By Anders Nielsen, Ph.d.

A death adder has a spine on its tail. Its name, Acanthophis, is from the Greeks usage of the words spine and snake.

There are several sub-species of this snake, all of which are found in Australia. Well, there is one that can be found in Indonesia and New Guinea, a special one that won’t be treated here—the smooth-scaled death adder.

Their head has the same shape as the copperhead snake;that is, a triangular shape. Maybe that is why some people mistakecopperhead snakes for death adders.

They are ambushers and wait for prey to get so close that they can strike. Like the copperhead, they use their tail to lure prey closer. When the prey, usually a rodent, gets close enough to see what it is with that moving tail, the death adder strikes.

Overview of the Death Adder

This video is perhaps a bit rough, but if you like venomous snakes, you will definitely enjoy it.

Scientific studies have shown how this luring works. In a study by Chiszar et al. (1990) showed that the movements of its tail increased whenever lizards were near and that the lizards were attracted to its tail. The researchers identified two types of caudal movements. One type was for the situation when prey was near for getting the prey even closer. The other type was a kind of a casual luring technique using a “probe” to attract prey out of the snake’s view.

This video shows the caudal movements that attract prey.

Like the cottonmouth snake, death adders will often strike many times and repeatedly, thereby injecting a large dose of venom.

Its venom is extremely potent. Just like the tiger snake, the death adder’s venom has a very low LD50-value. It can inject as much as 100 mg of venom, whereas the LD50 is only 0.5 mg/kg. If humans have the same resistance to death adder venom as mice, there would be more than a 50% chance that an ordinary person would die from a death adder bite.

The good news is that symptoms of the venom from this snake peak after 24-48 hours and not immediately. Hence, people usually get antivenin in time and before they die from complete paralysis. In remote areas of New Guinea, people occasionally die from its bite.

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et al. “Snakebite mortality in Costa Rica”, Toxicon, Vol. 35 pp. 1639-43 (1997)

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