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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 6

Acanthophis. Daud. — Acanthophis antartica. Wagl. — The Death Adder

page 58

Acanthophis. Daud.

Acanthophis antartica. Wagl.

The Death Adder.

Head large, depressed, broad behind, regularly shielded, no loreal, 2 nasals, nostrils between; 8 rows of dorsal scales, keeled to the root of the tail; grey, sometimes salmon coloured above, minutely punctulated; back and tail with about 4 or 5 white spots speckled with pink, lower lip flesh coloured (white or yellowish white in spirits), with a pale black dot in the centre of each scale; beneath salmon coloured (yellow in spirits); tail distinct from trunk, short, thin, and ending in a recurved soft spine.

The colour of the Death Adder is subject to a good deal of variation, northern specimens from Rockhampton and Port Denison have the dark cross-bands of the back considerably smaller than those from the neighbourhood of Sydney, and the markings in the centre of the upper and lower labials and chin shields are of a pale greyish hue in the former. Specimens of a copper-red colour, as occasionally occur near Richmond, Randwick, and Long Bay, have seldom come under my notice from other parts of the continent.

Its habits and economy are tolerably well known. It is fond of warmth and sunshine, frequents sandy localities, is sluggish in its movements, and does not jump backwards if going to bite. When irritated this snake flattens itself out generally in the form of an S, turning round to one side or the other with astonishing rapidity, but never jumping at its enemy. As regards the supposed venomous sting in the tail, I can assure everybody interested in this matter that the caudal appendage is a mere ornament, quite soft, which nobody could run into his finger if he tried, and I am astonished that the fables which ignorance has circulated in a former and darker age, have not been exposed long before this.

In April or May they go into winter quarters, having during the summer months accumulated a sufficient quantity of fat, to page 59 be under no further necessity of catching frogs, grasshoppers, or field-mice during the next season. The burrow of some small rodent, or the hole furnished by a decayed root, is selected and taken possession of until the warm sunshine of spring recalls the sluggish reptile to fresh activity.

I believe that the Death-adder is found in almost every part of Australia north of 36°. The Australian Museum is in possession of specimens from many parts of New South Wales and from various localities in Queensland. The British Museum received this snake from Port Essington and the north-west coast, and I have taken it myself on the Murray and Darling. Its length seldom exceeds 30 inches. A very large specimen measured 2 feet 2½ inches to the vent, and 4½ inches to the tail; total, 2 feet 7 inches; around the body, 6 inches.