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Pseudechis porphyriacus
General Details, Taxonomy and Biology, Venom, Clinical Effects, Treatment, First Aid , Antivenoms
Pseudechis porphyriacus  ( Red bellied Black Snake  )  [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Family: Elapidae
Subfamily: Elapinae
Genus: Pseudechis
Species: porphyriacus
Common Names
Red-bellied Black Snake
Taxonomy and Biology
Adult Length: 1.50 m
General Shape
Large in length, moderately slender and moderately robust snake with a medium length tail. Can reach a maximum total length of over 2.50 metres. Head is broad with a rounded snout and is slightly distinct from neck. The brow ridge is medium to long. Eyes are medium in size with round pupils. Head and body scales are glossy.
Usually found in close proximity to permanent water ( creeks, rivers, streams, swamps, lakes and lagoons ) in temperate to tropical lowlands, slopes and ranges in wet, dry or closed forest, sclerophyll woodlands and shrublands. A significant proportion of its range is devoted to pasture and cropping. Also found in urban and semi-urban areas.
Terrestrial and the only truly diurnal snake of the genus. Shelters in or under logs, abandoned animal burrows, under large flat rocks and in dense vegetation. It usually has several shelter sites over a 20 to 40 hectare range. Mild disposition preferring to escape if disturbed, but will bite if cornered and provoked.
Feeds mainly on frogs, but will feed on lizards, small mammals, birds, snakes and fish ( particularly eels ).
Species Map
Small (Approx 20k) version
Average Venom Qty
30 mg ( dry weight ), Freeman and Kellaway (1934) ( Ref : R000686 ).

40 mg ( dry weight of milked venom ), Meier and White (1995) ( Ref : R000001 ).

30 to 50 mg ( dry weight ), Minton (1974) ( Ref : R000504 ).
Preferred LD50 Estimate
2.52 mg / kg sc ( mice ), Meier and White (1995) ( Ref : R000001 ).
General: Venom Neurotoxins
Possibly present but not clinically significant
General: Venom Myotoxins
Systemic myotoxins present
General: Venom Procoagulants
Possibly present
General: Venom Anticoagulants
Possibly present
General: Venom Haemorrhagins
Not present
General: Venom Nephrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Cardiotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Necrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Other
Not present or not significant
Clinical Effects
General: Dangerousness
Severe envenoming possible, potentially lethal
General: Rate of Envenoming: 40-60%
General: Untreated Lethality Rate: <1%
General: Local Effects
Local pain, swelling & bruising
General: Local Necrosis
Rarely occurs, minor only
General: General Systemic Effects
Variable non-specific effects which may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, dizziness, collapse or convulsions
General: Neurotoxic Paralysis
Unlikely to occur in humans (does occur in cats & dogs)
General: Myotoxicity
Uncommon, but may be moderate to severe
General: Coagulopathy & Haemorrhages
Usually minor anticoagulant coagulopathy only, and only in some cases
General: Renal Damage
Unlikely to occur, except possibly in association with rare cases with severe myolysis
General: Cardiotoxicity
Unlikely to occur
General: Other
Not likely to occur
First Aid
Description: First aid for bites by Elapid snakes which do not cause significant injury at the bite site (see Comments for partial listing), but which may have the potential to cause significant general (systemic) effects, such as paralysis, muscle damage, or bleeding.
1. After ensuring the patient and onlookers have moved out of range of further strikes by the snake, the bitten person should be reassured and persuaded to lie down and remain still. Many will be terrified, fearing sudden death and, in this mood, they may behave irrationally or even hysterically. The basis for reassurance is the fact that many venomous bites do not result in envenoming, the relatively slow progression to severe envenoming (hours following elapid bites, days following viper bites) and the effectiveness of modern medical treatment.
2. The bite wound should not be tampered with in any way. Wiping it once with a damp cloth to remove surface venom is unlikely to do much harm (or good) but the wound must not be massaged. For Australian snakes only, do not wash or clean the wound in any way, as this may interfere with later venom detection once in a hospital.
