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Death Adders (Genus Acanthophis): An Updated overview, including descriptions of 3 New Island species and 2 New Australian subspecies.

Raymond Hoser
488 Park Road Park Orchards, Victoria, 3114, Australia.
Phone: +61 3 9812 3322 Fax: +61 3 9812 3355 E-mail: XXXX

Originally Published in Crocodilian - Journal of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists September 2002, pages 5-11,16-22,24-30, front and back covers.


The following paper is similar in many respects to one that I published in Monitor - Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society 9 (2) pp. 20-41 in 1998 save for the further descriptions in this paper of three new Island forms of Death Adder, one West Australian Acanthophis subspecies and one South Australian Acanthophis subspecies, as well as further information on the other forms where relevant and/or when new information has become available. Most of this paper was written and/or rewritten in 1999, with a few additions in terms of new breeding and other relevant data incorporated in the paper in early 2002.

In the event that times of comments (in terms of dates) appear to be out of sync, it is hoped that the above explanation covers any such anomalies that may follow.

Death Adders (Genus Acanthophis) are found in most parts of Australia, New Guinea and adjacent islands. They are unusual among the elapids in that they have evolved to become viperine in appearance and habit. All species are characterised by a broad somewhat flattened, triangular head, short stout body and a thin rat-like body ending in a curved spine. The spine and the presence of subocular scales separates Acanthophis from all other Australasian elapids.

Colour is variable, but often reflects the substrate from where the snakes come and dorsally there are usually somewhat indistinct darker and lighter bands (see photos in Hoser (1989) and elsewhere).

Males are usually smaller than females and non-growing adults of both sexes are usually in the vicinity of two feet (60 cm) with three foot (90 cm), being very large and relatively rare.

Accounts of specimens over 90 cm should be treated with skepticism unless a body of such an animal can be produced for independent verification.

A detailed summary of these snakes, in Australia as of 1995, including biology, ecology and other relevant information, as well as a substantial bibliography was published by Hoser (1995). That paper can be downloaded from the world-wide-web at and is strongly recommended to any reader seeking a detailed background of this genus.

There has been substantial confusion and misinformation regarding the taxonomy of species within the genus Acanthophis, particularly for those in northern Australia and Islands to the north, including New Guinea. This confusion has been caused by several factors including the fact that a number of well-known authors have made taxonomic judgments without inspecting animals previously described and/or relatively scant knowledge of the snakes in question. The purpose of this revised paper is to review the current taxonomy and formally redescribe known species and subspecies which to date have been rarely differentiated by herpetologists at the sub-generic level.

The basis of this updated review comes from studies of these snakes over a period in excess of 20 years, a review of published literature, (not all of which is cited here or in Hoser 1995), discussions with many private and professional herpetologists and keepers as well as the inspection of a substantial number of live snakes and others preserved in collections. The author has observed live specimens of all species and subspecies known from Australia (listed below) and some live animals from New Guinea when on tour in the United States in 1993.

Taxonomically, Death Adders present substantial problems in species identification due to the high degree of variability within each species, including within any single local population and the fact that many identifying characteristics sometimes used to separate species are shared to varying degrees by multiple species. Major character differences, such as base colour (i.e. red versus grey), may be affected by as little as one single gene (allele), (Hoser, 1985), clearly indicating that use of such a character on it’s own to separate species would be hazardous to say the least.

Previous works that cover Acanthophis taxonomy, include: Boulenger, (1898), Cogger (1983, 1992), Loveridge, (1948), Macleay, (1877), McDowall (1984), O’Shea (1996), Ramsay, (1877), Shaw and Nodder, (1802) Storr (1981) and Wells and Wellington (1983, 1985a, 1985b). Cogger (1992) and Ehmann (1992), both indicate undescribed forms of Acanthophis, or at least species other than the previously most commonly recognised trio, namely, A. antarcticus, A. pyrrhus and A. praelongus.

The use of venom properties to aid in distinguishing between forms and species has increased in recent years. Such has not been attempted by this author although venom supplied by this author has been used by others including Sheumack, et. al.. Papers dealing with venom properties of Acanthophis include: Fairley (1929), Kim and Tamiya (1981), Sheumack, Howden and Spence (1979), Stettler (1985), and van Woerkom (1985).

A recent paper by Fry et. al. (2001) by and large produced results that supported in full the taxonomic judgements of Hoser (1998) and this work in terms of the identification of new and hitherto unnamed taxa (see below). Likewise for a paper in 1999 by Aplin and Donnellan

Keys that differentiate different species of Acanthophis have not been presented here. All keys seen by this author for the genus Acanthophis appear to break down with substantial regularity due to variability within each species, even though a number of species divisions are widely acknowledged.

The keys of both Cogger (1992) and Storr (1981) for the species A. antarcticus, A. praelongus and A. pyrrhus regularly break down when used against their divisions of Acanthophis into those three forms (breakdown of keys is generally between A. antarcticus and A. praelongus). However their keys do indicate trends in differences between the different forms. Keys have tended to rely on external characteristics such as colour patterns and rugosity, rather than head and body scalation, due to the variability of the latter within a single species, and corresponding relative uniformity of the trait within the genus.

For the purposes of this paper, a species of Acanthophis is defined as a population that appears to be different from others in physical characteristics, including those known to occur in nearby areas, but for which there is presently no evidence of gene flow between the populations. This definition does not take into account relationships between snakes in a captive situation. For example in 1996 a captive male Acanthophis (similar to and possibly A. hawkei) from near Camooweal, Queensland, mated with a female Hayes Creek, Northern Territory A. lancasteri to produce 31 healthy offspring in 1997, many of which were still alive and well in December 1999 (there were an additional five stillborn and no unfertilised ova). One of these snakes that were bred by a well-known Melbourne-based keeper was depicted on the front cover of Monitor - Journal of the Victorian Herpetological Society 9 (2) in 1998 (same photo also appeared on page 31 of the October 1998 issue of The Reptilian (UK)). Colouration of young tends to be intermediate between those of the parents, although colouration of offspring was not consistent.

Hoser (1989) published a photo of a captive male A. pyrrhus attempting to mate with an A. antarcticus. I have also observed both captive A. praelongus (from Queensland) and A. lancasteri (from Western Australia) attempting to mate with A. antarcticus (from New South Wales), while the captive male A. antarcticus pictured on the back cover of Hoser, (1989), was observed attempting to copulate with a female A. pyrrhus (armstrongi).

There is an unconfirmed report of A. antarcticus X A. hawkei crosses being available in the "pet trade" as a result of a breeding in Queensland in 2000 or 2001.

As of 1998, there have been no records of sympatry in the wild between different species of Acanthophis, a point noted by McDowall (1984). Although there is no dispute in the fact that all Acanthophis are closely related, it is uncertain if given similarities between different species reflect immediate relationships or are instead due to convergence in evolution to cope with localised conditions.

For each species listed below, I have made comments relating to the taxonomy and present understanding of each, including with reference to comments made by earlier authors. Previously unpublished information for some species of Acanthophis is given where appropriate. The listing of species and subspecies given in this paper completes that currently known for this genus. It is likely that further species and/or subspecies may later be recognised, particularly for island populations, many of which are suspected as differing from those of adjacent "mainland" populations. There has been little investigation into Acanthophis from the large islands north, west and south of New Guinea, such as Seram or Tanimbar and only a small number have been sighted by this author (refer to this paper). Attempts to get hold of specimens, photos and other material at the time the original 1998 paper was published were relatively unsuccessful.

Frank Bambang Yuwono has encountered Death Adders from the following Islands or groups of Islands: Seram (Seram), Aru and Tanimbar. Ed Colijn reports Death Adders from Obi, Haruku, Saparua, Seram, Nusa Laut, Tanimbar, Kai and Aru Islands, Biak and Numfoor. The Amsterdam Museum has specimens from the New Guinea mainland, Seram, Biak Schouten Island and one from the Kai Islands. The Australian Museum has one from Kar Kar Island (as does the Qld Museum), offshore from Madang (separated by the Isamrud Strait). The Museum of Zoology at Bogor has Adders from Tanimbar, Manokwari, Kei Islands, Muluku, Obi, Seram, Yamdena Island and Bintuni (S. Kepala Burung). The Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, Leiden, The Netherlands has Acanthophis from the following Islands: Samlakki and Makation, Tanimbar, Aru, Groot Kei, Mefoor, Goram and Soek.

It is therefore safe to assume that Death Adders probably occur on most large Islands off the Northern Australian and New Guinea coasts (north and south sides). This author believes that the various island populations became isolated by rising sea levels over the last 20,000 years as opposed to the snakes ‘island hopping’ to the various locations.

