Common Death Adder
Where have all the Adders gone (long time passing?)
Can anyone produce a picture of a mainland Whitsunday Death Adder? Has anyone seen one lately?
Death Adders appear to still be quite common on the Whitsunday Islands but there is much anecdotal evidence that they were also once quite common and seen regularly by landholders on the mainland. The Atlas of Living Australia has several records from the Whitsunday Islands but none from the mainland. The most recent record is from Saddleback Island in 2007. In other parts of its range it is becoming less and less common but persists in quite high numbers on offshore islands e.g. the islands around Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. I have heard that the great snake man from this region, Ram Chandra, would come up from Mackay to “Cannonvale Pocket” to collect Death Adders as it was a reliable spot to do so. Others recall seeing an adder in the past on their property or dead on the road but not in recent times.
There are 7 species of Death Adder in Australia. The species in our region is the Common Death Adder which has a southern and eastern distribution, reaching almost up to the southern Cape. It is a deadly venomous snake with a reputation for biting any hapless walker who may step on a snake that is lying concealed on a bush track or on a beach dune path. Perhaps, not as likely these days as once it was but I would still wear good footwear when out bushwalking.
Death Adders are sedentary animals by day and are difficult to find unless seen on the move at night. They use a sit and wait or ambush form of hunting, hiding beneath leaf litter with their tail placed in front of the face. When a bird or lizard approaches the movement stimulates the adder to wriggle the worm like spine on the end of its short tail to attract the prey. Striking and holding the prey until it succumbs to the venom, then swallowing it whole.
In Queensland the Common Death Adder is listed as Vulnerable and is particularly sensitive to habitat change and land clearing for agriculture and this has no doubt had an impact on the species in this region. They need areas to secrete themselves away from other predators. Rocks, fallen logs and deep leaf litter as well as thick ground cover comprise their preferred habitat. Fortunately, there is still much of this type of habitat in the hills around the Whitsundays. The introduction of weeds into the bushland may also have had an impact, particularly the increase in Guinea Grass along with a change in fire regimes. Also their sit and wait approach to feeding makes them susceptible to poisoning by Cane Toads as the striking-at-movement instinct that they possess is a hard one to control and toads would no doubt be attracted to the adders wriggling lure.
Unlike the non-venomous Keelback that can eat toads most of our snakes have had to learn to avoid eating toads and this could be a reason why another species, the King Brown Snake, is also uncommon here now. The Red-bellied Black Snake, a close relative of the King Brown, remains relatively common here and in other areas further north where toads are present. There is scientific evidence that the head size of these tropical Red-bellied Blacks has reduced since toads appeared and it is thought the smaller head to body size reduces the size of the toads that can be eaten and therefore gives the snake a greater chance of recovering from the poisonous meal. This may be important as the Death Adder has a very large head compared to its body size and would therefore be more susceptible.
So, in addition to being shunned by people (as all snakes usually are), adders have much more to contend with and perhaps their slow decline in our region has gone unnoticed much in the way of the Whitsunday Koalas. Or perhaps they are still around keeping well out of our way. But if you do happen to come across an adder, even a dead one on the road, consider taking a picture (from a safe distance of course) and we would happily include it on the regional Wildlife Gallery.
In the mean time we can note the following from the Qld Dept Environment & Heritage Protection website:
Conservation status: This species is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992). It is ranked as a medium priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
- Encourage sustainable grazing regimes that will maintain areas of habitat for common death adder.
- Encourage micro-mosaic patch burning for fire regimes, which will allow common death adders to find refuge from fires in unburnt patches.
- Prevent the destruction and degradation of important habitat, through: identifying guidelines to protect habitat; appropriate zoning; identifying development alternatives and incentives to retain habitat; and, educating communities.
- Encourage the retention of fallen logs, leaf litter and rocks, to provide refuges for common death adder.
- Adopt a collaborative approach to reptile conservation and encourage involvement from government agencies, regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) bodies, industry groups, indigenous groups, landholders and the community.
What can you do to help this species?
- In areas of known and potential habitat, implement appropriate grazing regimes to alleviate grazing pressure.
- Avoid removing fallen logs, leaf litter and rocks in common death adder habitat as this disturbs and diminishes refuge sites.
- Become involved in community-based projects (e.g. fencing remnants to reduce grazing impacts, weed and feral predator control, reptile monitoring) and help protect habitat across a suite of land tenures, particularly on non-reserved lands.
- Help protect threatened reptiles by supporting integrated pest management activities which seek to address feral animal threats (e.g. pigs, cats and foxes).
|Photo taken on Saddleback Island