Common Death Adder

There are a few animals that really just do what it says on the tin. The Death Adder adds death. Where insufficient death is present, the Death Adder is there to help out, adding that much needed death.

There’s no need to ask if this is a dangerous snake. Yes. Yes it is.

Death Adders are a very distinctive looking snake. They have a shortish, squat body. Their tail tapers off and becomes just a bit skinny, just a bit quickly. The head is triangular, and pokes out from the neck, unlike most venomous Australian snakes, which have a flat connection between their neck and body. This makes them look a lot like a viper or adder, which is where the name comes from, though they’re not in any way part of the adder family, or even closely related. They’re not an especially large snake, maxing out at around a metre.

One of the fun things about it is that it doesn’t give a crap. There’s a theory that the name Death Adder is actually a corruption of “deaf” adder. Most snakes, even venomous ones, will avoid people by slithering off before you even know they’re there. This stops us stepping on them. Not the Death Adder, though. If a person comes blundering through the Death Adder’s peaceful slumber he has an alternative option: just add some death.

The reason for the Death Adder’s complete disinterest in not killing you is that they’re an ambush predator. They have a weird knobbly tail that looks a bit like a rattlesnake’s tail. The point of it isn’t to look a bit like a rattlesnake’s tail, though. That would be useless. The point is to look a LOT like a grub.

A Death Adder will bury itself in leaves and debris, with just that tail hanging out and twitching. When an inquisitive and hungry bird or small mammal comes over and has a go, the Death Adder strikes.

And holy hell does it strike. The Death Adder has the ability to go from a strike position, add some death and let go, and then get back ready to strike again within 0.15 seconds. This is some impressive death adding. With human reflexes maxing out at about 0.5 seconds that means a committed Death Adder could strike you three times in the time it takes you to think “hey…”. While the snake is not actually that big, it manages to have some of the longest fangs of any Australian snake. They help with the adding death.

The venom is extremely potent. It’s not an Ouch Adder. Most snakes have a mix of three different components. A neurotoxin which jacks up with the nervous system, a hemotoxin which makes the blood a useless sludge, and a myotoxin, which turns the muscle tissue into soup. Death Adders have changed a little. They’ve skipped all but the neurotoxin.

The potent neurotoxin can start seriously messing with the victim within 15 minutes of a bite. Like many of Australia’s neurotoxic inhabitants, the cause of death (assuming it got that far) would be the paralysis of the muscles required for breathing. This effect will happen in around about six hours.

Death Adders don’t kill many people in Australia, thanks to antivenoms, medical care, and access to rapid transportation. Their general remoteness means they tend not to bite many either. In New Guinea, however, they still account for a significant number of deaths.

Death Adder
Acanthophis antarcticus