Desert death adder
|Desert death adder|
|Yellow-reddish desert death adder|
|Image depicting the range of the desert death adder|
The desert death adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus) is a species of snake native to Australia and is one of the most venomous land snakes in the world. The desert death adder is under threat due to the destruction of habitat.
Desert death adders are members of the Acanthophis genus, highly venomous elapids with short and thick bodies, triangular heads, mobile fangs, and a thin tapering tail. They grow to lengths up to 70 centimeters, with a snout to vent length of 62 cm, and have a flattened appearance. Desert death adders are coloured brick-red, or yellow-reddish, with strong or inconspicuous yellow bands which are camouflaged with their surroundings. The tail tip is used as a lure to attract potential prey and is distinctively darker in colour. Their fangs are longer than most of Australia’s venomous snakes.
Distribution and habitat
The desert death adder occurs from the coast of Western Australia, to central regions as far south as Kalgoorlie and into the Northern Territory. The related species, the common or southern death adder, is found in a different range.
Desert death adders are found in living in remote areas, amongst porcupine grass, stony flats, sandy ridges and rocky outcrops of Central and Western Australia. In southwest Australia they occur in hummock grass in mallee.
The desert death adder only bites if the threat is very close to them. They also use their bite to catch their prey. They only bite when they are close to their target. They are usually most active after dark, only occasionally being seen during the day. They may climb shrubs or grasses to bask in the morning, and are seen on roads near outlying urban areas.
Desert death adders feed on lizards, especially skinks and dragons, and small mammals. They are attracted to the snake, which may lie in a patient ambush for days, by the wiggling of the lure at the tip of the tail like its sister, the common death adder. When moved it bears a striking resemblance to a worm or caterpillar and is thus a tempting morsel for a passing lizard.
Desert death adders are reluctant to bite unless the threat is very close to them. However, they have large fangs, and their glands produce a considerable quantity of toxic venom. Today, it rarely is the cause of snake bites in Australia. They are regarded as very dangerous. The venom is most significantly neurotoxin, which once had a 50% mortality rate.
Desert death adders mate during spring or early summer, with the babies being produced in late summer or early autumn. Unlike most other snakes, desert death adders give birth to live young. Up to 13 live young may be produced in each litter.
- "Acanthophis pyrrhus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
- Browne-Cooper, R.; Bush, B.; Maryan, B.; Robinson, D. (2007). Reptiles and Frogs in the Bush: Southwestern Australia. University of Western Australia Press. pp. 243, 244. ISBN 978-1-920694-74-6.
- Boulenger, G. A. 1898. Description of a new death adder (Acanthophis) from central Australia. Ann. Mag. nat. Hist. (7) 2: 75 cited by Species Acanthophis pyrrhus at The Reptile Database
- "Desert Death Adder". Our Animals. Australian Reptile Park. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- "Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus)". Venomous Animals. Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU). Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- "CSL Death Adder Antivenom". Toxinology Department: CSL Antivenom Handbook. Women's & Children's Hospital, Adelaide, Australia. Retrieved 2008-10-13.