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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024



New Guinea Death Adders

Fig 1

Fig 2

Species : Acanthophis spp.
Maximum Size : 1 metre

Death Adders occur in a variety of habitats including various forest types from sea level to around 1800 metres, grasslands, plantations and gardens. They lie well-concealed amongst leaf-litter or grasses : if trodden upon they will not hesitate to strike, and fatalities from Death Adder bites are a reality in much of rural Papua New Guinea.

The various Acanthophis species appear to be nocturnal as well as diurnal.

The genus is unmistakable in its appearance : the head is triangular and viper-like, the body short and thick and the tail short. The eyes are moderate in size, and above each a raised 'horn' is generally present (a  modified supraocular scale). The scales are smooth or mildly keeled.

Dorsal patterning and colouration is variable, ranging from brownish to greyish often with pale banding. The underside is generally pale, sometimes with dark spots.

Death Adders will wriggle their short tail to lure their prey, which includes lizards, birds and small mammals.

Acanthophis are widespread in PNG, and range further afield to Indonesian Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), the Aru Islands and parts of Australia.

Fig 1 : This 45 cm roadkill specimen is from the Gobe area of  Southern Highlands Province, PNG, at an elevation of 900 metres.

Fig 2 : Above the eyes, the raised supraocular scales form two distinctive 'horns'

Figs 3 and 4 : This fine specimen of Acanthophis laevis was encountered on a manicured golf course at Timika, in the south of Papua (Indonesian New Guinea).  Photos thanks to Bill Mahnken.

References : H6

Fig 3
ゥ  Bill Mahnken
Fig 4
ゥ  Bill Mahnken