Bali is known as the Isle of the Gods. But it could just as well be known as the isle of wildlife. Yep, this teardrop in the Indo seas is host to all manner of amazing creatures, from the white-tinged myna bird to the swinging Javan langur, the strange blue-ringed octopus to the sea-grazing whale shark. But what about snakes in Bali?
Sorry, ophidiophobes! There are actually plenty of snakes in Bali to watch out for. The good news is that most of the species found here are totally harmless and prefer to avoid human contact. They tend to hide out in areas of thick vegetation in the island’s forests and rice fields. But there are other snakes that can pose a threat…
They come in the form of the formidable king cobra and spitting cobra, of rat snakes and Malayan kraits that possess venom enough to kill a human in just a matter of hours. This guide will delve into the world of Balinese serpents to offer some info on seven of the most dangerous snake species of found in this corner of Southeast Asia.
The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
The first snake on our list is one of the deadliest on Bali is the King Cobra. King cobras are most prevalent in the forests of western Bali, but there have been sightings in many parts of the island. Growing as large as 18 feet long, these fearful serpents are one of the biggest species of venomous snakes found in the whole of Asia.
And you won’t want to anger one. King cobras can lift a third of their bodies off the ground and come face to face with a fully-grown human. They also have some of the most potent neurotoxic venom known to man. The amount of venom they administer in just a single bite is enough to kill 20 people, or a whole elephant! Victims of bites often go into respiratory and cardiac failure within an hour or two of an attack.
However, while deadly, king cobras typically avoid confrontation with humans. They are mainly about preying on other snakes, lizards, and rodents. Their non-aggressive nature means that they’re regularly used in entertainment shows and people even take selfies with them. Of course, this type of complacent behavior around one of the world’s deadliest snakes certainly isn’t advised, especially since there’s no known antivenom for treating king cobra bites in Bali.
Javan spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix)
The spitting cobra is a medium-size snake. It comes in a range of colors, including blacks and off blacks, light browns of both tan and bark, pale grays and light yellows. They are found all across Southeast Asia but are particularly prevalent in the rice fields of Bali, where they hunt for prey such as lizards and rats.
While smaller than king cobras, spitting cobras are just as deadly. Their neurotoxic venom causes paralysis, cardiac arrest, and eventual death. And – here’s the kicker – they don’t even need to get too close to you to strike. Just as its name implies, the spitting cobra can spray venom from a distance of up to two meters, causing blindness, skin irritation, and more!
Without any distinctive markings, it can be difficult to tell a spitting cobra from other varieties of non-venomous snake that live on the Isle of the Gods. When wandering in forests, paddies, and other rural parts of Bali, the best course of action is always to be cautious of any type of snake you come across and steer well clear.
Malayan krait (Bungarus candidus)
The Malayan krait, also known as the blue krait, is one of the most venomous snakes, not only in Indonesia, but in the world. They tend to have white or yellow bodies, accented by dark brown, black, or blue crossbands striping the body and the tail. Hailing from the Elapidae family of venomous snakes, Malayan kraits are also recognizable by their permanently erect fangs at the front of the mouth.
The guys have a venom that ranks third in the world for deadliness. It has a neurotoxic effect, shutting down the human body’s nervous system and often resulting in respiratory failure. Even after medical treatment, Malayan krait bites have a mortality rate of 60-70% in humans!
On the plus side, Malayan kraits tend to be rather shy and avoid confrontation with humans. They prefer to stay hidden during the day but come out to hunt at night. The majority of fatalities from the Malayan krait occur when they are stepped on accidentally – so take extra care if you plan on doing any major hikes or treks on the Isle of the Gods!
Asian coral snake (Calliophis bivirgatus)
One seriously unusual looking customer, the Asian coral snake grows up to 1.8 meters in length at a push. Its body is colored a dark, inky black that shimmers in light blue metallic tones under the light, until reaching a head that’s picked out in a don’t-come-near-me scarlet red. They don’t look much like most of the other dangerous snakes in Bali listed here, but that’s to be expected since they aren’t vipers or kraits but from and entirely separate tree of Elapidae snakes.
Bites from these guys are rare. But they can be deadly. What’s more, the venom here is a but like the looks – not what you might expect. Instead of the usually neurotoxins, these inject a cell-killing cytotoxin that can lead to complete death and decay of tissue, starting with the tissue close to the bite site. There is currently no known antivenin to counter its effects.
