Earth & Energy

Death Adders: Meet Australia’s Deadly Snakes

We all know that Australia is host to a number of deadly organisms, and it seems to keep producing new ones. This is the Kimberley death adder, Acanthophis cryptamydros, and although it certainly isn’t the largest snake in the world, reaching just 20 inches (51 centimeters) in length, it can still pack a rather nasty punch. Death adders are all highly venomous; in fact, the common death adder is one of the most venomous snakes that we’ve ever found.

death adder
The Kimberley death adder. Image credit: Ryan Ellis/Western Australian Museum

If that’s not enough, the snake doesn’t seek out it’s prey; rather, it makes its victims come to it.

The creature will sit in the bush and wait for a viable candidate to come along. Then it starts to slowly wiggle its worm-like tail in an attempt to lure in the unwary organism towards its resting place. Once the prey gets close enough, the snake lunges forward and sinks its fangs deep into its victim.

Fortunately—for us anyway—since these snakes are more sit-and-wait predators, they are not know for attacking humans unless they feel threatened. That “unless” is important. If you are walking though Australia and you stumble across a brownish snake, maybe just leave the little guy alone (in fact, just leave all snakes alone).

death adder
Death adder. Image credit: Ryan Ellis/Western Australian Museum

As an interesting aside, these snakes can’t hear sounds. That’s right, the death adder is deaf. Indeed, many people think that the snake’s common name is simply a misunderstanding of the original name, which may have been “deaf adder.”

Ultimately, the recently discovered Kimberley death adder was found by Simon Maddock, a Ph.D. student in a joint program at University College London and the Natural History Museum, London. He made the find by studying the DNA of various death adders. Maddock and his team sequenced genes that were collected from samples from a number of museums and institutions. All in all, they looked at 112 specimens. They undertook this task in order to figure out how and when the various reptile species evolved.

That’s when they noticed something odd.

“When we looked at our DNA data, we found there was one group of snakes that were really, really different,” said Maddock, whose study was published in the journal Zootaxa. And the Kimberly death adder was born—or, at least, it was found.

But as previously mentioned, the Kimberly death adder is a bit of a misnomer, as death adders don’t really attack many humans. So what snake is truly deadly?

Well, according to most experts, the title of “world’s worst” unquestionably goes to the inland taipan. That is because this beast has both the most toxic venom and the highest amount of venom injected when it bites. This snake is also a native of Australia, and according to the Australia Zoo, it has enough venom to kill a hundred men in one bite.

fierce snake inland taipan
Inland taipan. Image credit: Australia Museum

However, whether or not a snake bite will truly be deadly depends on more than just how venomous they are. Scientists say that the real primary considerations are whether or not you have access to health care and, if so, if the medical providers have ready access to antivenin.

If not, then things generally go pretty poorly.

One of the species that is actually believed to kill the most people worldwide is the puff adder. This is because it tends to blend in with its surroundings, which means that the snake is often stepped on by unsuspecting individuals. On top of this, the snake lives in an area that is economically depressed, so individuals often don’t wear shoes, which greatly contributes to the problem.

Similarly, Russell’s viper in India isn’t very venomous according to the official scale; however, it’s responsible for thousands of deaths each year in India due to the poor health care and how closely the snake lives alongside humans.

So while the Kimberly death adder is an interesting discovery, we’d do well to remember how deadly these snakes can be for individuals who don’t have access to the basic necessities of life.

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