Death Adder Snakes in Cape York

Death adder snakes are found in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

They are well distinguished from other Australian poisonous snakes, due to their looks.

They have a viper-like appearance, but like other Australian poisonous snakes, they belong the Elapidae family.

Their bodies are stockier than other Australian snakes', they have a more triangular head, a thin tail tip, and the habit of hiding under the leaves, with only head and tail visible.

They are mainly nocturnal, ambush predators, and quick, accurate attackers.

There are a few species of them in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia: Common, desert, Pilbara, Barkly Tableland and northern; (Australia), rough scaled (Australia, Indonesia); and smooth scaled death adder (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea).

But the only one we have on Cape York peninsula, is the northern death adder, Acanthophis praelongus.
   death adder

What Does Death Adder Look Like?

They are easy to distinguish from other Australian poisonous snakes by their triangular heads, short robust bodies, and small, worm-like tail tips.

They often have bands, but patterns and colours can vary depending on their location and exact habitat.

The colour can vary from brown, black and grey to reddish, yellowish, even greenish grey

common death adder

Hunting and Feeding

The group is well known for their hunting technique.

Rather than actively hunting, they quietly sit and wait for the prey to come to them (ambush).

They hide themselves under leaf litter, sand, gravel, soil or any other ground cover, only leaving their head and tail out.

The tail tip is tiny, worm-like, exactly for this purpose.

When a prey approaches, they
wiggle their tail tip, which sticks out of the leaf litter, as if it was a worm.

That lures the prey and attracts it to the striking distance, and the strike is quick and accurate!

Like most groups of snakes have their favourite prey, death adders love lizards. But they also eat birds, small mammals, frogs and other reptiles.
   death adder snake

Bite, Venom and Treatment

Their habit of hiding under the ground substance makes them difficult to see, and therefore easy to accidentally step on.

Being short snakes, their bites seldom reach higher than your ankles, so high boots, long pants and maybe even gaiters are a good protection from them on remote bushwalks.

While most other Australian poisonous snakes tend to have a mixture of
neuro-, haemo- and myotoxins, death adders only have one kind - neurotoxins.

So instead of a mixture of muscular and respiratory failure and blood clotting, death adder venom causes neuromuscular failure and attacks the respiratory system.

It acts quickly and brings symptoms like nausea, paralysis and breathing difficulties.

Before the antivenom became available, their bites had a 50% mortality rate, but today a death is rare.

That means, though, that you have to get to the hospital to get the antivenom, and it may not be easy if you are somewhere remote, so an EPIRB and a snake bite kit are good to have in your vehicle.

   northern death adder
Northern Death Adder on Badu Island

Northern Death Adder

The northern species that we have in Cape York, is about 60cm in length in average, but larger specimens can be 70cm.

It is grey to reddish bown in colour, and it is less stocky than the southern species. 

It is found in scrub and eucalypt woodland, both wet and dry.

Like the others in the group, they are ambush predators, and like the others, they are active at night.

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