While some overseas price lists have advertised Death Adders from Halmahera Island (e.g. one from Glades Herpetoculture and another from a Bali-based exporter, there is some doubt as to whether Death Adders are actually found on the Island (Yuwono pers. Comm.).

Due to reliance on head scalation as a diagnostic feature for some species of Acanthophis listed below, a drawing of the head scalation of a West Head (about 30 km north of Sydney, NSW) A. antarcticus from p. 18, (Hoser 1989), is best relied upon to assist readers in familiarising themselves with the relevant scales and positions.

As of the publication of this paper, there are now 15 species of Acanthophis now recognised. Seven of the 14 species are known only from the island of New Guinea (including offshore islands), while the remaining 8 are known only from continental Australia and offshore islands. It is likely that further island forms will be described in future, either as subspecies or full species.


Acanthophis antarcticus antarcticus (Shaw and Nodder, 1802)

Acanthophis antarcticus schistos Wells and Wellington, 1985

Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. (this paper)

Acanthophis barnetti Hoser, 1998

Acanthophis crotalusei Hoser, 1998

Acanthophis cummingi Hoser, 1998

Acanthophis groenveldi sp. nov. (this paper).

Acanthophis hawkei Wells and Wellington 1985

Acanthophis laevis Macleay, 1877

Acanthophis lancasteri lancasteri Wells and Wellington 1985

Acanthophis lancasteri bottomi Hoser, 1998

Acanthophis macgregori sp. nov. (this paper).

Acanthophis praelongus Ramsay, 1877

Acanthophis pyrrhus Boulenger, 1898

Acanthophis pyrrhus armstrongi Wells and Wellington, 1985

Acanthophis rugosus Loveridge, 1948

Acanthophis wellsei wellsei Hoser, 1998

Acanthophis wellsei donnellani subsp. nov. (this paper)

Acanthophis woolfi Hoser, 1998

Acanthophis yuwoni sp. nov. (this paper)

(Total of 15 species)

Acanthophis antarcticus antarcticus (Shaw and Nodder, 1802)

Type data lost, however modern authors have assumed that the "Sydney" Death Adders are of this species, treating it as the "typical" form. Cogger (1983) made the following species names junior synonyms, palpebrosa, cerastinus, brownii, ambigua, acantophis, sorda and aculeata. All had missing type data and/or specimens. Known distribution of A. antarcticus is southern Australia (except coldest parts), and the east coast and adjacent areas, including much of inland Queensland. There is a gap in the known distribution in the region of the SA, Vic, NSW border area.

There are no reliable modern records for the state of Victoria., (Coventry 1997). The National Museum of Victoria has NO authentic locality records for the species (of any date). There are several old specimens labelled "Murray River Victoria", but no precise locality data (Coventry 1997).

An alleged sighting record of Peter Menkhorst dated 1994 (Menkhorst 1994) from Wallpolla Island, Murray River, is not deemed reliable as it was not made by a trained herpetologist or corroborated by a photograph or specimen. Contrary to popular belief there is no spinifex (Triodia sp.) on the island (Coventry 1997). The diary of Gerard Krefft has an 1856 entry of a drawing of a head and tail of this species from Lake Boga, which is about 15 km south-east of Swan Hill, in Victoria. Coventry and Robertson (1991) concluded that the species no longer occurs there due to habitat destruction for farming.

Specimens of Acanthophis from Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Dutchess and Dajarra, Queensland which themselves vary significantly in appearance, and are herein referred to as A. woolfi should be investigated further. Externally, they appear to be intermediate between A. hawkei (see p. 34 this journal for photos of a juvenile and adult A. woolfi) and A. antarcticus from more southern areas in general characteristics; however they tend to lack the distinct creamy coloured white-lipped marking (upper lip)(supralabials) of most A. hawkei and white labial markings common in most A. antarcticus. For example refer to the reddish coloured specimen from Dutchess, Qld., depicted on page 34 of Hoser (1998) and in Hoser, (1995), pages 10-11 top, and compare with the specimens of A. hawkei depicted in Hoser (1995) pages 10-11 centre, the (different) specimens on the cover of Monitor 8 (3) 1997 (Hoser 1997a) and in Hoser (1989) or ones in Hoser (1998).

Acanthophis from near Camooweal, Queensland, tend to have heavy white markings on the lower supralabials, (upper lips) but unlike in A. hawkei from Anthony’s Lagoon, NT, they do not quite form a distinct "white-lipped" appearance. Some reptile keepers have classified these snakes as "Barkly Adders" (=A. hawkei) and it is probably with these snakes that the Camooweal Acanthophis have closest affinity, noting that Camooweal is situated roughly on the edge of the black soil part of the Barkly tableland. This author regards Camooweal Acanthophis as A. hawkei.

There may also be an undescribed subspecies in inland south-eastern Queensland (see under the discussion for the newly described subspecies Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov.).

Biology: Biological and captive breeding information about A. antarcticus is provided by the following author’s: Carpenter et. al. (1978), Gilbertson-Middlebrook (1981), Hay (1972), Hoser (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984a, 1984b, 1985a, 1985b, 1985c, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1997a), Hoser and Williams (1991), Hudson (1979), Johnston (1987), Mirtschin (1976, 1982, 1985), Mirtschin and Davis (1991, 1992), Shine (1980, 1991), Swan (1990), Worrell (1972). Excellent photos of this species can be found in Ehmann (1992), Hoser (1989) (more than in any other publication to date), Hoser (1995), Wilson and Knowles (1988) and many other publications.

Mating behavior in A. antarcticus has been documented by Hoser (1983, 1997a) and the behavior tends to be stereotyped in line with the accounts published by Carpenter and Fergusson (1977) Mating has also been observed by this author in A. lancasteri, A. praelongus and A. pyrrhus, with all species tending to behave in a similar manner. Notable is a common trend that young inexperienced snakes tend (on average) to take longer to effect a successful copulation than more mature and experienced ones.

Size: Despite the variations within the literature, it is generally thought that A. antarcticus, A. hawkei and A. woolfi are the three largest species of Acanthophis - at least within Australia.

The largest A. cummingi seen by this author was a three foot (90 cm approx. female) held by Chris Hay in Gisborne, Victoria as photogtraphed in Monitor 9(1).

The largest A. hawkei known to this author is one over 3 foot held in the past by Brian Barnett in Melbourne.

On 23 February 2002, this author was able to visit the facility of Alex Staszewski at Blacktown, New South Wales to see what was purportedly a four foot Death Adder. The adult female A. antarcticus from the Sydney region was the largest of the species seen by this author to date. It was not measured as such. However it was sitting in a straight line with a 180 degree turn in it's body (running parallel to itself), and against the side of the cage, which was a known 3 feet 11 inches. The snake was conservatively estimated by this author as measuring at least between 3 foot five inches and 3 foot eight, based on how it measured against the known length of cage.

It is hoped to get a more accurate and verifiable measurement of the snake at a later date and/or upon death.

In terms of averages for A. antarcticus, non-growing adult males average about 57 cm and non-growing adult females about 70 cm, (just under and just over 2 feet).

Trade: Hoser (1991, 1993, 1996) discusses the legal and illegal trade of Australian reptiles, including Acanthophis, as well as conservation of these snakes. Persons within Australia contemplating trapping, studying or keeping these snakes, or any other Acanthophis and complying with the relevant state laws are referred to Hoser (1993, 1996).

Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov.

Holotype: A specimen in the South Australian Museum (Adelaide), R24412 from the Coffin Bay area, South Australia, Lat 34° 30' S 135° 19' E.

Paratype: A specimen in the South Australian Museum (Adelaide), R28460 from the Coffin Bay area, South Australia, Lat 34° 30' S 135° 19' E.

Diagnosis: Similar in most respects to Acanthophis antarcticus, the type subspecies being defined here as coming from Sydney New South Wales, from which they differ in their slightly smaller average size and generally different ground colouration. Notwithstanding the high degree of variability in A. antarcticus in general, dorsally the grey specimens of Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. are never as silvery, steely-grey as the grey morph of A. antarcticus typified by Sydney specimens. Likewise the red specimens are rarely if ever the same brick-red colour, those of Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. tending slightly more towards an orangeish, rather than a salmon or reddish pink as in A. antarcticus.

