INTERSPECIFIC IMMUNITY TO VENOM IN SNAKES. BY RAYMOND T. HOSER. 41 Village Avenue, Doncaster, Victoria, 3108, Australia.

This paper first appeared in HERPETOFAUNA IN 1996, What follows is a text only version of the same article (no italics). Please download the entire article if desired, however if the article is later referred to, please cite HERPETOFAUNA as the original published source. Publication details are that it was published in 1996 in 26 (1) pp. 26-27.

That the venoms of Tiger Snakes Notechis and Copperheads Austrelaps are neutralised in humans by the same monovalent anti-venom (Trinca 1979), indicates similarity between venoms of both these genera.

During a six week period in early 1992, Anthony Curtis of Greensborough, Victoria held a 60 cm Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus from Natharlya, Victoria, in a cage with a 145 cm Lowlands Copperhead Austrelaps superbus from Kinglake, Victoria. Both snakes were fed on mice, which they took readily. On five separate occasions the A. superbus was seen biting the N. scutatus during the feeding sessions. The bites appeared substantial and would have almost certainly resulted in envenomation on every occasion. The N. scutatus never displayed any ill effects from having been bitten by the A. superbus. At no time was the N. scutatus observed biting the A. superbus.

In the period 1981-4, the author held Death Adders Acanthophis antarcticus and Desert Death Adders Acanthophis pyrrhus in substantial numbers. On many occasions both species were held together in the same cages. Despite the certainty of the snakes biting one another accidentally, no deaths as a result of envenomation occurred. However one adult male A. pyrrhus displayed cannibalistic tendances twice. Once it ate a Juvenile A. antarcticus which it regurgitated dead a day later. On another occasion the snake attempted to eat a similar sized A. pyrrhus, which was discovered half eaten and regurgitated dead in the cage.

Kellaway (1931) concluded that Australian snakes are not only immune to their own venom, but also similar venoms from other snake species. The information here corroborates Kellaway's finding. Most herpetologists appear to think that Australian snakes are immune to their own venoms, including Fleay (1937, 1951), Hoser (1985), Kinghorn (1964) and Worrell (1970). Hoser (1985) not only documented cases of immunity of snakes to their own species venoms, but also two cases of alleged non-immunity by the same or similar snake species which could warrant further investigation.

More recently, van Woerkom (1985) and Stettler (1985) documented a case of two healthy three and a half year old Acanthophis sp. dying after being bitten by a third specimen which had come from the same litter, all three having been born in captivity. Douglas, Nichol and Peck (1933) did after experimentation, conclude that some highly venomous viperids from North America had no exceptional immunity to their own venoms within the context of injection by one snake into another similar snake. Clearly immunity of snakes to venoms warrents further investigation.


Dr. Allen Greer and Gerry Swan critically reviewed and improved a draft manuscript.


Douglas, Nichol and Peck (1933). Courtship and mating behaviour in snakes. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Zool. Service 20 (22): 257-290.

Fleay, D. (1937). Black Snakes in Combat. Proc. Royal Zool. Soc. N.S.W. 1937: 40-41.

Fleay, D. (1951). Savage Battles Between Snakes. Austr. Geogr. Walkabout Magazine May.

Hoser, R. T. (1985). On the question of immunity of snakes. Litt. Serp. 5 (6): 219-232.

Kellaway, C. H. (1931). The immunity of Australian snakes to their own venoms. Med. J. Austr. 2: 35-52.

Kinghorn, J. R. (1964). The Snakes of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, Australia. iv + 197 pp.

Stettler, P. H. (1985). Australian Death Adders - Remarks Concerning the Post-embryonic development of Acanthophis antarcticus antarcticus (Shaw, 1794). Litt. Serp. 5 (5): 170-180.

Trinca, J. C. (ed.)(1979). CSL Medical Handbook, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Parkville, Victoria, Australia. xxii + 250 pp.

van Woerkom, A. B. (1985). Postscript to the article "On the question of immunity of snakes". Litt. Serp. 5 (6): 233.

Worrell, E. (1970). Reptiles of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, Australia. xv + 169 pp.

Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 150 papers in journals worldwide and also nine books.

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