Story claims that Australian venomous snakes such as the Taipan are cross breeding with harmless Carpet Pythons to produce deadly hybrids.
False. The story is a myth with no basis in fact. Pythons and venomous snakes cannot interbreed.
You now need to be extra careful in the bush. I’ve heard that, because of the dry weather, taipans and brown snakes are interbreeding with carpet pythons. So, what you think is a harmless old carpet snake could actually bite and kill you!
A long-lived and widespread story claims that some of Australia’s highly venomous snakes are now interbreeding with harmless carpet pythons to produce deadly cross-breeds. There are a number of variations of the story. Some claim that the snakes are interbreeding due to the long periods of drought experienced in some areas of the country. Others claim that the destruction of natural habitat and environmental pollution have forced the two kinds of reptile to begin cross-breeding.
The stories tend to be localized to reference a particular type of venomous snake found in a given region. Some claim that the venomous snakes in the story are taipans. Other claims that they are tiger snakes, or one of several kinds of brown snakes.
Many Australians think of carpet pythons as benevolent, harmless creatures that are eminently “approachable”. In many rural areas, carpet pythons inhabit the rafters of farm sheds or even outdoor dunnies with the full knowledge and blessings of residents. Carpet pythons are often viewed as natural rodent controllers who should be made welcome. Thus, the belief that, due to interbreeding, an apparently harmless python can secretly harbour the potentially deadly venom of a taipan or tiger snake coupled with the ability to constrict victims is particularly worrisome.
However, the story is no more than an enduring urban (or bush) legend that has absolutely no basis in fact. Although the generally similar appearance of pythons and venomous snakes might make it seem reasonable that interbreeding could occur, in reality the wide genetic separation between the two makes such interbreeding simply impossible. Information about pythons in a Queensland Museum Fact Sheet notes:
There is a common myth concerning pythons interbreeding with venomous snakes. The offspring are said to combine all the most feared aspects of each parent; extremely large size, strong toxins and ability to constrict. Since pythons (family Boidae) are only distantly related to venomous snakes (family Elapidae) their genetic make-up is no more compatible than those of a dog and a sheep.
Under normal circumstances, a union would be considered impossible, and the successful fertilisation and development to produce viable young inconceivable.
An FAQ published on Queensland’s Environment and Resource Management website concurs:
Is it true that dangerous snakes such as taipans etc. are interbreeding with pythons, and producing ‘venomous pythons’? Does the taipan cross with the king brown to produce a fierce snake?
No. It is impossible for venomous and non-venomous species of snake to interbreed. Even closely related species are extremely unlikely to interbreed in the wild.
Thus, the claim that pythons and venomous snakes are interbreeding is utterly false and should be disregarded. Of course, Australia certainly does have more than its fair share of highly venomous snakes. Those without good practical knowledge of snakes and their ways would do well to treat any snake they encounter with due caution.
Last updated: 1st December 2011
First published: 30th December 2008
By Brett M. Christensen