Furthermore this subspecies has (on average) less neurotoxic venom than all other variants of A. antarcticus known, including A. antarcticus antarcticus from eastern Australia and the South-west West Australian population, herein referred to as A. antarcticus schistos (see the taxonomic note near the end of this paper). Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. is separated from all other Acanthophis (all species and subspecies) by DNA and venom properties and distribution.

Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. is separated entirely from east Australian populations by distribution. The status of historical populations from southern NSW and far north Victoria (based on museum records) and now thought to be extinct is uncertain as to what subspecies they should properly be assigned to. This author is attempting to investigate this at the present time.

While this is certainly the case as of 2002 that Eastern Australian and South Australian populations of A. antarcticus are separated, it may not have been the case at the time of European settlement of Australia in the 1700's, although it appears to have been the case based on museum records and knowledge of the pre-existing habitats in the relevant parts of NSW, Victoria and South Australia. What the status of the two populations was, in terms of distribution at the time of Aboriginal settlement of Australia is effectively impossible to determine at the present time.

Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. is also separated from A. antarcticus schistos (as defined here, being the population centered near the south-west of Western Australia) by distribution, with an apparent and limited gene flow in recent historical times between these populations. The intergrade zone is believed to be in the region of the SA/WA border area, where A. antarcticus remains common in some localities, but this may not be so, and further research is required to determine the true status of these and other populations between central southern South Australia (Eyre Peninsula) and South-west Western Australia. Because of modern farming practices, there is little doubt that now the populations of Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. and A. antarcticus schistos are disjunct.

As already stated, to the west of the Eyre Peninsula region, which is the perceived centre of distribution of Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. it appears that this population may well have been connected with the A. antarcticus from south-west Western Australia via a thin line along the South Australian and nearby West Australian coasts and/or offshore islands; at least at the time of European settlement.

The west Australian specimens of A. antarcticus schistos are separated from Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. by DNA properties, venom properties and colouration, particularly in terms of usual markings around the labial scales.

A. antarcticus schistos is usually separated from other subspecies of Acanthophis, including Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. by it's relatively unique colouration of the upper and lower lip scales (labials) which on the lower surface are usually characterized by about six relatively thick creamy bars, interspersed with five thinner brownish (or greyish) bars which are sometimes slightly darker on the margins, and on the upper labials characterized by about five thinnish white and elongate triangles, the apex facing up, intersperced with initially thicker (at the front of the head), then thinner (towards the rear of the head) inverted triangles of darker pigment that is usually darker towards the rear of the head.

In Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. the lighter triangles on the front upper labials are generally either less distinct than in A. antarcticus schistos or even absent, instead being replaced by dark pigment.

A. antarcticus antarcticus (from Eastern Australia) usually has similar upper labial markings to A. antarcticus schistos and in similar number, from which it is also separated from Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov..

However the lighter markings on the upper labials A. antarcticus antarcticus are generally of blunt triangular shape, rather than sharper and narrow as in A. antarcticus schistos and are also far less well defined and distinct as in A. antarcticus schistos.

Based on the very obvious trend differences in common colour patterns between forms from South Australia (Eyre Peninsula) and south-west Western Australia, including with regards to the markings on the labials (as defined above), it appears that the historical gene flow between the three main regional populations of A. antarcticus is at best, minimal, thereby making it perfectly reasonable to split the populations into different subspecies.

Photos of Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. in life are found in Hoser (1989).

It is also likely that the A. antarcticus from the Brigalow and adjacent regions to the south of there in Queensland (to near Moonie/Goondiwindi) may also be an undescribed subspecies. This possibility is being investigated by this author at present, but is being somewhat hampered by the relative lack of museum specimens from these areas as well as a lack of captives in private collections. A further problem is that the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is loathe to issue collect permits for any Acanthophis, a genus of snakes they regard as "notable" or words to that effect, which seems ridiculous bearing in mind the fact that vast numbers of these snakes are being killed on an annual basis through land clearing practices, the latter number outweighing any collected by hobbyists and scientists by a factor of many hundreds, and which does not appear to get any sanction from the Queensland NPWS or anyone else in government. At least one application to collect just four Acanthophis for scientific purposes in Queensland has already been refused by the Queensland NPWS (in 1996).

Distribution: As mentioned already Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov. appears to be distributed on the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia and nearby places to the east and west in South Australia. The status of Acanthophis populations near Eucla near the SA/WA border and those on nearby offshore islands is not entirely certain.

Captivity: There have been captive-breedings of this subspecies in the literature and this author is aware of others that have not been reported or published. Notwithstanding this, more of the type subspecies A. antarcticus antarcticus are bred on a regular basis in captivity than the variant Acanthophis antarcticus cliffrosswellingtoni subsp. nov.

Etymology: The subspecies was named after Cliff Ross Wellington for his contributions to herpetology, including as co-author with Richard W. Wells of a series of controversial taxonomic papers in the 1980's. Those papers were subject of much heated debate over the following two decades, including even at present (2002), however many of their significant taxonomic changes were evidently overdue and have since been adopted by the majority of herpetologists, including names given to various python taxa and species skinks.

Acanthophis antarcticus schistos Wells and Wellington, 1985

Wells and Wellington gave the name to a specimen from near Perth WA. They gave no other significant information or reason for their naming the snake "Acanthophis schistos". However most herpetologists recognise the western populations of A. antarcticus as having at least minor differences to those from the east and also South Australia. Therefore at the present time, in this author's view, the name remains valid, at least as a subspecies (refer to the taxonomic note below).

Storr, Smith and Johnstone (1986) and Bush et. al. present photos of live A. antarcticus schistos.

Captivity: Little has been recorded to date on this subspecies from Western Australia.

Ken Aplin from the WA Museum and others do not recognise the Wells and Wellington names (refer to Aplin 1999, Hoser 1999, and Wells and Wellington 1999 for the relevant arguments for and against, as well as Shea's views in the taxonomic note near the end of this paper).

Acanthophis barnetti Hoser, 1998

Holotype: A young adult male from Pukago (sometimes called "Pakago"), East Sepik Province, PNG Lat: 03° 52’ Long: 142° 57’, collected by W. H. Ewerson on 31st October 1964. Held at the Australian Museum, Sydney, R129223. Scalation: 120 ventrals, 37 single subcaudals, 11 paired, (48 total), the scale above the eye is not raised, or if so, only slightly. The general colouration is greyish brown (3 basic colours on the body being yellowish-brown, greyish-brown and blackish brown, arranged in somewhat indistinct bands). For colour details of the type specimen see the photo in this journal. There are no distinct markings on the upper face (supralabials) and it seems to be mottled all over, which is relatively unusual for PNG Acanthophis, (or at least certainly in the series held at the Australian museum). The front ventrals are dark grey with white at the posterior side, seeming almost like bands (one per scale).

Diagnosis: A medium sized Acanthophis from the northern part of New Guinea. The animal is readily distinguished from A. laevis by the fact that the supraocular scale (scale above the eye) is not raised in the same manner as in A. laevis and it’s higher average ventral scale count (over 118 in A. barnetti). It is also separated from A. laevis by there being heavier dark pigmentation under the chin and near ventrals (evident in the type specimen of A. barnetti)(A. laevis has relatively little in this region of the body). A. barnetti is separated from A. rugosus by distribution (north of the central highlands, versus south) and the lack of rugosity on the head and neck. (Also see for A. laevis, A. rugosus and A. crotalusei, below).

It has been suggested that further studies of Acanthophis north of the New Guinea central highlands may ultimately result in all forms being treated as subspecies of a single "lowland" species (not laevis or rugosus). If such ultimately occurs, then the name barnetti should be treated as the nominate subspecies in favour of crotalusei.

Biology: Nothing known. No captive records known for the species.

Etymology: Named after Brian Barnett. Having devoted nearly 50 years to the study of reptiles, Barnett has kept and successfully bred many species of reptile in Australia, including being the first to do so for many species. In 1977, he formed the Victorian Herpetological Society which through his 21 year presidency of the society (ongoing in 1998) has helped many hundreds of people to keep and study reptiles.

Many people who first approached Barnett to obtain their first pet snake have long since completed tertiary studies and are now doing research of their own, as are many more who through Barnett’s guidance and encouragement are similarly making new discoveries about Australasian herpetofauna. Barnett’s achievements have also included the bringing in of a workable reptile licensing system in the State of Victoria, which while being far from perfect, has been vastly superior to the regime enjoyed in New South Wales over most of the past two decades, where his influence was not felt by the authorities. Barnett’s wife of many years, Lani and children have also played an essential role in his herpetological efforts and the species A. barnetti was also named in their honour.

