Snakes in Vietnam: 7 Venomous Snakes You Might Encounter

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The South East Asian country of Vietnam is known for its hot weather, jungles, beaches and bustling cities, with a population of over 92 million, making it the 15th most populous country in the world. It borders Cambodia, Laos & China and shares a maritime border with Thailand, acting as a major hub in the Indochinese peninsula.

This large country has a number of different ecosystems which are home to a range of exotic and unusual wildlife, including many dangerous animals, such as venomous snakes. There are around 200 known species of snake in Vietnam, with around 25% of them known to be poisonous.

In this article we will look at 7 of the most venomous snakes in Vietnam which you may encounter.

Red River Krait

Red River Krait
Photo credit: Sanjaya.k.Bandar @ Wikimedia

Found in Northern Vietnam, this recently discovered species of Krait is considered to be amongst the most venomous in the country, although its rarity means no extensive studies have been carried out as yet. Its specific name, the Bungarus Slowinski is in honour of Joseph Bruno Slowinski, an American herpetologist who died from a krait bite in Myanmar back in 2001.

The Red River Krait can be identified by the white and black rings which cover the length of its body – reports suggest this snake can grow to around 1.5m long. The dorsal scales on its vertebrae display a hexagonal shape and are arranged in 15 rows on its mid-body. It has fixed front fangs and although no studies have examined its venom, it is expected to be as lethal as others from the Bungarus family.

This rare snake was thought to be endemic to Vietnam but has also been sighted in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos in the last few years. It’s main habitat is near freshwater within forests at altitudes of between 1,300-2,300 feet, however very little is known about this elusive but deadly creature. It was first described in 2005 but there have been very few reported sightings since, making this snake a very dangerous and unknown quantity.

Red-Headed Krait

Red River Krait
Photo credit: touchthestove @ Wikimedia

One of the most visually striking snakes on Earth, the Red-Head Krait has a long black body with a bright red head, they are almost identical to the Malayan Coral Snake and the nonvenomous Red-Headed Reed snake. Some adults can grow over 2 metres in length and this species mostly feeds on other snakes & reptiles.

This snake is partially aquatic when hunting and is almost completely nocturnal, its primary habitat is lowland rain forests and it is unlikely to be found near human settlements. Encountering this species is rare, especially in the day time when they tend to be hidden. If this snake is found in the open during daylight hours they are said to be lethargic and are unlikely to show any signs of aggression, however, they are extremely active and highly dangerous at night.

Like all Kraits, it is a highly venomous snake but due to its rarity, the effects of its bite have not been comprehensively studied. Its fangs are hollow and venom is stored in ducts, pushed out through a hole at the tip of the fang when a victim is bitten. As well as reptiles, it also feeds on small mammals and ambushes nests for eggs.

Its neurotoxic venom can result in muscle paralysis and asphyxiation as the victim loses the capacity to breathe unassisted. Anyone bitten may struggle to keep their eyelids open, sometimes as soon as within twenty minutes of being bitten as the venom targets innervated muscles. Other symptoms include; vomiting, headaches, difficulty swallowing and double vision which if left untreated is likely to be followed by paralysis and respiratory problems.

Wagler’s Pit Viper

close up of snake skin
Photo by Paulbr75 (Pixabay)

Possibly the most common form of Pit Viper in South East Asia and native to Vietnam’s southern forested areas and coastal regions, including mangrove forests. Venomous like all Pit Vipers, this species can be identified by its triangular head and the shock of yellow on its underbelly, while its top half is a mixture of black, grey and paler yellow.

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Although more at home on the forest floor, the Wagler’s Pit Viper is an able climber and has been spotted metres high on branches, waiting for their next meal, or resting while it digests its last one. It detects its prey using heat sensors on either side of its head, hunting rodents & birds.

Its venom is potentially deadly to humans but this is uncommon, especially if the bite is treated quickly. Victims will feel a strong burning sensation and the wound will swell, with substantial tissue damage which may get infected if it is not cleaned and treated with antibacterial medication.

The Bornean Keeled Viper was once classified the same as the Wagler’s Pit Viper but is now considered a completely separate species.

King Cobra

King Cobra and snake charmer
Photo by Godwin Angeline Benjo

The King Cobra is a dangerous snake of significant size which can strike an intimidating figure when it raises its body off the floor. The world’s longest venomous snake, it has a distinctive hood and is often represented in Asian mythology and in statues built in ancient times, when this snake was deemed to be a protector and possessed mystical qualities. In Vietnam, statues of this snake can be found in the ruins of Khmer civilisations such as Mỹ Sơn.

The King Cobra’s main source of food is other, smaller cobras, which is the reason for its name as this snake is not considered to be a true cobra, scientifically speaking. Its diet is almost entirely restricted to cold-blooded creatures such as lizards & snakes, however, it will also eat small mammals if food is scarce. It is common for this snake to stick to just one species to feed upon, as it becomes accustomed to their behaviours and habitats.

The main threat to a King Cobra is the Mongoose as they are immune to its venom, however it is very rare for a mongoose to attack a fully grown adult.

Its typical habitats are forested areas, bamboo thickets, mangrove and farming areas such as rice fields.

It is equipped with two small, hollow fangs but is capable of delivering a large amount of venom which is pushed into the victim using specialised muscles. The neurotoxins attack the nervous system and can cause respiratory paralysis.

