This guide to the top venomous snakes in the Philippines will reveal some of the most feared serpents of all in this land on the edge of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. It’s got nine specimens that you’ll probably want to be sure you avoid as you hop between the Chocolate Hills of Bohol and the talcum-powder beaches of Siargao.
Yep…from formidable pit vipers that can spit their venom up to two meters across the jungle to classic snake adversaries like the potent king cobra, our selection offers a cross section of creatures that have the power to ruin your vacation in one fell swoop.
You’ll also notice that there are some on this list of the most venomous snakes in Philippines that are native only to the island nation itself. They tend to be rare or endangered elapids that not all that much is known about, often with no available antivenom to balance out a bite. Eek!
Wagler’s pit viper
The first of the vipers on this list is present not just in the Philippines but right across Southeast Asia. Yep, you’ll find this one in the hills of Vietnam and in the humid forests of coastal Thailand, too. They mainly like to live in lowland areas, no higher than 1,500 meters above sea level, particularly in dense coast woods and mangroves.
The male and the female of the species look very different. In fact, they look so different that the untrained eye would probably put them down as two different snakes altogether. The female has a yellowish dot pattern on top, with a dusky brownish green on the underbelly. The male is typically a bright, jungle green and much thinner overall.
Not too much is known about the venom of a Wagler’s pit viper. Certain elements of it are used in cosmetics creams to fend off wrinkles, though the efficacy of that isn’t proved. The good news is that it reacts well to viper antivenoms. However, leave a bite untreated and you’re looking at necrosis of the flesh and potential death.
Equatorial spitting cobra
The first of a few cobra species on this list of the most venomous snakes in Philippines, the Equatorial spitting cobra certainly looks the part. It’s got the famous cobra fan neck, along with a dark and brooding color scheme that’s black and grey from head to tail. They usually grow to around one meter in length and like to live in moderately wooded areas below 1,500 meters above sea level.
There are two ways the Equatorial spitting cobra can attack. One is by conventional bite. The other is by spitting its venom. The first is the most dangerous of all, as it means direct injection of the toxins into the bloodstream, leading to severe cognitive failures and potential death in as little as 30 minutes. Being spat at is hardly fun, either, as cobra venom is thought to be corrosive enough to cause blindness for life.
Lake Taal snake
You’ll have to travel to the soaring volcanic caldera of Taal Volcano to risk an encounter with this one. The species is thought to be one of only two totally freshwater sea snakes on the planet, and is solely found in Lake Taal, the glimmering blue body of water that surrounds the mighty volcano south of Manila.
It’s thought that Lake Taal snakes started their evolutionary journey some 400 years ago, when Lake Taal itself was cut off from the open seas by a mega eruption. As the waters gradually started to become less salty, the sea snakes that were present were forced to adapt and change. Viola: You’ve got the new sub-species seen today.
Sadly, these serpents didn’t evolve to become any less dangerous. Nope, they are still rated as some of the most venomous snakes in the Philippines, with a combo of toxins that’s similarly fatal to their ocean-going ancestors. Today, Lake Taal snakes are rated as Vulnerable by the IUCN, and its thought that their habitat is at risk from overdevelopment and increasing pollution levels in the water.
Yellow-bellied sea snake
You probably don’t have to worry too much about the yellow-bellied sea snake. This is a totally pelagic creature, which means it lives its entire life in the water. The only times you’re likely to come across it are if you’re on a Philippine diving trip, bathing in the Pacific or the Sulu Sea, or sailing from island to island.
They are easy to identify on account of the fact that they don’t really look anything at all like other sea snakes. For a start, they are much beefier and thicker than kraits, and can grow nearly a meter in length. They also have a clear underbelly coloring of deep mustard yellow (hence the name), capped by a top color of dark grey and graphite.
The yellow-bellied sea snake is rated as extremely dangerous thanks to its place on the LD scale. It has a venom mix of neurotoxin and isotoxin that will cause all sorts of cognitive symptoms, from tiredness to confusion. If left untreated, bites from these guys can cause complete paralysis and death.