A ground-dwelling snake, the Asian coral species lives all over Southeast Asia and East Asia. It’s found in the forests of Burma all throughout Thailand and also across many Indonesian islands, the fabled Isle of the Gods included.
Banded sea krait (Laticauda colubrina)
Not all of the dangerous snakes in Bali occur on land. The banded sea krait is the most common variety of sea snake found in Indonesian shores. They have black and grey bands across the entire length of their bodies, and flattened, paddle-shaped tails that help them propel themselves through the water. Banded sea kraits are fairly common in the waters around the Isle of the Gods, particularly in the small caves at Tanah Lot.
While the majority of sea snakes live far out at sea, the banded sea krait is an exception. It often lays its eggs on land, slithering onto the shore and making nests among rocks. This means it’s worth keeping an eye out for the critters when on isolated parts of Bali’s coastline and in shallower waters away from major resort towns.
Like its land-dwelling cousins, the banded sea krait has a venomous bite. Their neurotoxic venom is highly poisonous, causing paralysis and sometimes death by cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. There’s also no antivenom to treat sea krait bites currently available in Bali, so it’s important to be extra cautious when diving and bathing. Luckily, however, sea kraits are non-aggressive. While they may approach a diver or snorkeler, they will rarely bite unless they are provoked.
Island pit viper (Trimeresurus insularis)
Also known as the Indonesian pit viper and the Sunda white-lipped pit viper, this deadly species of snake is one of the most noticeable on the whole Isle of the Gods. Why? Well it’s totally green from tip to tail, with a zingy coloring of lime all the way up to the body and head bar a few dashes of lighter yellow around the mouth.
As a member of the pit viper family, this one’s also venomous to humans. Bites won’t often kill, but it’s no walk through the Ubud Monkey Jungle, we can tell you that! You’re looking at uncontrollable bleeding, internal hemorrhaging, decay and rotting of the flesh at the site of contact – do we need to continue?
Sunda white-lipped pit vipers are known to live all across the belt of islands that form this heart of the Indonesian archipelago. You’ll find them as far east as Timor and as far west as Java, where they tend to reside in monsoon forests below 4,000 feet above sea level.
Red-necked keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus)
The final snake on our list of the most dangerous snakes in Bali is the red-necked keelback. Unquestionably a rather beautiful variety of snake, these guys are fairly small in size and come in light grey and brown from the tail to the head. But it’s at the neckline that they really stand out, displaying a bold and bright dash of yellow and orange that shimmer mustard and ochre just below the head.
Red-necked keelback snakes are known to live all over Southeast Asia. They are common around wetlands and near water, lakes, and ponds. They feed on a diet of fish and frogs, and poisonous toads.
It was originally thought that these snakes were harmless, and some people kept them as pets. However, scientists questioned their classification as non-venomous after a man had serious medical complications after being bitten by his pet red-necked keelback in 2000. They discovered that these snakes do indeed have a venom, but they need to bite for some time to inject it. Studies have also found that red-necked keelbacks can secrete poison from the back of their necks, consisting of dangerous chemicals known as bufadienolides. Our advice? Steer clear.
The most dangerous snakes in Bali – a conclusion
Of the 46 types of terrestrial (land-dwelling) snakes known to live on Bali, only six are considered a potential threat to humans. On top of that, there are one or two sea snakes in the waters around this surf-washed island that could pose a danger to us. This guide to the most dangerous snakes in Bali focuses in on all of them, offering info on everything from the tree-dwelling pit viper that inhabits the island’s forests to the banded coral snakes that live in the undergrowth.
Should I be worried about snakes in Bali?
We wouldn’t say you should be actively worried about snakes in Bali. A better way to put it is to be aware and wary of snakes in Bali. The serpents of this isle do cause bites in humans every year, though it remains rare. It’s a good idea to get a grounding in the sort of creatures you might encounter and what to do when bites occur, particularly if you’re venturing to rural parts of the island.
Are snakes common in Bali?
Snakes are quite common in Bali. Overall, the island is host to nearly 50 individual species of snake, of which six on land are venomous. Mostly, snakes here stick to less-developed parts of the island, like rice paddies and jungles.
How do you keep snakes away in Bali?
Firstly, wear long trousers and closed-toe shoes when walking through fields, forests and areas of thick vegetation. Most venomous snakes – such as the Malayan krait – are nocturnal, so take extra precaution walking in these types of terrain at night, and be sure to carry a flashlight. To avoid snakes in your accommodation, be sure to close the doors to rooms. Also, keep drawers shut and suitcases zipped up and stored away in closets.