Acanthophis crotalusei Hoser, 1998

Holotype: An adult female at the Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia, R120878 (also with a tag no. 33682) from Madang, Madang District, PNG, Lat: 5° 12’ Long: 145° 47’. Collected by H. G. Cogger on 19 May 1986. Scalation: 123 ventrals, 21 mid-body rows, 37 single subcaudals, followed by 5 paired, giving a total of 42 subcaudals, 6 supralabials, 7 infralabials, 3 suboculars. The scale above the eye is very raised. The head and neck scalation is slightly rugose.

For colouration details see photo in this journal. Colouration is a greyish-brown colour scheme with bands which appear to be indistinct (the snake was sloughing when killed and was not tampered with when inspected by this author, noting that markings would tend to be somewhat brighter after completing the slough). All supralabials and infralabials have distinct dark blotches in their centres. None of these blotches reach to the lip. the second last supralabial is very large. A distinct temporal line runs through the eye, apparently coordinating to an extent with the eye colour. The head is marginally darker than the neck. The belly has a mottled appearance but appears to be very dark. The tail has a yellow tip.

Paratypes: R15750, from Madang, Madang District, PNG, Lat: 5° 12’ Long: 145° 47’ collected by N. B. Blood. R120879, from Madang, Madang District, PNG, Lat: 5° 12’ Long: 145° 47’, Collected by H. G. Cogger on 20 May 1986. R121443, R122103 and R122104 all from Kar Kar Island, Madang District, PNG, Lat: 4° 37’ Long: 145° 54’ collected by G. Mengden and F. Parker in May 1986. All held at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Details of R15750: young adult female, 45.5 cm snout-vent, 8 cm tail, 53.5 cm total length. 126 ventrals, 45 subcaudals (total), first 13 subcaudals single.

Diagnosis: A moderate sized Acanthophis believed to be widespread in New Guinea, although the current confirmed distribution is confined to the Madang area. (Further specimens in the collection at the Australian Museum conformed to this species, but time constraints prevented further inspection, including scale counts of these to confirm that they were in fact A. crotalusei).

This species is in many respects intermediate between A. laevis and A. barnetti. It is essentially similar in appearance to A. laevis from which it may usually be separated by the following characteristics, more black pigment on the upper labials, a more thick-set build in adulthood and higher average ventral count (under 118 in A. laevis, over 118 in A. crotalusei, refer to scale counts quoted by McDowall (1984)). Some but not all specimens of this species (A. crotalusei) have a well defined temporal line, particularly in front of the eye (as in A. barnetti). Separated from A. barnetti by the fact that A. crotalusei does not have distinct black lines running up the infralabials to the mouth (like in A. barnetti). A crotalusei tends to have a more raised supraocular scale than is usually seen in A. barnetti. Both species are also presently separated by distribution. Separated from A. rugosus by distribution and the substantially more rugose head and neck of A. rugosus (in adulthood at least - this author has not inspected any young A. rugosus). Illustration of this species (A. crotalusei) in life is shown in O’Shea (1996), p. 157 (lower).

Biology: Not known. Assumed to be similar for other Acanthophis. Likewise for captivity, although to date nothing is recorded.

Etymology: Named after the author’s dog, (itself named after a North American genus of snake) who guarded the author’s house and files against break ins and raids for over 9 years (now over 10 years).

Acanthophis cummingi Hoser, 1998

Holotype: An adult female specimen in the Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia, R12438 from Yirrkala Mission, near Darwin, NT. Lat: 12° 15’ Long: 136° 53’. Scalation: 23 mid-body rows, 31 single subcaudals (at least)(this is not the complete number of subcaudals), 124 ventrals, about 56 bands on the body (excluding the head and tail). Black or dark coloured tip of tail. The type specimen was collected by W. S. Chaseling. For the colour of the type specimen, see the photo with this paper. Note that the specimen appears to have faded over time.

Paratype: Another adult female from the same locality, (Lat: 12° 15’ Long: 136° 53’), R12552 held at the Australian Museum in Sydney. 23 mid-body rows, for the subcaudals, the 1st is paired, the next 17 are single, 1 is paired, one is single then the rest are paired (running towards the tail tip) (this is not the complete number of subcaudals), 121 ventrals. Black or dark coloured tip of tail. The paratype was collected by W. S. Chaseling. Note: both the type and paratype presented difficulties in counting scales accurately; hence no complete count of subcaudals for either.

Diagnosis: For the colouration in life, see this magazine depicting a specimen from just south of Darwin, NT. It should be noted that in line with other Acanthophis, A. cummingi is extremely variable in colour, even within a single locality.

For many years A. cummingi have been mis-identified as A. antarcticus. (e.g. Gow 1977). In the last decade or so, many private reptile keepers have called these snakes "floodplain praelongus" in order to differentiate them from the "hill form" now known as A. lancasteri, which occurs in hilly areas of the Kimberley ranges and elsewhere. There is uncertainty as to the exact distributional status between both very similar forms. In spite of similarities between what is herein regarded as A. cummingi and A. lancasteri, it is proposed that two taxa are involved, hence the assigning of A. cummingi to the above described variant of Acanthophis. Genetic testing may help resolve the accurate status of the relationship between these snakes.

A. cummingi is a relatively large form of Acanthophis and can usually (in life) be separated from A. lancasteri (and other Acanthophis) by the following suite of characteristics. Scalation ranges from smooth to very slightly keeled (less than is usually the case seen in A. lancasteri). Rugosity appears to be more prominent in males than for females, a trend shared with A. lancasteri. Adult A. cummingi in life almost always have distinct yellow bands, which appear brighter and more pronounced when the snake flattens itself out, sometimes giving it a flecked appearance. Specimens tend to have larger and more distinct white markings on the lower supralabials (upper lip) than is usually the case for A. lancasteri; refer to the paratype as an example and see photos in this journal. They also appear to be marginally more thick-set than A. lancasteri and are known to attain larger sizes (length and weight - see below).

Three live captive A. cummingi in Victoria had ventral counts of 121, 122 and 120, implying 120-124 is the approximate range for the species.

Some specimens of A. cummingi become greyish towards the head and upper neck regions, which is a trait shared with some A. lancasteri. A. cummingi is separated from all other Australian Acanthophis by known distribution. Contrary to earlier publications (e.g. Gow 1977), it is now accepted that there are no A. antarcticus at the top-end of the Northern Territory.

Maximum size known: This author has seen and photographed a specimen in captivity held by Chris Hay of Gisborne, Victoria, measuring 92 cm in total length (in 1997) and of substantial girth, weighing 800 grams (measurements confirmed by this author). As of April 1998, Hay reported that the snake had grown slightly since the earlier (1997) measurement had been taken. A specimen nearly as large was held by Stuart Bigmore at Lara, Victoria. This makes A. cummingi substantially larger than any A. lancasteri known (refer to Storr 1981, who gives a maximum snout-vent length for WA A. lancasteri in his study as 48.2 cm or Cogger 1992 who gives an average size of 40 cm and maximum of 70 cm (for A. praelongus, including A. lancasteri). This author has never seen an A. lancasteri in excess of 75 cm total length.

Venom Toxicity: No published research results are known. On 16/4/96, Chris Hay, an adult male reptile keeper in Gisborne, Victoria was bitten by a large (92 cm long) captive adult female A. cummingi (referred to above) from near Humpty Doo, NT, and was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Parkville, Victoria. He was given 18,000 units of Death Adder anti-venom to neutralise the venom. This is three times that usually required to neutralise a Death Adder bite.

Known Distribution: A. cummingi, is believed to be restricted to the floodplain and adjacent regions of the far north of the Northern Territory in the vicinity of Darwin, including Fogg Dam and near the Marakai Floodplains where it is apparently very common. These are the only areas from where the species is currently known.

Captivity: No breedings of A. cummingi were known to this author in 1998. Relatively few are held in captivity. Those held by keepers Fred Rossignoli, Ringwood, Victoria, Stuart Bigmore, Lara, Victoria and Chris Hay, Gisborne, Victoria have presented no husbandry problems and are kept in the same manner as A. lancasteri and A. antarcticus by other keepers who have had success with those species. Lack of breeding in captivity to date (or records thereof), probably result from a lack of specimens in captivity as opposed to any inherent difficulties in breeding. At the time of writing the bulk of this (newer) paper in December 1999, Chris Hay’s female (cited above) was gravid to another A. cummingi from the same locality. It is anticipated that he will publish his breeding results.

Roy Pails of Ballarat, Victoria, also bred A. cummingi in 2000, and noted that young are vastly smaller than those of A. hawkei (when born). This size feature was also observed by this author, even though the animals at Pails' facility were not physically measured when seen by this author.

