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Poisonous animals
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Acanthophis spp., Death adders

Clinical entries


  • 1. Acanthophis antarcticus
  • 2. Acanthophis cryptamydros
  • 3. Acanthophis hawkei
  • 4. Acanthophis laevis
  • 5. Acanthophis praelongus
  • 6. Acanthophis pyrrhus
  • 7. Acanthophis rugosus
  • 8. Acanthophis wellsi


The status of A. barnetti and A. wellsi (Hoser 1998) is in dispute.


Serpentes; Elapidae; Elapinae/Hydrophiinae

Common names

Death adders, Todesottern


  • 1. Common Death adder, Southern Death adder
  • 2. Kimberley death adder
  • 5. Northern Death adder
  • 6. Desert Death adder
  • 7. Rauhnackige Todesotter
  • 8. Pilbara Death Adder



  Fig. 4.59 Acanthophis antarcticus in threatening pose.



Australia and New Guinea. See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information.



  Map 33 Acanthophis spp.



The appearance of death adders is most untypical of elapid snakes. They are much more reminiscent of members of Viperidae. Noticeable is their short, thick body (length approx. 70–80 cm) and the wide head with relatively long venom fangs that is clearly separated from the body. These nocturnal animals have slit pupils which make them well suited to seeing in the dark. Colouring various shades of brown, from light to dark. Generally also lighter cross banding. Their different habitats range from dry scrub to the wet rainforests of the north.

Death adders do not move a great deal, but tend to lie in wait for their prey under loose substrate. The thin, horny tail is then used to lure prey. When in danger they rely on being well camouflaged and do not flee.


Bites are apparently still common in New Guinea. Their population has declined greatly in Australia. In comparison to other dangerous Australian elapids, accidents with death adders are quite rare. Envenoming can take a systemic course.

Literature (biological)

Aplin and Donnellan 1999, Cogger 1986, Maddock et al. 2015, Mirtschin et al. 1990, O'Shea 1990, 1996, 2005, Sutherland 1983, Wüster et al. 2005