HERPTILE 12 (2), 1987, pp. 56-61
Notes on the breeding
of Death Adders(Acanthophis antarcticus)
BY RAYMOND T. HOSER
2003 Address:- PO Box 599, Doncaster,
Victoria, 3108, Australia. FAX: +61 3 9857- 4664
Click here to download and view a 3.3 mb mpg (video) file of two mating Sydney Death Adders.
This paper first appeared in HERPTILE
- JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL HERPETOLOGICAL SOCIETY
IN 1987, What follows is a text only version of the same
article (no italics) and without the photos and other material that appeared
in the original magazine. Please download the entire article if desired,
however if the article is later referred to, please cite Herptile
as the original published source. Publication details are that it was published
in Volume 12, number 2, pages 56-61.
In the period leading up July 1984, the author maintained a breeding
group of Death Adders Acanthophis antarcticus.
In early 1984 there were four gravid Death Adders and three produced
live young. From the data arising from these births and data already held
numerous facts about Death Adders and their biology emerged. The key facts
are as follows:
Most of the above was deduced from notes held by the Author, relating
to the previous ten year period and not detailed here.
Many facts, however, can be derived from the data provided in table
2. The mating habits and other aspects of this species' biology have been
dealt with previously (see, Hoser 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985).
In 1984 the author's four gravid females gave birth to live young In
the period 26th January till the 26th February (late summer). Unfertilised
"eggs' continued to produce however until the 7th March. In previous
years these ova have been produced during the winter months.
Typically, the females appear to give birth, during seasonally cold
and humid weather, usually when the air pressure is rising. This is true
for specimens both in the wild and in captivity (Hoser, unpublished observation).
An account of the birth of one anakels young (File no. AAA-29) is given
in table 1.
Prior to giving birth female Death Adders become unusually restless
and, in the case of the author's specimens, tried to excavate the
soil in their cages, presumably in an attempt to find a damper location
in which to give birth. Interestingly, this pattern of behaviour started
up to 60 days prior to parturition.
The live young varied in length although litter mates tended to be of
similar size. The babies ranged In size downwards from 17.9 cm total body
length - the average length was 16.5cm.
In this species, at least, the usual theory that larger litters contain
smaller babies did not apply; however larger females did tend to produce
Within a single brood the smaller specimens usually, but not always,
had reduced change of survival in the period shortly after birth.
Data on the young and the mothers, were kept after the births had occurred,
and although most of the young snakes were released shortly after their
birth, four females were kept for future study.
Death Adders have been bred by others besides myself including Peter
Mirtschin (1976, 1982, 1985), Joe Bredl, Peter Hudson (1979) of South Australia
and Merv Hay (1972) from New South Wales. Their breeding data is similar
to my own. All noted that
Death Adders mate at all times of the year and only produce young in late
Summer and Autumn - and usually only every second year. They also observed
the production of unfertilised ova and that they usually give birth in
seasonally cold and wet weather. Shine (1980) investigated wild specimens
held In museums and his findings concur with mine. My study is the first
to investigate the colour genetics of the Death Adder.
In view of the results of the 1984 breeding my aim is now to gather
further evidence to support my conclusions and gather information relating
to tail colour genetics of Death Adders (which is influenced by multiple
Death Adders are threatened In the wild wherever they occur. They obviously
can be bred in captivity (and all four females and the males concerned
were long term captives); It is hoped that more captive breeding programmes
will take place although in the current climate in Australia this seems
On 10th July 1984 the Author's house was broken Into Illegally by corrupt
wildlife officials. This break-in was filmed and shown were also on National
television. All reptiles, files, computer disks, photographic equipment,
slides etc. taken. What wasn't taken was smashed. This was, apparently,
a reprisal for the Author's exposition, in previous years, of smuggling
rackets and the break-in was the climax of a vendetta maintained against
the author. Later court action revealed that the officials had no right
to enter and steal the possessions (including snakes) - and the corruption
and vendetta were also revealed in much detail. However, despite continuing
legal actions by the author to recover stolen goods, to date only a few
files and illegally intercepted mail have been recovered.
The actions by the Author against these officials continues at the time
of writing (March 1987).
In the meantime the captive breeding programs and associated research
has been terminated. See Smuggled and Smuggled-2
for details of NPWS/NSW Corruption.
Birth of young - (AAA-29) Times given are A.M., Eastern Summer Time.
1.00 ( 1 ) first born,
1.01-1.05 (10 )
1.15 ( 1 )
1.16 ( 1 )
1.18 ( 1 )
1.24 ( 1 )
1.50 ( 1 )
2.35 ( 1 )
2.40 ( 3 )
2.41 ( 1# )
3.00 ( 4 )
4.04 ( 2 )
4.05 ( 1# )
4.06 ( 2+ 1# )
4.50 ( 1 )
5.10 ( 2 )
....... time for all young to be born 4hr. 10 min.
# = unfertilized ova.
Table Two. Young born In 1984.