A case of cannibalism is known for the species. A large captive female of about 75 cm (total length), ate a male of about 60 cm (total length). There was no food in the cage at the time. The female digested the male in the same manner as usual food eaten

Etymology: Named after Fia Cumming, political reporter in 1998 with the Sydney Sun-Herald newspaper. In August 1981, she became the first journalist to report on corruption involving stolen reptiles within the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). She followed up with newspaper stories over the following 15 years and her investigations into a kangaroo meat substitution racket involving senior NPWS officials and other reptile-related matters, culminated in material included in the book Smuggled-2 (Hoser 1996). That material became subject to a series of failed defamation actions against this author in 1996, which then led to a series of events culminating in the effective disbandment of most of the (now discredited) law enforcement arm of NPWS and introduction of a rational reptile licencing system in NSW for the first time ever in late 1997.

Without the investigations and reportings by Cumming, it is probable that no such overhaul of reptile and other wildlife laws in NSW would have ever occurred which would have continued to severely restrict ongoing herpetology and conservation in that state and by extension, throughout Australia. In effect, Cumming has possibly contributed more to the field of herpetology in Australia than any other non-herpetologist.

Acanthophis groenveldi sp. nov.

Click here to see eight photos of this newly described taxa.  These photos may be reproduced by anyone provided that at the same place the original photographer (Axel Groenveld) AND weblink to are also acknowledged and/or cited as the source.  These are conditions of reproduction.Holotype: A male specimen held in the Zoological Museum of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ZMA 16220 from Wai Matakabo, North East Seram Approx. Lat: 3° Long: 129°. Total length 38.9 cm, tail 9.9 cm 113 ventrals. The type specimen is nearly 100 years old and thus the colouration may be slightly different from that in life. The dorsal colouration of the type specimen is one of a brownish nature consisting of alternating darker and lighter crossbands. The darker and greyish ones being the broader. The head has dominantly lighter pigment, however the two rear supralabials have large dark blotches. There are no dark blotches in the four anterior supralabials. The ventralia are pale with dark spots near both ends.

Photos of the holotype (in colour) can be found on the internet address immediately after original publication of this paper in "hard copy", by following the relevant link/s from that webpage (via the thumbnail images accompanying the description and no more than three mouse clicks from that webpage).

Paratype: A female specimen collected in December 1917 held in the Zoological Museum of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ZMA 16225 from South Seram Approx. Lat: 3° Long: 129°. Total length 47.8 cm, tail 9.7 cm 114 ventrals. The type specimen is nearly 100 years old and thus the colouration may be slightly different from that in life. The dorsal colouration of the type specimen is one of a brownish nature consisting of alternating darker and lighter crossbands. The darker and greyish ones being the broader. The head has dominantly lighter pigment, however the two rear supralabials have large dark blotches. Unlike the type specimen, this snake does have dark blotches in some of the more anterior supralabials, but with the exception of the third from the rear, none are prominent. (Live specimens from Ceram sighted by this author did have distinct dark blotches in the rear five supralabials). The ventralia in the paratype are pale with dark spots near both ends.

Photos of the paratype (in colour) can be found on the internet address immediately after original publication of this paper in "hard copy", by following the relevant link/s from that webpage (via the thumbnail images accompanying the description and no more than three mouse clicks from that webpage - see thumbnail image slightly up on this page).

Diagnosis: Known at this stage only from the Island of Seram to the West of New Guinea. This is also diagnostic for this species. A. groenveldi is the only Acanthophis found on Seram.

A. groenveldi appears to be most closely related to A. laevis and it can be safely assumed that they derived from the same ancestral stock. Common to both species are the low ventral scale counts (usually under 118), which is diagnostic for both species when compared to all other Acanthophis. Both appear to share a suite of other traits, including their similar adult sizes (on average smaller than for some other Acanthophis), relatively smooth scalation, raised supraocular and a relative lack of dark pigmentation around the labial region of the head. These just listed traits are also shared by a third Acanthophis, namely A. macgregori, described for the first time in this paper (below). That species (macgregori) is separated from the other two by distribution, A. macgregori being the only Acanthophis found on Tanimbar. Specimens of A. macgregori seen by this author do not appear to have the supraocular raised as much as in the other two species, but this may not be a consistent trend between the species.

The two snakes (laevis and groenveldi) are most easily separated from one another by distribution. Furthermore specimens of A. laevis inspected by this author from New Guinea have tended to have a different configuration of black markings on the infralabials. A. laevis tend to have their markings tending towards broad triangles with the apex facing the lip, while the same markings in A. groenveldi are usually smaller and tend to be more irregular in shape. This is best seen by inspecting comparative photos of the two forms.

It was suggested that perhaps A. groenveldi and A. macgregori should be treated as subspecific to A. laevis, however due to the physical distance of Seram and Tanimbar from New Guinea and the time it is assumed that populations of Acanthophis from these places have had their populations genetically isolated, it was decided to treat the three groups of Acanthophis as being of separate species unless and until compelling evidence to the contrary arises. All species of Acanthophis as identified here can be separated via DNA analysis.

It is notable that among the islands to the west of New Guinea, Seram is by far the most mountainous. Noting that A. laevis tends to be associated mostly (but not always) with montane areas in New Guinea, it isn’t altogether surprising that a similar form of Acanthophis (groenveldi) is the form native to Seram. Noting that Acanthophis are known from the relatively nearby (to Seram) island of Obi, it is probable that a similar form with a low ventral count exists on that Island. However this remains speculation at this stage, as this author has yet to see specimens from there.

Captivity: Little known. Frank Yuwono (pers. comm.) noted that A. groenveldi seems unlike A. rugosa in that it does not readily take to warm-blooded prey, such as mice or young chickens. A groenveldi seems to prefer frogs. According to Yuwono, captive A. rugosa readily take mice and young chickens. Other reptile keepers from the northern hemispere have made similar comments.

Etymology: Named after of Axel Groenveld in tribute to his ongoing contributions to herpetology.

Acanthophis hawkei Wells and Wellington 1985

Known colloquially as the Barkly Adder, a sub-adult female was depicted on the front cover of Monitor 8 (3) 1997 (refer to Hoser (1997a)). Apparently it lives on black-soil plains and is probably the largest Acanthophis. In spite of the preceding statement, quotes of adult sizes in the literature are not matched by the sizes of specimens in museum collections or for that matter private facilities.

A. hawkei is closely related to A. antarcticus, with which it was confused for many years. Distinguished from most other A. antarcticus by the fact that the lower part of the supralabials (upper lip scales) usually (but not always) tends to be creamish in colour without darker markings reaching the lip, giving it a jagged "white-lipped" appearance (e.g. see photos in Barnett and Gow 1992 or Hoser 1989, 1995, 1997a).

This jagged "white-lipped" appearance is relatively unusual in A. antarcticus and has never been seen to the same degree as is typical for A. hawkei. Excluding A. antarcticus, adult A. hawkei could not be confused with any other Australian Acanthophis.

Captivity: Breeding data for captive specimens is provided by Barnett and Gow (1992). Barnett quoted snout-vent lengths of offspring in a litter ranging from 193-207 mm, which is far in excess that recorded for any other species of Acanthophis, including A. antarcticus, lending weight to claims that this is the largest form of Acanthophis. The species has been bred in captivity in recent years by Brian Barnett in Victoria (again) and Roland Burrell in South Australia.

Paul Woolf (Brisbane, Queensland) bred the species in the 2000-2001 season as did Roy Pails of Ballarat. Neither did so the following year.

Acanthophis laevis Macleay, 1877

This species herein resurrected from the (relatively recent) synonymy of A. praelongus. Type locality Katow, PNG, Lat: 09° 06’ Long: 143° 00’. (Katow is the old name for Mawatta on the Binaturi River in southern Trans-Fly of Western Province, PNG)(O’Shea, 1998). A. laevis is also separated from A. praelongus and A. lancasteri by it’s average lower ventral count, (usually under 118 in A. laevis, and higher than that in A. praelongus).

The type specimen of A. laevis has not been inspected by this author, however an inspection of Acanthophis from the same locality and nearby areas conform with Macleay’s description and this author has assigned all those snakes to A. laevis. The snake in question is substantially different to the A. praelongus described by Ramsay, which is presumably based on a north Queensland Acanthophis, from near Somerset, (Cape York) Queensland. Acanthophis laevis has smooth scales, while A. praelongus tends to have slightly keeled scales. Head patterning of both species is also usually radically different. For example compare the photo of A. praelongus from North Queensland (plate 380, Hoser, 1989) with the A. laevis shown here.