Untreated, a bite from this the King Cobra can kill a human but antivenom for this snake is advanced and most people do not suffer any long lasting effects once it has been administered.

Russell’s Viper

Russell's Viper
Image by Md Waris from Pixabay

First described in 1797, this species can be found across the Indian subcontinent and large specimens are capable of delivering a lethal bite to humans.

It can grow to 5.5ft in length in mainland countries such as Vietnam & India but the average is around 4ft. The Russell’s viper can be identified by its flat, triangular head, with a raised, rounded snout and two large nostrils – Its colouring varies from yellow, tan or brown, with a series of dark spots running across its body.

Highly versatile, it is not restricted to any specific habitats and can adapt to different kinds of terrain, however, this species typically avoids dense forests, swamps and high altitude. It can often be found on open plains, on farmland, coastal lowlands and on hills with abundant vegetation. It is not uncommon for this snake to venture into urban areas in search of rodents such as rats.

It is most active at night and in cooler weather, hunting mainly for rodents but will also feed on small reptiles, land crabs, scorpions and other large insects.

This powerful viper can become very aggressive if threatened or surprised, lifting most of its body off the floor to deliver a forceful bite. A bite can contain a high venom yield, resulting in pain, blistering & swelling at the bite point which may spread, in addition to symptoms such as internal bleeding, vomiting and face swelling. The victims’s blood pressure will drop, the heart rate will slow and blood clots can form, while kidney failure has been reported in 25-30% of untreated cases.

Early treatment and access to an antivenom will significantly reduce the risk of any severe complications – death is a real possibility if a bite from this snake is left untreated.

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Many-Banded Krait

Many-banded krait
Photo credit: Thomas Brown @ Wikimedia

The Many-Banded Krait, sometimes referred to as the Chinese or Taiwanese Krait is one of the most venomous snakes in the world, with numerous deaths attributed to a bite from this snake, including the famous case of American herpetologist, Joe Slowinski.

This snake’s primary habitat is marshland and it is nocturnal, hiding in holes and underneath stones during the day to avoid the heat. It feeds on fish but will also eat other snakes, rodents, eels, frogs and sometimes lizards – it will also feed on its own species.

One of the most feared snakes in Vietnam and South East Asia, the Many-Banded Krait was first described in 1861 by English scientist, Edward Blyth. It averages between 1m-1.5m in length and has glossy scales, made up of alternating black and white bands.

Its strong venom contains both pre-synaptic and post-synaptic neurotoxins but does not cause serious pain, instead victims are said to feel an itchy, numbing sensation. Symptoms can occur within 1-6 hours which include; drooping eyelids, double vision, aching, weak limbs, chest tightness, voice loss and a difficulties swallowing an breathing.

The mortality rate of untreated bites differs greatly between individual studies, with some showing a rate of 25-35% and others over 70%. The significant chance of death from this snake’s bite is why the Many-Banded snake is ranked in second place in our list of the most venomous snakes you might encounter in Vietnam.

American soldiers during the Vietnam war nicknamed this snake the ‘two-step snake’ due to a myth that a person died after taking just two steps following a bite.

Malayan Krait

Malayan Krait
Photo credit: Bramadi Arya @ Wikimedia

The Malayan, or Blue Krait contains highly toxic venom and poses significant threat to humans.

Growing to a maximum of 1.6m in length and displaying thick white and black bands, often mistaken for similar non-venomous snakes – as a precaution it is advised to avoid all snakes in the region with similar markings.

Over 50% of bites from this snake result in death, even after anti-venom has been administered in some cases. If the bite is untreated then the chances of death are extremely high which is why this snake’s venom is ranked third in the world in terms of potency, behind the Inland Taipan and the Australian Brown Snake.

It’s toxins shut down the nervous system, putting the victim into a coma, inflicting brain damage and possible suffocation, or a stoppage of the heart. A victim usually dies between 12-24 hours if they are left untreated, with respiratory problems the most common cause of death.

This species is common across South East Asia and favours a flat-to-low ground, close to water, including rice fields where most attacks take place. It is mainly nocturnal and avoids strong sunlight – smaller snakes, mice, rats, lizards and frogs make up the bulk of the Malayan Krait’s diet.

This Krait is not considered to be aggressive or highly defensive and an attack would be the result of provocation such as someone accidentally stepping on it, or it being backed into a corner.

Are snakes common in Vietnam?

There are more than 200 species of snake in Vietnam and around 25% of them are venomous, with some posing a significant threat to humans if untreated.

Venomous snakes include the four species of Krait (including the Many Banded Krait), pit vipers such as the Wagler’s & Malayan, King Cobras, coral snakes and Keelbacks.

Some species of non-venomous snakes in Vietnam are the Mountain Slug Snake, Anderson’s Stream Snake, Collared Reed Snake and the Mandarin Rat Snake.

What is the largest snake in Vietnam?

The Reticulated Python is the longest snake in the world, native to South East Asia and of course, Vietnam. It is amongst the three heaviest snakes in the world, along with the Green Anaconda and the Burmese Python.

Although non-venomous, there have been reports of people being killed and eaten by this powerful constrictor.

What is the most dangerous snake in Vietnam?

Due to the high mortality rate of its bite, the Malayan Krait is considered to be the most dangerous snake in Vietnam. As well the ability to kill a fully grown adult, some victims have also suffered severe brain damage if they have not been treated in time.