Snake file no. AAA/25 AAA/29 AAA/5 AAA/3
Colour adult red grey red grey
Date 26/1 24/2 26/2 twinned egg 28/2
Last meal 24/1 27/11 1211 N/A
first after 3/4 24/2 2/3 N/A
No. of young 7 27 7 0
unfert. ova 9 6 14 1 (twinned)
dead young 3 12 2 N/A
sex ratio 3:1:3 12:15 4:3 N/A
colour ratio 4:1:2 0:27 5:2 N/A
mean length 150 164 166 N/A
AAA/25 - Cottage Point, NSW
AAA/29 - Dead Death Adder Row/Coal and Candle Creek Road, near Terry
Hills, about 1 km from McCarr's Creek Rd. Turnoff.
AAA/5 - Terry Hills, NSW.
AAA/3 - Mt. McCarr, near West Head between McCarr's Creek Road and West
Hay, M. (1972) Notes on the growth and breeding of Acanthophis antarcticus
The Australian Herpetological Society Journal, 4, 4, 14-15.
Hoser, R.T. (1981) Unsuitable food item taken
by a Death Adder Acanthophis antarcticus Herpetofauna,
13, 1, 30-31.
Hoser, R.T. (1982) Frequency of sloughing in
captive Morelia, Liasis and Acanthophis (Serpentes). Herptile;
Journal of the International Herpetological Society, 7, 3, 20-26.
Hoser, R.T. (1983) Mating behaviour of Australian
Death Adders, Genus: Acanthophis (Serpentes: Elapidae). Herptile;
Journal of the International Herpetological Society, 8, 1, 25-34.
Hoser, R.T. (1985) Genetic composition of Death
Adders Acanthophis antarcticus in the West Head area. Herptile;
Journal of the International Herpetological Society, 10, 3, 96.
Hudson, P. (1979) On the breeding and birth of adders In captivity.
Herpetofauna, 11, 1, 11-13.
Mirtschin, P.J. (1976) Notes on breeding Death Adders In captivity.
Herpetofauna, 8, 2, 16-17.
Mirtschin, P.J. (1982) Further notes on breeding Death Adders Acanthophis
antarcticus in captivity. Herpetofauna 13, 2, 14-17.
Mirtschin, P.J. (1985) An overview of captive breeding of Common Death
Adders Acanthophis antarcticus (SHAW) and Its role In conservation.
In Grigg, G., Shine, R. & Ehman, H. (eds) "Biology of Australasian
Frogs and Reptiles". Royal Zoological Society of NSW. p. 505-509.
Shine, R. (1980) Ecology of the Australian Death Adder Acanthophis
antarcticus (Elapidae): Evidence for convergence with the viperidae.Herpetologica,
36, 4, 281-289.
BELOW is a photo of the standard cage housing for Adult Death Adders at the Hoser facility as of 2003. The cage to the left with the fly wire lid is used for a Diamond Python to allow it natural sunlight. Such a lid isn't needed for Death Adders, hence the uncut lid to the right. Also note the ventilation holes on the sides of the cage. These are sufficient. The dimensions of the cage are approximately 59 cm long X 35 cm wide X 23 cm high. Each is of plastic construction with a hardened clay base for a substrate, over which is placed a small number of leaves. At the opposite end to the water bowl the cage sits over a heat mat (no more than 6 inches wide across the rear end of the cage). The rest of the cage is at room temperature. Such caging is adequate for any adult Death Adder (one per cage), but if pressed, more than one can be housed in such a cage, or males and females mixed for short term co-habitation, mating and so on.
To see a series of photos of the exact cages used by Hoser for his Death Adders and other important and essential husbandry information.
A major 1995 paper on Death Adders.
Death Adders (Genus
Acanthophis): An overview, including descriptions of five new species and one subspecies An 11,000 word paper
in Monitor - Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society published
in April 1998.
Death Adders (Genus
Acanthophis): An updated overview, including descriptions of three new species and two subspecies. A 2002 paper published in Crocodilian - Journal of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists.
Death Adders - Red-grey colour genetics and ramifications in terms of wild populations (1985 paper)
Death Adders - Mating behaviour in captivity (1983 paper)
Death Adders - Breeding in captivity (1987 paper)
Death Adders - Overeating in the wild (1981 paper)
Death Adders - Feeding in captivity (2003 paper)
Death Adders - Colour change in captivity (1985 paper)
Death Adders - Colour change in captivity (1999 paper)
Death Adders (and other snakes) - Frequency of sloughing in captivity (1985 paper)
For numerous other papers that deal dominantly or substantially with Death Adders (Acanthophis spp.).
Raymond Hoser has
been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 120
papers in journals worldwide. He has written nine books including the
definitive works "Australian Reptiles and Frogs",
"Endangered Animals of Australia" and
the controversial best sellers "Smuggled
- The Underground Trade in Australia's Wildlife",
Police Corruption" and "Victoria Police
Corruption - 2"
Over one hundred papers about reptiles
Australian Reptiles and
Frogs - The Definitive book on the subject.