Snake season has arrived in Hong Kong, so here’s a brief introduction to some of the main venomous land snakes you might stumble across (not literally, I hope!) whilst out hiking, trail walking or visiting a country park, and what to do if you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by one (also published as a static page here). But first, a quick lesson in terminology!
Poisonous vs Venomous
These two terms are often confused and used interchangeably, but simply put, poisons are secreted (so bad to touch or eat), whilst venoms are mechanically delivered (so via fangs, stingers or spines, etc.). Both poisons and venoms are toxins, which is the umbrella term for all harmful (organic) substances. The difference is in the delivery: poisons are passively ‘delivered’ for defensive purposes; venoms are actively delivered primarily for offensive (but also defensive) purposes.
‘Toxic’ snakes are thus largely venomous, although there are a handful that are also poisonous like the Red-necked Keelback, which has both a venomous rear bite (rarely utilised) as well as poisonous neck secretions acquired through its scrumptious diet of poisonous toads (clearly not poisonous enough in this instance, lol). Cute, non-aggressive snake, though, so have no fear! Especially since the Red-necked Keelback can often be found hanging out on local trails during the day.
Hong Kong’s Venomous Snakes
Here’s a table from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) showing our most common venomous land snakes. I cropped out the rarer venomous species and non-lethal ones. For the complete listing, with active links to further details on each snake species, see the original table here. See also the external links at the bottom of this page for more comprehensive information and guides on Hong Kong snakes, both venomous and non.
In summary, however, the kraits and cobras are the ones to be the most wary of, as they pack the most lethal bites. The Coral Snake is also lethal but fairly secretive, whilst the Red-necked Keelback is pretty docile and only bad if it gets with you with its rear fangs, which is rare. The Bamboo Pit Viper (pictured at top) is both aggressive and venomous (bad combo!), accounting for most snake bites in Hong Kong, but fortunately it’s not very lethal. Phew!
Also worth noting, of the snakes below, all are strictly or nearly always nocturnal, except for the cobras and Red-necked Keelback. So, if you stick to daytime hikes and walks, it’s only cobras that you really need to watch out for. I say “only cobras” like it’s no big deal, lol, but you catch my drift. Problem is cobras can be easily confused with non-venomous rat snakes, which are also diurnal, so when in doubt, err on the side of caution! Don’t forget, cobras look just like regular snakes when their hoods are down…