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What is a Death Adder?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
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  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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The death adder (Agkistrodon contortrix), also commonly called the moccasin or copperhead, is a venomous snake of North America. It lives in woodlands, deciduous and coniferous forests, deserts, swamps, and river areas. The death adder does not actively seek prey, but lies in wait until prey approaches it. The snake will sometimes actively hunt insects, however. It mainly feeds on rodents, lizards, and frogs.

There are five subspecies of the death adder. A. c. contortrix or the southern copperhead lives in areas bordering the Gulf of Mexico, in the lower Mississippi Valley, and on the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. It is pinkish tan to pale brown with darker crossbands. A. c. laticinctus or the broad-banded copperhead is found throughout the southern United States and is reddish to greyish brown in color with darker crossbands and a white underside.

A. c. mokasen or the northern copperhead is found in the eastern United States. It features dark chestnut crossbands in an hourglass pattern and a copper-colored head. A. c. phaeogaster or the osage copperhead lives in the central United States. Its patterning is similar to that of the northern copperhead, but with a greater contrast between the light and dark bands.

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Finally, A. c. pictigaster or the Trans-Pecos copperhead lives in parts of Texas and northeastern Mexico. It resembles the broad-banded copperhead, but can be distinguished by its white and black patterned underside. All supspecies of death adder grow to about 20 to 37 inches (50–95 cm) in length and feature a broad head and a stout body.

Though the snakes do not attack humans, they often freeze when humans are nearby, and people can sustain bites by inadvertently stepping on a death adder. Despite the snake's name, its bite is rarely lethal to humans, though it does require medical attention. The only documented cases of lethal bites from death adders involved multiple snakes,.

Symptoms of a death adder bite can include severe pain, nausea, and tingling, swelling, and throbbing at the site of the bite. Death adders sometimes give "warning bites" or "dry bites" that do not release any venom. If untreated, the bite can cause necrosis, or tissue death, of the muscle and bone. Death adder bite is usually treated with antibiotics, pain management, and medical supervision. The antivenom CroFab, intended for use against rattlesnake bites, is also a possible treatment for patients with severe reactions, but is generally not used because of its possible side effects.

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Drentel
Post 3

The grandson of one of my neighbors came to visit his grandparents for a couple weeks last summer. He is a city kid and doesn't have any experience with many of the animals we take for granted around here. He is at that age where he likes to capture various small animals and play with them.

He has captured lizards and he once trapped a big rat snake. His grandparents cautioned him about playing with snakes because some of them can be dangerous. Anyway, his grandparents were shocked last summer when he showed them the copperhead he had managed to trap. Fortunately, he was not bitten.

Copperheads are a bit deceptive because as snakes go they are not

overly large, and usually only a couple feet in length as adults. If you don't know anything about them you might assume their small size means they are less dangerous than a long rat snake, which can easily be twice as long as the copperhead or death adder. This of course is not the case.

Feryll
Post 2

@Animandel - I guess what they say about beauty being in the eyes of the beholder is true in terms of adders. I read that the Australian death adder is considered to be one of the prettiest snakes around.

Because the snakes are so striking in the way they look, many people are attracted to them and often approach them for a closer look. Some people go as far as to handle the snakes, which is not a good idea. The Australian version of this snake is one of the most deadly snakes around.

Animandel
Post 1

I am reading a book and the author has used the term death adder several times. This is not a phrase that I am accustomed to hearing. I have always used the word copperhead to refer to these types of snakes in the past. I guess the name copperhead makes them sound a little less dangerous than when you call them death adders, but either way I prefer to keep my distance from them. They are scary little animals.

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