Floodplain Death Adder

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Finally……. a death adder! Floodplain death adder in defensive mode (Acanthophis hawkei, formerly A. praelongus). Probably the snake I wanted to find most at Fogg Dam. I’ve long been fascinated with viperid morphology and behavior… except death adders aren’t vipers, they’re convergent(!) and belong to the largest family of Australian snakes, elapidae. The triangular head with prominent ridges on the supraocular scales and a short thick body with a tapering tail are truly reminiscent of the vipers I’ve encountered in the Americas.

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When I approached the snake it rapidly turned its back to me and inflated its body to appear larger. This display is particularly astounding since the death adder has bits of bright yellow concealed on the edges of its scales, making a stark transition from a dull brown coloration to a conspicuous yellow ringed pattern. Look carefully at the scale color arrangement. I could stare at that pattern for ages.

Photographed after slight disturbance [2] unless otherwise stated

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These ambush predators lie motionless on the ground awaiting unsuspecting prey to get within their strike range. They exhibit caudal luring (as do vipers), a type of mimicry where the tail undulates in a worm-like manner to attract prey. The death adder is a highly venomous snake with potent neurotoxic venom, coupled with one of the fastest strikes in the snake world. Within 0.15 seconds a death adder can strike and return to its resting position. Only once this death adder struck out as a warning, and the motion seemed slightly more rapid and elastic-like than in vipers.

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Photographed in situ [1]

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