Unlike most adders, death adders do not belong to the viper family. However, they are similar in appearance to vipers, so this is why they are called adders.
There are approximately 8 recognized species of death adder, though scientists are still debating the exact number. The scientific name for this family of snakes is Acanthopis, which means spiny snake.
Danger to Humans:
Death adders’ venom is considered deadly to humans. In fact, before its anti-venom was developed in the late 1950’s, the mortality, or death, rate of a death adder bite was about 50%. This means that out of every two people bitten, one would die.
Today, as long as anyone bitten immediately receives medical attention, the chances for a complete recovery are positive.
There are many reports of death adder bites being “dry bites” with no venom injected with the bite. This has led scientists to believe injecting venom is a choice the snake makes regarding threat level.
Death adders live throughout most of Australia and can be found around the edges of forests, in grasslands, and even among leaf litter in yards.
The death adder is short and stocky only reaching lengths of about 3 feet as the maximum. The main difference in species is their coloration. They generally are brown, black, red, yellow, or gray with banded bodies, but can be a variety of colors even in the same species.
Death adders can become extremely well camouflaged in their environment and will not try to escape if they hear something large approaching. In fact, they were once known as “deaf adders” due to this behavior.
However, they like all snakes, do not hear with external ears, but instead listen to the vibrations in the ground.
The death adder’s very distinct shape makes it easily identifiable. It’s short, stocky body narrows to a thin tip of a tail, which is sometimes a lighter color than the snake or even white. This feature of their anatomy serves as a way for them to lure food to them!
Death adders are not active hunters like most snakes. They instead use a special trick called “caudal luring” to bring prey to them. Death adders will bury themselves in leaves, sand or soil with only the tip of their worm like tail showing, which they have strategically placed near their head. The movement of the tail will cause some curious animal to investigate thinking it is some type of food for them. When this happens, the death adder is ready. Skinks, small mammals, and frogs fall for this trick and, instead of finding themselves something to eat, become the main dish themselves.
- Special Adaptations: With their special way of luring prey to come to them, death adders often just lie in wait. Many times, humans can pass right by them without even knowing they are there! They are considered to be very mysterious snakes and masters of disguise. They also are believed to have the fastest strike of any snake in Australia. They strike so quickly a human eye cannot even follow their movement!
- Reproduction: Female death adders give birth to 10-20 babies in the fall. They reproduce every two years.
- Conservation Status: Most of the populations of death adders are not considered to be in danger and are listed as species of Least Concern. However, the common death adder is listed as Vulnerable. Some of the species’ populations have decreased, though not dangerously, in the last few years for a couple of reasons. The introduction of the cane toad has led to the decrease in some death adder populations. Cane toads were introduced to Australia as a way to control a beetle species. When death adders lure and then eat cane toads, they ingest the poison a cane toad’s body produces. The death adder will sicken and die after eating a cane toad. Human development and habitat loss have also negatively affected death adder population sizes.
Striking Statements of Fact:
- Death adders are generally nocturnal and are most active at night. Although they are mainly terrestrial, or land dwelling, they are excellent swimmers and will not hesitate to go into water to catch their next meal.
- Scientists are studying death adder venom, hoping the research will lead to a breakthrough in helping people who have heart attacks and strokes.