Some animals have boring names, some have silly names, still others have just plain bizarre ones. But the name ‘death adder’ is one of the more badass names I’ve come across. It evokes a sense of instant respect for these snakes, and rightly so. They are some pretty deadly fellas.

Unfortunately for death adders, the origin of their name isn’t quite as cool as the name itself. Early settlers thought that the snakes were deaf, because they didn’t run away from people. It turns out that death adders’ hunting style is what kept them still, not a lack of hearing. I guess once people realized this (and once some people died because of these guys), they changed the name to something a little more appropriate.

Death adders can be found where all the most deadly animals live, in Australia. They also inhabit New Guinea and other islands in that area. People disagree on the exact number of species of death adder, but there’s somewhere between four and fifteen known species. Death adders aren’t actually closely related to adders.

A smooth-scaled death adder.  Image credit: Petra Kerstedt via Wikipedia
A smooth-scaled death adder.
Image by Petra Karstedt, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

Death adders look a bit silly for snakes, being fairly short and fat. Their heads are triangular and they have fairly long, flexible fangs. Colours vary from black to red and yellow and brown, and changes based on species and locale. Death adders usually have bands covering their bodies. A distinguishing feature of death adders is their thin tails, which resemble worms and acts as lures to prey.

Death adders are fairly lazy hunters — instead of actively seeking prey they lure prey to them. They bury themselves in sand, leaves or dirt, only leaving their head and tail exposed. The tail is wiggled back and forth, making it look like a tasty meal for a small mammal or bird. When the unsuspecting prey gets near the tail, the death adder strikes. This is when death adders really move. They have one of the quickest strikes of any snake, completing the action of biting prey and returning to strike position in less than 0.15 seconds.

They are a bit strange looking, with their fat bodies and tiny tails.  Image source: Wikipedia
They are a bit strange looking, with their fat bodies and tiny tails.
Image by Figaro, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The strike also involves injecting venom into the prey. Death adder venom is nasty stuff, containing neurotoxins that cause paralysis. Progression of the paralysis is fairly slow, but without treatment a human can die of respiratory paralysis in six hours. Before antivenin was readily available, the fatality rate from death adder bites was about 50%. Sounds unpleasant to me.

So I guess even though their name started out because people though they were deaf, their current name suits these snakes pretty well. Which makes me happy, because it’s one of my all-time favourite names for snakes.

Cover image by Petr Hamerník, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit