Saturday, April 11, 2009

New Guinea Death Adder

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

Above the eyes, the raised supraocular scales form two distinctive 'horns'
Species : Acanthophis sp.
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.

Though the various Acanthophis species are considered largely nocturnal, the roadkill specimen shown here had ventured onto a remote road in the late afternoon before being crushed by a vehicle.

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.

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


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