Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

Family ELAPIDAE Boie, 1827

Compiler and date details

Updated June 2012 - Paul Horner, Queensland


This family of front-fanged venomous snakes occurs from Africa, through Asia and Indo-Malaysia to Australia and New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, with one New World group (the coral snakes).

Following several genetic studies, the taxonomy of the elapid snakes currently accepted no longer separates terrestrial forms from the sea kraits and the sea snakes, but recognises only two major groups, one of which includes all Australian elapids, both terrestrial and marine (Lawson et al. 2005, Kelly et al. 2009, Pyron et al. 2010), which some authors identify with the subfamily Hydrophiinae Fitzinger, 1843 (e.g. Vidal et al. 2007).

Hydrophinae has currently more than 40 genera and approximately 200 species, most of them in Australia.

Several genera warrant special mention. The close relationship between the genera Furina and Glyphodon has long been recognised. Storr (1981) formally synonymised the two. We have somewhat arbitrarily retained their separate identity pending a more rigorous examination of their relationships. We also have rejected on morphological grounds Storr's transfer of Cacophis warro De Vis, 1884 to Furina; the relationships of Cacophis warro remain obscure but appear to lie with Simoselaps bertholdi. Recognition of the genus Parademansia to accommodate Diemenia microlepidota McCoy, 1879 is contrary to the conclusions of Covacevich et al. (1980) that this species is congeneric with the taipan, Oxyuranus scutellatus. This is largely a matter of interpretation of the available data (which were clearly documented by Covacevich et al. 1980), but we believe that the differences between the two taxa are such as to warrant generic separation.

The genus Simoselaps, as treated, is clearly polyphyletic and awaits effective revision. Intensive work is currently being undertaken on a variety of fronts — morphological, ecological, karyological and biochemical — to establish relationships within Australian elapids and between them and their relatives elsewhere. The classification adopted below should be seen, therefore, as an interim one. Sanders et al. (2013) studied the phylogeny of the viviparous sea snakes.

Rasmussen et al. (2014) listed all sea snakes known to occur in Australian waters, excluded a nyumber of species, and also gave a short list od species that may eventually be found in Australian waters. The list included Hydrophis laboutei Rasmussen & Ineich, 2000, Hydrophis vorisi Kharin, 1984, Microcephalopis gracilis (Shaw, 1802) and a Laticauda sp. of Laurent, 1768. Their listing included many changed combinations, now used here, as a consequence of which, several genera were excluded from Australian waters.


Excluded Taxa


ELAPIDAE: Enhydrina Gray, 1849

ELAPIDAE: Enhydrina schistosa (Daudin, 1803) — Rasmussen, A.R., Sanders, K.L., Guinea, M.L. & Amey, A.P. 2014. Sea snakes in Australian waters (Serpentes: subfamilies Hydrophiinae and Laticaudinae)—a review with an updated identification key. Zootaxa 3869(4): 351-371 [355]



Characterised in Australia by: a pair of functionally hollow enlarged fangs at the front of the maxilla; no loreal scales; scales in 23 or fewer rows at mid-body.


General References

Kelly, C.M.R., Barker, N.P., Villet, M.H. & Broadley, D.G. 2009. Phylogeny, biogeography and classification of the snake superfamily Elapoidea: a rapid radiation in the late Eocene. Cladistics 25(1): 38-63

Lawson, R., Slowinski, J.B., Crother, B.I. & Burbrink, F.T. 2005. Phylogeny of the Colubroidea (Serpentes): New evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37: 581–601

Lee, M.S.Y., Sanders, K.L., King, B. & Palci, A. 2016. Diversification rates and phenotypic evolution in venomous snakes (Elapidae). Royal Society open science 3: 150277 [Date published 20 January 2016]

McDowell, S.B. 1967. Aspidomorphus, a genus of New Guinea snakes of the family Elapidae, with notes on related genera. Journal of Zoology, London 151: 497-543

Pyron, R.A., Burbrink, F.T., Colli, G.R., Montes de Oca, A.N., Vitt, L.J., Kuczynski, C.A. & Wiens, J.J. 2010. The phylogeny of advanced snakes (Colubroidea), with discovery of a new subfamily and comparison of support methods for likelihood trees. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 58(2): 329–342

Rasmussen, A.R., Sanders, K.L., Guinea, M.L. & Amey, A.P. 2014. Sea snakes in Australian waters (Serpentes: subfamilies Hydrophiinae and Laticaudinae)—a review with an updated identification key. Zootaxa 3869(4): 351-371

Sanders, K.L., Lee, M.S.Y., Mumpuni, Bertozzi, T & Rasmussen, A.R. 2013. Multilocus phylogeny and recent rapid radiation of the viviparous sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66: 575-591

Strickland, J.L., Carter, S., Kraus, F. & Parkinson, C.L. 2016. Snake evolution in Melanesia: origin of the Hydrophiinae (Serpentes, Elapidae), and the evolutionary history of the enigmatic New Guinean elapid Toxicocalamus. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 178(3): 663–678

Vidal, J. Delmas, A.-S., David, P., Cruaud, C., Couloux, A. & Hedges, S.B. 2007. The phylogeny and classification of caenophidian snakes inferred from seven nuclear protein-coding genes. C.R. Biologies 330(182-187)


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
03-Oct-2018 ELAPIDAE Boie, 1827 03-Oct-2018 MODIFIED
01-Feb-2017 SERPENTES 18-Sep-2018 MODIFIED
08-Oct-2014 ELAPIDAE 03-Oct-2018 MODIFIED
01-Feb-2017 24-Sep-2013 MODIFIED
08-Mar-2011 08-Mar-2011 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)