Common Death Adder

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The Common Death Adder is a species of death adder found in Australia. One the most venomous species in world, it is also widespread across Southern Australia with a strong population. The common death adder can be found in woodlands and forests across eastern Australia and the southern coast.

The death adders diet consists primarily of small mammals, using a unique hunting strategy of laying in wait for up to days for its prey to pass than actively stalking. Death adders have come under strain from the increasing cane toad population which eat baby death adders and poison adult death adders when they attempt to eat them.

Unlike most snakes, death adders lay live young instead of eggs.

TAXONOMY
FamilyElapidaevenomous snakes, includes majority of land snakes of Australia
GenusAcanthophis 
Speciesantarcticus 
Nearest RelativesA. pyrrhus
A. praelongus
Desert Death Adder
Northern Death Adder

Distribution

  • The three species of Death Adder cover most of mainland Australia
  • The Common Death Adder occurs in cooler areas and in higher rainfall areas

Habitat

  • rainforest, coastal heath, sand dunes, arid grassland
  • tend to be sedentary
  • stay partially hidden in leaf litter, sand, or overhanging vegetation
  • move around in late afternoon or at night

Appearance

  • short thick body with a large, triangular head and slender tail with a brightly marked tip
  • proteroglyphous – fixed fangs at front of jaw; pair of relatively short hollow fangs each lying in front of the upper jaw and connected at the base to a duct leading to the venom gland
  • mottled colouration provides excellent camouflage

Size

  • up to 1m (3ft) but usually about half that size

Defence

  • positioning of the fangs at the front enables elapids to defend themselves against larger animals by injecting venom

Method of feeding

  • ambush predators; short stocky body enables them to strike quickly
  • capture prey by twitching tail rapidly; prey attracted to grub-like lure
  • after striking, the Death Adder hangs on until the fast-acting postsynaptic neurotoxins take effect

Prey

  • lizards, small mammals, birds

Reproduction

  • breed in alternate years probably as a response to low feeding rates
  • males mature at 2 years; females at about 3-4 years
  • young are born live; maximum litter size of about 30

Parasites

  • ticks
  • Predators
  • foxes, cats

Problems

  • cane toads prey on young Death Adders or result in the death of adults that try to eat the toads
  • secondary effect from eating mice poisoned with strychnine

Status

  • some populations have been greatly reduced but still common

References – Books

  • Australia’s Amazing Wildlife, 1985. Bay Books, Kensington NSW
  • Australian Snakes: A Natural History, R Shine, 1998. Reed New Holland, Sydney
  • Dangerous Snakes of Australia, P Mirtschin & R Davis, 1995. Lansdowne Publishing, Sydney
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife, Readers Digest Australia Pty Ltd, 1997. Readers Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Surrey Hills
  • Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, HG Cogger, 1996. Reed Books, Melbourne
  • Snakes of Australia, P Mirtschin & R Davis, 1992. Hill of Content, Melbourne

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