Common Death Adder Fact File
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Common death adders may be active at any time of the day with nocturnal activity dependent on the temperature.
Predators and Threats
Their primary defense 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.
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.
By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35479605
By Petr Hamerník – Zoo Praha, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90915293
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<https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/threatened-species/vulnerable/common-death-adder> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
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