Common Death Adder Fact File

Acanthophis antarcticus

Weight

700g

(1.5lbs)

Length

60cm

(23.6in)

LIFESPAN

Wild – 9 years

Captive – 9 years

DIET

Carnivore

Rodents

conservation status

IUCN

Lest Concern

The Longest Fangs in the Land!

The common death adder possesses the longest fangs of any snake found in Australia. These help to inject their potent venom which prior to the development of anti-venom led to death in 60% of cases.

Unlike most snakes they produce live young with up to 30 juveniles being born in a single clutch.

This species is an adder only in name and is instead the only member of its genus. They have developed similar features to other adders in an example of convergent evolution.

Appearance

What does a Common Death Adder look like?

The common death adder has a thick body. At one end is the tail which begins to narrow and then ends with a curved spine which may be coloured white, yellow or black. At the other end is the broad, triangular shaped head.

Their colouration ranges from reddish brown to grey with lighter and darker bands running along the length of their body. On the underside they are coloured white with darker spots and specks. This varied colouration assists with camouflage when they are hunting.

They have the longest fangs of any Australian snake.

An average common death adder measures 60cm (23.6in) long though some individuals may reach 1m (39.4in) long. An average individual will weigh 700g (1.5lbs).

Adaptations

How does the Common Death Adder survive in its habitat?


Common death adders use their tail like a lure. By wiggling it they can attract prey which helps to attract a prey item which they can then quickly strike at and subdue with their venom.

Diet

What does a Common Death Adder eat?

The common death adder is a carnivore. They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs.

Unlike the majority of venomous snakes which actively hunt prey the death adder prepares to sit and wait. The curved spine at the end of their tail resembles a worm. They will camouflage their body amongst sand or leaf litter and wiggle the tail to attract animals. Once this animal moves in try and eat the tail the common death adder will strike, potentially the quickest strike of any Australian snake and grab the food. Their potent venom is used to immobilize the prey before it is swallowed.

This sit and wait method is behind their body shape which prioritizes a quick strike over the ability to move fast generally.

Range

Where do you the find the Common Death Adder?

Australia is the native home of the common death adder. Here they can be found along the coast ranging through the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

Habitat

Where can a Common Death Adder survive?

They make their home in open woodland, grasslands, rainforest, scrub and heathlands. These areas offer deep leaf litter in which they can hide to hunt.

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Reproduction

How does a Common Death Adder produce its young?

Mating takes place in Spring with females producing young every second year.

Their gestation period lasts for 6-9 months. At the end of this they give birth to live young. Typically birthing takes place from December to March (summer to early Autumn).

At birth the young will be an average of 12cm (4.7in) long from the nose to the base of the tail.

An average litter consists of 10-20 young though in some large clutches there have been as many as 30 young.

Young animals typically feed on frogs and small mammals. From birth they are responsible for their own care.

Sexual maturity is achieved at 2 years old for males and 3 years for females.

Behaviour

What does the Common Death Adder do during its day?

Common death adders may be active at any time of the day with nocturnal activity dependent on the temperature.

Predators and Threats

What stops the Common Death Adder from surviving and thriving?

As cane toads have moved in to the range of the death adder these have become a food source. When death adders attempt to eat the cane toad they are poisoned and quickly perish.

Their primary defence is a potent neurotoxic venom delivered through the fangs. They will bite a threat and use this venom to disable them. Prior to the development of an antivenom 60% of common death adder bites would lead to death.

Humans impact their population through habitat destruction and fires. As a snake they are often killed by humans due to their fears of these animals.

Quick facts

It is believed that the name death adder was originally ‘deaf adder’ and came from the inability of snakes to hear sounds travelling through the air.

While called an adder they are not a true adder and instead form part of the elapid group as most venomous Australian snakes do. Their similarity to adders is an example of convergent evolution.

The Acanthophis portion of their scientific name translates as spine snake referring to the spine at the tip of the tail.

References

Swanson, S. and Parish, S., 2011. Field Guide To Australian Reptiles. 2nd ed. New South Wales: Pascal Press.

Australian Reptile Park – Wildlife Park Sydney & Animal Encounters Australia. 2020. Common Death Adder Habitat, Diet & Reproduction – Sydney. [online] Available at: <https://reptilepark.com.au/animals/reptiles/snakes/venomous/common-death-adder/> [Accessed 21 June 2020].

Environment | Department of Environment and Science. 2020. Common Death Adder. [online] Available at:

<https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/threatened-species/vulnerable/common-death-adder> [Accessed 21 June 2020].

The Australian Museum. 2020. Common Death Adder. [online] Available at: <https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/reptiles/common-death-adder/> [Accessed 21 June 2020].

Qm.qld.gov.au. 2020. Common Death Adder – Queensland Museum. [online] Available at:

<https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Reptiles/Snakes/Common+and+dangerous+species/Common+Death+Adder> [Accessed 21 June 2020].

PerthZooWebsite. 2020. Death Adder. [online] Available at:

<https://perthzoo.wa.gov.au/animal/death-adder> [Accessed 21 June 2020].

Genomics.senescence.info. 2020. Common Death Adder (Acanthophis Antarcticus) Longevity, Ageing, And Life History. [online] Available at: <https://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php <species=Acanthophis_antarcticus> [Accessed 21 June 2020].

Eipper, S. and Eipper, T. (2021) Commonly asked questions answered for this species of death adder…., natureforyou. natureforyou. Available at: https://www.wildlifedemonstrations.com/post/commonly-asked-questions-answered-for-this-species-of-death-adder (Accessed: December 8, 2022).

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