The coastal taipan or common taipan is a species of large, extremely venomous snake native to the coastal regions of northern and eastern Australia and the island of New Guinea. According to most toxicological studies, this species is the third most venomous land snake in the world after the Inland taipan and Eastern brown snake.
The coastal taipan is the longest venomous snake in Australia. Adults can grow up to 2.5 m. A specimen of an average 2 m total length weighs around 3 kg. The taipan is exceeded in length among venomous snakes only by the Asiatic king cobra, African balck mamba and bushmasters of the American neotropics.
The head of the coastal taipan is long and narrow. The body is slender and colouration can vary. It is often uniformly light olive or reddish-brown in colour, but some specimens may be dark gray to black. The colouration is lighter on the sides of the body, the ventral side is usually a creamy-white to a pale light yellow in colour and is often marked with orange or pink flecks. The eyes are large, round and are light brown or even hazel in colour with large pupils.
The coastal taipan feeds solely on warm-blooded animals such as mammals and birds. Its diet consists entirely of rats, mice, bandicoots and various species of birds. The coastal taipan is primarily diurnal, being mostly active in the early to mid-morning period, although it may become nocturnal in hot weather conditions. When hunting, it appears to actively scan for prey using its well-developed eyesight, and is often seen traveling with its head raised slightly above ground level.
Once prey is detected, the snake “freezes” before hurling itself forward and issuing several quick bites. The prey is released and allowed to stagger away. This strategy minimizes the snake’s chance of being harmed in retaliation, particularly by rats, which can inflict lethal damage with their long incisors and claws. It is not a confrontational snake and will seek to escape any threat. When cornered, though, it can become very aggressive and may strike repeatedly.
Coastal taipans are oviparous. Female lays between 3 and 21 soft-shelled eggs, usually in a log hollow, under tree roots or in cavities in the ground. In captivity females often produce a second clutch many weeks after the initial mating – this suggests the female may be able to store sperm for several months.