For most A. laevis seen by this author, the last supralabial and adjoining temporal shield have a distinct black blotch in the centre. Such markings have not been observed by myself in A. praelongus, where instead the darker markings in this region are not defined the same way and tend more to merge into that of the slightly lighter upper head.

A. laevis from the central and Western Highlands regions of the Island of New Guinea (including Irian Jaya) tend to have little in the way of darker head markings or blotches (above the mouth) except for those at the rear of the mouth (rear supralabials). This includes those from around "Katow", which appears to be a lowland locality. Those from more eastern highland areas, west to about Goroka often tend to have mottling on the forward supralabials, (refer also to photos on page 157 of O’Shea (1996)). While many species of Acanthophis have a raised scale above the eye (supraocular), particularly in younger specimens, none have this trait to the same extent as A. laevis, which retain the trait into adulthood, when the raised scale remains prominent.

A. laevis though usually associated with highland areas is known from lowland areas in Western Province and Irian Jaya (e.g. "Katow"). McDowall (1984) noted a lower average ventral count for this species, which has been confirmed by my own counts of specimens at the Australian Museum in Sydney (e.g. R14352 from Goroka, PNG, with 115 ventrals (adult female), versus the low 120’s for most other Acanthophis including Queensland A. praelongus). Macleay’s type specimen had 113 ventrals (Macleay 1877).

McDowall (1984) and O’Shea (1996) suggest that highland New Guinea Acanthophis, herein regarded as A. laevis have strong affinities to A. antarcticus from Australia. This author disagrees with that conclusion. Besides the obvious difference of the very raised scale above the eye (noted by both authors), head markings tend to be quite unlike most A. antarcticus from Australia. Furthermore, this author has yet to see any specimens from the New Guinea highlands that attain the size and weight of some Australian A. antarcticus. Confusion within Australia between A. antarcticus and A. praelongus may have led to the above authors making their statements, meaning to imply similarity to A. praelongus (from Queensland), instead of the more southerly distributed A. antarcticus.

Reference by O’Shea (1996) of a localized "small montane race (to 300 mm)" are probably of this species (A. laevis). All anecdotal evidence, suggests that A. laevis is the smallest of the four species of Acanthophis known from New Guinea (this paper), including that of O’Shea (1996) and McDowall (1984). McDowall (1984) noted that Acanthophis from south-western PNG (near Australia), have little in common with those from Queensland, Australia, further confirming the different specific nature of New Guinea Acanthophis. That McDowall was referring to A. laevis is not in doubt as he identifies it as "a form with reduced ventral count, reduced black pigmentation and the temporolabial entering the mouth". Inspection of specimen number R23960 at the Australian Museum confirmed McDowall’s assertion that A. laevis also on occasion occurred away from the central highlands, including south-western PNG.

Data for R23960 is as follows:- Collected at Balimo, Aramia River, Western District, PNG, Lat: 08° 01’ Long: 142° 57’ on 3 November 1963. Identified by this author as A. laevis. Age: adult. Snout-vent 39.5 cm, Tail 10.5 cm, Total length 50 cm. Sex: male. Scalation is smooth with 111 ventrals (2 of which were paired), 34 single subcaudals, 14 paired, (48 total). Other specimens from the same locality are held at the Australian Museum.

Lindgren (1975), plate 88 depicts a head photo of a snake this author believes is probably A. laevis in life. However it’s facial markings are not like the A. laevis at the Australian Museum. It is believed that the non-black dark pigment tends to fade faster than the black pigment in preserved animals; this trait is believed to be common to all Acanthophis. The point is noted here as a lack of black pigment in A. laevis, may make specimens fade more than other Acanthophis species.

Biology: Little known, but presumed to be similar to that of other Acanthophis. Worrell (1972) records this species as being most active at the end of the wet season which roughly parallels the activities of Acanthophis in northern Australia by the author’s own investigations and what was said by O’Shea (1996) in his summary of New Guinea Acanthophis. Lindgren (1975) states Acanthophis in PNG range up to nearly 2000 metres. It is assumed that these high altitude Acanthophis are probably A. laevis, at least in the highland areas west of Goroka and into Irian Jaya.

Captivity: Nothing known by this author, although it is assumed that specimens are in captivity in the northern hemisphere.

Acanthophis lancasteri lancasteri Wells and Wellington 1985

Originally described by Wells and Wellington as "Acanthophis lancasteri", based on a specimen from near Halls Creek, WA. The same type of animal is depicted in Hoser (1989), plates 378, 379 listed there as A. praelongus from Kunnanurra, WA, (which is not far from Halls Creek) and in Storr, Smith and Johnstone (1986), p. 127. So far all Acanthophis from the East Kimberley region seen by this author can be readily assigned to this species. Wells and Wellington differentiated A. lancasteri from A. praelongus, including giving it’s distribution as being the top end of the Northern Territory and Western Australia (namely the hilly tropical north, including the Kimberley Ranges and Arnhem land escarpment). However they failed to give any separating characteristics between the species.

Perhaps the most readily identifiable difference is in ventral colouration. A. praelongus tends to have well defined brown spotting on the ventral scales, which is relatively unusual in A. lancasteri. A. praelongus usually has two well defined white markings which are more or less triangular in shape on the lower supralabial scales (upper lip). A lancasteri (from WA at least) rarely has such markings, or if present, they are usually not clear and well defined, but rather mottled in appearance, tending to merge with the adjacent colour. (Both species have well defined white markings on the infralabials).

This author has also been told that A. lancasteri has a higher average ventral count than A. praelongus, but has not seen sufficient data to confirm this assertion. Storr (1981) gives a range of 122-134 (N=12) for A. lancasteri (which he calls praelongus). Ramsay (1987) gives a number of "about 120" for the original North Queensland A. praelongus, which is just outside the range quoted by Storr for his limited sample of A. lancasteri. In 1980, this author counted a Cairns, Queensland, A. praelongus as having 124 ventrals.

A lancasteri appears to be restricted to rocky and hilly habitats or adjacent areas and seems to be most common in areas where Triodia grasses dominate. My own experiences in the East Kimberley indicate the species is extremely common where such conditions occur, but rare or absent elsewhere. Personal communications from people who have collected "praelongus" type Acanthophis in the Northern Territory indicate a similar situation usually occurs there.

Longmore (1986) records no Acanthophis (of any species) in a distinct area of the Gulf of Carpentaria running several hundred kilometers south from the southern most part of the gulf, although Acanthophis are known from the islands of the gulf, including Groote (lancasteri) and Mornington (species not known). This apparent gap separates A. lancasteri from A. praelongus in north Queensland.

A trend noticeable in some specimens of A. lancasteri is darkening of the head and neck area. An example of this is seen in Hoser (1989), plate 378. This feature is not unique to this species, also being seen in Acanthophis wellsei the Pilbara region of Western Australia and possibly other forms as well (also see Wilson and Knowles (1988), p. 330. In A. lancasteri this trait is seen in populations throughout the range of the species, but becomes more pronounced in populations from the eastern section of the Northern Territory (see A. lancasteri bottomi below).

The nominate subspecies A. lancasteri lancasteri is herein confined to Western Australia and probably adjacent western sections of the Northern Territory (see below).

Captivity: A. lancasteri is very hardy in captivity and readily takes to feeding on mice. Male specimens kept by this author (in Sydney) from Kunnanurra and Turkey Creek, Western Australia presented no problems until stolen in 1984. At least one remained alive and healthy at Taronga Zoo, Sydney until at least 1992, when it was photographed by the author, meaning it had been held captive at that stage for 9 years. It had been adult when caught. Cannibalism has been recorded for this species, although it is regarded by this author as being relatively unusual.

Breeding: Has been bred in captivity a number of times, perhaps most notably by keeper Rob Valentic, of Greensborough, Victoria, whose snakes were identified as A. lancasteri or "hill praelongus". Valentic has detailed records of his results and is expected to publish details of them. A photo of one of Valentic’s females giving birth in 1996 was published by Hoser (1997b).

Acanthophis lancasteri bottomi Hoser, 1998

Holotype: An adult female specimen in the Australian Museum in Sydney, Australia. R26274. Collected at Angurugu Mission, Groote Eylandt, Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia, Lat: 13° 58’ Long: 136° 27’, by D. Levitt.