Yellow-lipped sea krait
We’re not lying when we say that a yellow-lipped sea krait ruined our beach holiday in Siargao not so long ago. There we were, sunning ourselves under a coconut tree after a long connecting flight. Deciding on a dip in the shimmering turquoise seas, we hopped right in and started lazing in the bath-warm waters. Next thing we know, one of these bad boys is swimming right at us. We were back on the sand in a jiffy and swimming wasn’t quite the same again.
Truth is that yellow-lipped sea kraits are super venomous. They are one of the most venomous species of snake on the planet, in fact. However, there’s a caveat – they are extremely shy of humans (even if our pal from Siargao wasn’t), so don’t have the same bite stats as cobras or vipers.
Despite the name, these guys can live on both land and in the water. They’re often found in the grasses close to the coast, and most bites occur when they get tangled in fishing nets as they emerge from the sea or head back in again. You can’t miss them. Just look for the trademark yellow head and the white-and-black body pattern.
Samar spitting cobra
Herpetologists will go wild for the vibrant yellow and black colorings of the uber-unique cobra subspecies that is the Samar spitting cobra. Other people, not so much. The reason? They are one of the most venomous snakes in the Philippines, not to mention extremely nervous customers that can attack without any provocation.
Just as the name implies, these guys don’t even need to be close enough to bite you to do serious damage. They can spit their venom up to six feet, and often aim straight for the more sensitive parts of the face, which makes them capable of blinding human victims. If they do sink their teeth in, then there’s double trouble, because you’ll get a hefty hit of neurotoxin that can destroy living tissue and shutdown vital organs.
The Samar spitting cobra is a relatively rare beast, mind you. In fact, the species is also known as the southern Philippine cobra, because it only lives in the southerly islands of the Philippines, in the Mindanao and Visayas archipelagos.
Palawan long-glanded coral snake
The Palawan long-glanded coral snake is just one of a whole bunch of coral serpents that could just as easily have made it onto this list of the most venomous snakes in Philippines. It’s named for the island where it was first found, and follows a similar biological makeup to other members of the same family – think a dash of bright color at the tail, followed by an alternating pattern, and then a full body of brown all the way to the head.
Long-glanded coral snakes are named because they have elongated venom glands, helping them carry more poison than most other species. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they are very shy and rarely attack humans unless they feel threatened. What’s more, they tend to live in thick scrub and monsoon forests, rarely emerging onto Palawan’s busier spots, like the beaches of El Nido or Port Barton.
Bataan pit viper
Bataan pit vipers are also known as Philippine pit vipers because they are a species of viper that resides solely in the Philippines. Today, it’s thought that their range extends as far north as the Cordillera Administrative Region of northern Luzon and as far south as the beaches and forests of Mindanao.
Like its Wagler cousin, the bataan viper is a type of lance-headed snake. That means you can usually tell them apart from other types of elapid by their distinctly formed head, which forms a clear triangle arrowhead on the top of the body, leading down to a thinner neck. That said, Philippine pit vipers have something else that makes them unique: A brazen, bright yellow or green coloring all over.
These guys are mainly tree-dwelling snakes, so you’ll need to look up to spot them, not down at the trail. They have a venom that’s similar to other snakes in the same genus, capable of destroying red blood cells and leading to necrosis of the flesh. That’ll ruin a holiday!
King cobras are up there with the most feared of all elapids on the globe. They have a sort of rep for being uber-dangerous, spurred on by the fact that they’re responsible for a huge portion of the snakebite deaths in South Asia each year (although a lot of that could be down to the fact that street entertainers continue to insist on trying to kiss them or charm them out of baskets!).
The bad news for folks heading over to the reefs of Cebu and the coral gardens of Palawan is that they live all over these islands. Yep, king cobras are found in the northern parts of Luzon and in the jungles of Davao alike. That said, they are now considered an endangered species, partly down to the fact that they are sought-after for their meat by practitioners of ancient Chinese medicine.
Bites from these famous serpents are not nice at all. They have enough stuff behind their fangs to kill a whopping 20 humans with a single bite. Victims usually suffer a mix of blurred vision, confusion, and extreme pain, and many will end up dead within the hour.