Common death adder Acanthophis antarcticus


The common death adder is variable in colour, usually with contrasting cross-bands and has a large, almost triangular head and stout body. The thin rat-like tail ends in a curved soft spine and the tip is cream or black. It feeds on reptiles, mammals and birds, and attracts prey by using the tail as a lure. It is rare to absent in Brisbane but is known from Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious. The average size of the common death adder is 0.4 metres (m) with a maximum length of 1m.


The common death adder has a broad flattened, triangular head and a thick body with bands of red, brown and black with a grey, cream or pink belly. It can reach a maximum body length of 70–100 centimetres (2.3–3.3 ft). Death adders possess the longest fangs of any Australian snake. Unlike the common or European adder (Vipera berus), the common death adder is a member of the snake family

Elapidae, rather than the family Viperidae, which are not found in Australia.

Distribution and habitat

The common death adder occurs over much of eastern and coastal southern Australia – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and

South Australia. It is more scarce in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and the west parts of South Australia. It is also native

to Papua New Guinea.

Common death adders are found in forests, woodlands, grasslands and heaths of the eastern coast of Australia. The death adder is a

master of camouflage, due to its band stripes, hiding beneath loose leaf litter and debris in woodland, shrubland and grassland.


Common death adders eat small mammals and birds as a primary diet. Unlike other snakes, the common death adder lies in wait for its prey (often for many days) until a meal passes. It covers itself with leaves—making itself inconspicuous—and lies coiled in ambush, twitching its grub-like tail close to its head as a lure. When an animal approaches to investigate the movement, the death adder quickly strikes, injecting its venom and then waits for the victim to die before eating it. The death adder is not aggressive, yet its ambush hunting technique and reliance on camouflage rather than flight to avoid threats renders it more dangerous to humans who venture into

bushland habitats. Snakebite mortality in Australia is nonetheless rare, with only 14 between 2000 and 2010 recorded by the  

National Coronial Information Service, which does not classify these by responsible species of snake.


Unlike most snakes, death adders produce litters of live young. In the late summer, a female death adder will produce a litter of live offspring, approximately 3–20, however over 30 young have been recorded in a single litter.


The common death adder venom contains highly toxic neurotoxin which can cause paralysis or even kill. It can deliver the fastest strike among all venomous snakes recorded in Australia. Human death can occur within six hours after the bite.