Paratype: An adult female from Groote Eylandt, Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia. Lat: 13° 59’ Long: 136° 28’, collected by H. E. Warren. R10218 held at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Details of paratype: Snout-vent: 53.5 cm, Tail: 8.5 cm, Total length 62 cm, 129 ventrals, 24 single subcaudals, 18 paired/divided subcaudals, 42 total subcaudals.

Diagnosis: Essentially similar to the type subspecies A. lancasteri lancasteri. A moderate sized Acanthophis with strongly rugose scales on the head and neck. Young specimens have distinct bands which tend to fade with age, (based on observations of a series of specimens at the Australian Museum). For colouration details see the photo with this paper, but note the fact that the animal’s colour has faded since death. Ventrally there are few markings and the belly is a lightish yellowy cream in colour. (The paratype has some darker flecks on the ventral surface). Distinguished from A. lancasteri lancasteri by it’s strongly darkened head, which appears to be diagnostic of adults of this race. This subspecies (bottomi) also appears to occur on the adjacent Australian mainland, although in some areas, it forms apparent intergrades with the type subspecies and in some localities specimens assignable to either subspecies may occur.

Ecological notes: Little known. It is supposedly most abundant in hilly areas, but also is found around dunes on Groote Eylandt. Assumed to have similar habits to the type subspecies.

Captivity: Nothing recorded, but presumably similar to other Acanthophis.

Etymology: Named after investigative journalist Robert Bottom, author of several best-sellers about organised crime in Australia. In the mid 1980’s he did a series of reports about corruption involving fauna officials in New South Wales. In 1991 he reported on Police corruption in Victoria a full twelve months before other "mainstream" newspaper journalists dared run with the story.

Acanthophis macgregori sp. nov.

Holotype: A specimen held in the Museum of Zoology, Bogor from Tanimbar, Lat: 7°30’ Long: 131°30’, specimen number MZB 338.

The dorsal colouration of the type specimen is typical for Acanthophis in that dorsally it has alternating darker and lighter crossbands.

Paratype: A specimen held in the Museum of Zoology, Bogor from Tanimbar, Lat: 7°30’ Long: 131°30’, specimen number MZB 2056. The dorsal colouration of the paratype specimen is also typical for Acanthophis in that dorsally it has alternating darker and lighter crossbands.

Diagnosis: This Acanthophis is separated from all others in the genus by distribution, being the only species to occur on the Island of Tanimbar. It is separated from all other Acanthophis species except laevis and groenveldi by it’s ventral scalation, which is usually under 118. Ventral scale counts for two specimens of A. macgregori came to 113. The relationship of A. macgregori to those Acanthophis from adjacent islands is uncertain. Specimens of the species observed by this author appear to be different from A. laevis and A. groenveldi in that the supra-ocular is not quite as raised. However this may not be a consistent diagnostic trait. This species appears to be quite unlike A. rugosa and A. lancasteri found to the mainland areas north and south of Tanimbar in adjacent New Guinea and Australia.

As yet there has been no genetic analysis of A. macgregori. DNA sequencing will separate A. macgregori from all other Acanthophis. However in the absence of DNA evidence, it can be said that physically A. macregori appears to be closest to A. laevis and A. groenveldi. (See for both species above).

A. macgregori is known to occur in red and greyish brown morphs.

Etymology: Named after former Victorian Policeman Andrew Macgregor for his efforts in trying to expose corruption in the Victoria Police and more recently in relation to the government version of events following the Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania.

Acanthophis praelongus Ramsay, 1877

Herein restricted to the Cape York region of Queensland and adjacent areas. Refer to above descriptions of A. laevis and A. lancasteri. Populations of Acanthophis from Western Australia and the Northern Territory formerly referred to as this species are now classified as A. lancasteri. Populations of Acanthophis from New Guinea and other Islands north of Australia that may have been referred to as this species are no longer regarded as such (see for A. barnetti, A. crotalusei, A. laevis, above and A. rugosus below).

Specimens of Acanthophis from islands in the Torres Strait region north of Cape York in the Australian Museum have been seen by this author. While being tentatively assigned to this species (A. praelongus) by this author, do have intermediate characteristics between this species and A. laevis, the most notable being reduced ventral scale counts. Noting that Aplin and Donnellan (1999) identified a zone of hybridization between A. wellsei and A. pyrrhus in Western Australia, it is likely that such may in fact occur between another two Acanthophis species in the Torres Strait area.

It is therefore suggested that there be further research into these island populations to determine their correct status and other ecological and conservation considerations.

Captivity: A. praelongus has been bred in captivity by Roy Pails of Ballarat, Victoria, Andrew Lowry of Brighton, Victoria and others. Young are substantially smaller at birth (on average) than for A. lancasteri which have been bred by Rob Valentic of Greensborough. Excellent photos of live A. praelongus appear in Hoser (1989, 1995). Young appear to be more difficult to raise than for other Acanthophis, including A. lancasteri.

The Lowry breeding was of two Cardwell, Queensland, A. praelongus which resulted in six live young averaging just 12-13 cm in total length.

Taxonomic note: Prior to Hoser (19998) most major herpetological texts, including those of Cogger regarded all Death Adders from tropical Australia as belonging to the species A. praelongus. Hoser (1998) followed Wells and Wellington (1985) in dividing this species as previously recognised to be more than one taxa, namely A. praelongus and a north-western variant known presently as A. lancasteri (see later taxonomic note on this). Hoser (1988) went further and added further taxa to this list, including "bottomi" from Groote Eylandt, NT and "A. cummingi" from the floodplains area of the NT.

That the Hoser division was correct was corroborated by the seralogical rsults of Fry et. al. (2001), who while using the name "praelongus" to identify all northern Australian Acanthophis, goes on to state that "may also indicate that A. praelongus, in fact, is a species complex".

Acanthophis pyrrhus Boulenger, 1898

Type locality Station Point NT.

Photos of West Australian A. pyrrhus (armstrongi) appear in Hoser (1989, 1995) and Storr (1981). Northern Territory A. pyrrhus is depicted in Cogger (1992).

Captivity: Breeding data for captive specimens is provided by Fyfe and Munday (1988) and Gow (1981). Photos of mating A. pyrrhus are published in Glasby et. al. (1993), and Shine (1991). Cannibalism for this species has been recorded several times, indicating that it is probably more prone to this behavior than any other Australian Acanthophis.

Acanthophis pyrrhus armstrongi Wells and Wellington 1985

In 1985, Wells and Wellington assigned all Western Australian A. pyrrhus to a new species, namely "A. armstrongi". That they intended placing all A. pyrrhus from Western Australia into the new species is confirmed by their statement ‘Storr (1981:207-208) provided a description of a species from north-western Australia that he regarded as Acanthophis pyrrhus. However, we consider that this is really an undescribed species, herein named Acanthophis armstrongi, and that the species Acanthophis pyrrhus is confined to central Australia. Acanthophis armstrongi is believed confined to the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia and can be identified by referring to the illustrations in Storr (1981: fig 3) and Gow (1983: Plate 15, (upper), specimen from Port Hedland, Western Australia vide Gow, Pers. comm.).’

The type specimen of "Acanthophis armstrongi" was a snake collected 5 km east of Giralia, Western Australia, and is an adult in the Western Australian Museum, number R61357. The name "armstrongi" has since erroneously been used to describe a previously undescribed form from the hilly parts of the Pilbara region south of the Great Sandy Desert, including those from Millstream, Pannawonica and 60 km NNW of Newman, Western Australia (e.g. Hoser 1997).

These snakes, herein referred to as A. wellsei are radically different from the more northern A. pyrrhus, including those from Port Hedland, WA. As Wells and Wellington clearly indicated they were referring to a snake known as A. pyrrhus and that it was the form depicted in Storr (1981) and Gow (1983), which is still recognised by all other Australian herpetologists as the species A. pyrrhus (or close variant thereof) rather than the other form, the name armstrongi can clearly only be applied to A. pyrrhus, either as a junior synonym, subspecies, or as per Wells and Wellington a sibling species depending on one’s taxonomic judgements.

Also note that the A. pyrrhus depicted in Storr 1981 is from Giralia, the type locality given by Wells and Wellington for "armstrongi". Thus armstrongi is not a valid name for the previously undescribed form and it’s use to describe that animal is not correct. That form has been described later in this paper as A. wellsei.

Within the Pilbara region, A. wellsei appears restricted to the hilly parts of the Hamersley Ranges and immediately adjacent areas, while A. pyrrhus armstongi is found in flatter more arid areas to the north, south and east. The exact distribution of both types of Acanthophis in the Pilbara is not known. Museum collections appear to have substantial gaps in distributional samples.

