" (PDF). Toxicon. 32 (8): 915–25. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(94)90370-0.
  9. ^ Kuruppu, Sanjaya; Reeve, Shane; Smith, A. Ian; Hodgson, Wayne C. (2005). "Isolation and pharmacological characterisation of papuantoxin-1, a postsynaptic neurotoxin from the venom of the Papuan black snake ()". Biochemical Pharmacology. 70 (5): 794–800. doi:10.1016/j.bcp.2005.06.003. PMID 16011833.
  10. ^ Viner-Smith, Chris (2007). Australia's Forgotten Frontier: The Unsung Police Who Held Our PNG Front Line. chris viner-smith. p. 70. ISBN 0-646-47541-X.
  11. ^ Mirtschin, P. (2006); "The pioneers of venom production for Australian antivenoms", in: Toxicon, Vol. 48, p. 899-918. Slater is in pages 911 and 912. Retrieved online, 13 July 2017.

Cited text[edit]

  • Mirtschin, Peter; Rasmussen, Arne; Weinstein, Scott (2017). Australia's Dangerous Snakes: Identification, Biology and Envenoming. Clayton South, Victoria: Csiro Publishing. ISBN 9780643106741.