3. All rings or other jewellery on the bitten limb, especially on fingers, should be removed, as they may act as tourniquets if oedema develops.
4. If the bite is on a limb, a broad bandage (even torn strips of clothing or pantyhose) should be applied over the bitten area at moderate pressure (as for a sprain; not so tight circulation is impaired), then extended to cover as much of the bitten limb as possible, including fingers or toes, going over the top of clothing rather than risking excessive limb movement by removing clothing. The bitten limb should then be immobilised as effectively as possible using an extemporised splint or sling.
5. If there is any impairment of vital functions, such as problems with respiration, airway, circulation, heart function, these must be supported as a priority. In particular, for bites causing flaccid paralysis, including respiratory paralysis, both airway and respiration may be impaired, requiring urgent and prolonged treatment, which may include the mouth to mask (mouth to mouth) technique of expired air transfer. Seek urgent medical attention.
6. Do not use Tourniquets, cut, suck or scarify the wound or apply chemicals or electric shock.
7. Avoid peroral intake, absolutely no alcohol. No sedatives outside hospital. If there will be considerable delay before reaching medical aid, measured in several hours to days, then give clear fluids by mouth to prevent dehydration.
8. If the offending snake has been killed it should be brought with the patient for identification (only relevant in areas where there are more than one naturally occurring venomous snake species), but be careful to avoid touching the head, as even a dead snake can envenom. No attempt should be made to pursue the snake into the undergrowth as this will risk further bites.
9. The snakebite victim should be transported as quickly and as passively as possible to the nearest place where they can be seen by a medically-trained person (health station, dispensary, clinic or hospital). The bitten limb must not be exercised as muscular contraction will promote systemic absorption of venom. If no motor vehicle or boat is available, the patient can be carried on a stretcher or hurdle, on the pillion or crossbar of a bicycle or on someone's back.
10. Most traditional, and many of the more recently fashionable, first aid measures are useless and potentially dangerous. These include local cauterization, incision, excision, amputation, suction by mouth, vacuum pump or syringe, combined incision and suction ("venom-ex" apparatus), injection or instillation of compounds such as potassium permanganate, phenol (carbolic soap) and trypsin, application of electric shocks or ice (cryotherapy), use of traditional herbal, folk and other remedies including the ingestion of emetic plant products and parts of the snake, multiple incisions, tattooing and so on.
Treatment Summary
Black snake bites often cause systemic effects, require urgent assessment, but lethality is low and antivenom only required for intractable vomiting, abdominal pain, or for significant myolysis. Otherwise treat symptomatically.
Key Diagnostic Features
Local pain & swelling + general systemic symptoms ± (mild) myolysis
General Approach to Management
All cases should be treated as urgent & potentially lethal. Rapid assessment & commencement of treatment including appropriate antivenom (if indicated & available) is mandatory. Admit all cases.
Antivenom Therapy
Antivenom is the key treatment for systemic envenoming. Multiple doses may be required.
1. Antivenom Code: SAuCSL09
Antivenom Name: Black Snake Antivenom
Manufacturer: CSL Limited
Phone: ++61-3-9389-1911
Toll free: 1800 642 865
Address: 45 Poplar Road
Victoria 3052
Country: Australia
2. Antivenom Code: SAuCSL12
Antivenom Name: Polyvalent Snake Antivenom ( Australia - New Guinea )
Manufacturer: CSL Limited
Phone: ++61-3-9389-1911
Toll free: 1800 642 865
Address: 45 Poplar Road
Victoria 3052
Country: Australia
Pseudechis porphyriacus ( Red bellied Black Snake ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Pseudechis porphyriacus ( Red bellied Black Snake ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Pseudechis porphyriacus ( Red bellied Black Snake ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Pseudechis porphyriacus ( Red bellied Black Snake ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
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