This author regards A. pyrrhus from the Great Sandy Desert of WA and adjacent areas, including coastal parts of the Pilbara as being sufficiently different from the nominate form to be given subspecific status.

Specimens of A. pyrrhus armstrongi observed by this author in life appear to have more yellow colouring dorsally than those seen from central Australia, although whether this is a general trend difference between both forms is not yet known.

Acanthophis rugosus Loveridge, 1948

Type locality Merauke, Irian Jaya (south coast of New Guinea). The type specimen has not been inspected by this author. However an adult specimen in the Australian Museum R147655 with the same locality data is obviously the same species.

Upon viewing the Acanthophis at the Australian Museum spirit house, the animal R147655 was immediately retrieved as being like no other Acanthophis in the collection. That it’s collection locality data matched that of specimen number 22812 at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (the type) came as no surprise.

Unlike other species from the island of New Guinea, A. rugosus has very strongly rugose scales on it’s head and neck. The scale above the eye, does not appear to be raised as in A. laevis. Markings on the labials and head differ from those of other New Guinea Acanthophis, however other A. rugosus may display different head markings. At the time of publication of my 1998 paper A. rugosus was not known from any other locality. However the species and/or similar species also occurs on at least some Islands to the south of New Guinea (refer to this paper).

Cogger (1983) incorrectly declared rugosus a junior synonym of praelongus. Neither species is remotely similar. It is assumed that Cogger had not inspected type specimens or others from the same localities. A. laevis from the Highland regions of the Irian Jaya side of the border seen by this author have looked similar to the one pictured with this paper.

Acanthophis wellsei Hoser, 1998

Holotype:An immature specimen held at the Western Australian Museum from Wittenoom Gorge, WA, Lat: 22° 15’ Long: 118° 23’, R8886.

Paratypes:R21538 also from Wittenoom Gorge, WA, Lat: 22° 14’ Long: 118° 20’; R17121 and R18493 from Wittenoom, WA, Lat: 22° 20’ Long: 118° 19’; R67921 from 31 km SE of Mount Meharry Lat: 23° 10’ Long: 118° 54’; and R56097 from Marandoo, WA, Lat: 22° 38’ Long: 118° 07’.

Diagnosis: Known from Millstream and adjacent parts of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, including Pannawonica and 60 km NNW of Newman, WA, where it is very common (Ball 1993). Distribution appears to be centred on the Hamersley Range area. It has been up until now an undescribed form. Many specimens tend to have black bands and darkening of the head (usually black), although this is not a diagnostic trait of the species as some specimens are not marked this way (see Ball 1993).

A. wellsei appears to be most closely related to A. lancasteri and/or A. pyrrhus, and tends to have smooth to moderately rugose scales, particularly on the sides. Acanthophis wellsei can in all cases known to this author, be distinguished from A. pyrrhus by having two prefrontals as opposed to four in A. pyrrhus (Bush 1988). The head of this species appears to be "deeper" than seen in A. pyrrhus and the side of the head does not flare below the eye as in A. pyrrhus. In these respects it is like A. lancasteri. A. wellsei is unlikely to be confused with any other Acanthophis.

Distribution of this species appears restricted to the range areas around the Hamersleys and Chichester Range of the Pilbara, although it does extend to lower areas nearby. Coastal areas to the north and east are evidently populated by A. pyrrhus. To date no areas of sympatry are known. Bush (1988) speculated that hybridisation between the two forms may occur. Further survey work in the Pilbara is required to fully resolve the distributional status of both forms. Ken Aplin from the WA Museum was working on this species at the time this paper was written.

Captivity: The species has been bred in captivity. Photos of the snake in life are shown in by Hoser (1998) and can also be seen in Ball (1993) as well as in Mirtschin and Davis (1992). The author understands numbers of this snake are being held captive at the present time, both in WA and the eastern states, and in 2001 received an unconfirmed report of an adult female from near Newman WA, producing a total of 12 young.

Cannibalism has not been recorded but based on the fact the species is similar to both A. pyrrhus and A. lancasteri, both of which are known to have cannibalistic tendencies, the habit is likely to be observed in A. wellsei. In terms of general husbandry matters, private keepers have not indicated problems.

An instance of mite infestation in a long-term captive reported to this author was cured without adverse incident on the captive snake.

Taxonomic History: In 1981, Glen Storr of the Western Australian Museum published the results of his study of Acanthophis in Western Australia (Storr 1981). The study was apparently based on preserved museum specimens. Based on his records published for A. pyrrhus in that paper, he clearly observed preserved specimens of A. wellsei but placed them within the earlier described species. This fact is deduced from his listing 11 out of 33 specimens of "A. pyrrhus" having two prefrontals, which appears to be diagnostic for A. wellsei as well as the locality information given for specimens examined as some locations included areas now known to only have A. wellsei. Type data given here was derived from that paper.

In 1991 the Western Australian Museum was supplied with two specimens of A. wellsei (Ball 1993). Other specimens were found by Dave Robertson and Brian Bush. Bird (1992) reported Ken Aplin of the Western Australian Museum as having discovered the snake. In 1993, the Second World Congress of Herpetology was told that Aplin would soon be publishing a description of the snake. After further effluxion of time it appeared that Aplin had chosen not to publish a description of the species as it was thought that Wells and Wellington had already published a description in 1985 and therefore the species was thought to already have a name ("armstrongi").

In 1997-8 when doing a taxonomic review of Acanthophis, this author obtained a copy of the Wells and Wellington paper and noted that they had in fact described "A. armstrongi" as a Pilbara death adder. However what had apparently been overlooked was that the snake described by Wells and Wellington had not been the undescribed form of Acanthophis, but rather the local variant of what is commonly known as A. pyrrhus.

Bush (1998) confirmed that the snake described by Wells and Wellington was not the undescribed form herein described as A. wellsei. This fact is further confirmed by referring directly to the Wells and Wellington paper and the fact that the snake was apparently unrecognised by all until the early 1990’s. The Death Adders from Giralia, WA are not the formerly undescribed form, but rather A. pyrrhus, or what has been recognised as such (noting Giralia as the type locality for "A. armstrongi")(also see photo in (Storr 1981) of an A. pyrrhus from Giralia, WA).

By 1998, this author had been in regular contact with the Western Australian Museum staff for many years and received correspondences from them implying that they may undertake and publish a second review of the genus Acanthophis (e.g. Smith 1997), the first review being that of Storr (1981). It was noted that a time frame of over 6 years had elapsed since the undescribed Pilbara Acanthophis was originally found by scientists and staff at the Western Australian museum. It was noted that to date in 1998 they had chosen not to describe it as a new species and hence this author’s decision to assign it the name wellsei in 1998..

Further noting the apparently conflicting views from Western Australian herpetologists over their impressions of the true taxonomic status of the previously undescribed Pilbara Acanthophis, (e.g. Storr 1981, Bird 1992), this author decided to publish a formal description of the snake as a new species in 1998 (see Hoser 1998).

This was later confirmed by Ken Aplin from WA as taxonomically correct (Aplin 1999). Unbeknown to myself, Aplin and Steve Donnellan of the South Australian Museum were in the process of compiling a description of the same species, but I had effectively beaten him to print. It is understood that Aplin and Donnelan intend publishing another more detailed paper incorporating my 1998 paper’s findings as well as the results of their own detailed studies of the genetics of West Australian Death Adders, a synopsis of which appeared in Aplin (1999).

Finally, since publication of Hoser (1998), a number of authors have cited the species as "A. wellsi". This is an error as the name was always intended to be "A. wellsei".

Original Etymology of "A. wellsei": Named after Richard Wells. He is a highly knowledgeable and talented herpetologist who in the mid 1980’s published a series of controversial taxonomic works, described by some critics as "reckless" (cited at the end of this paper).

An attempt was made by a number of high profile herpetologists to have the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) to have the relevant works of Wells and co-author, C. Ross Wellington formally suppressed. Such did not occur (Shea 1998) and many of the names proposed by the pair have found their way into widespread acceptance (e.g. Antaresia, Morelia spilota mcdowelli). Other taxonomic judgements by the two have either been disagreed with or following further research found to be in error. However such a situation is not unusual in taxonomy, noting for example similar judgements being made against the taxonomic works and conclusions of Storr (e.g. Bohme 1992), Sprackland (e.g. Shea 1998) and others, whom are still highly regarded and respected within their areas of publication. Therefore disagreement by peers with the conclusions of Wells and Wellington should not be in itself relied upon to cast adverse judgement upon the pair.

Disagreements about taxonomic conclusions are part and parcel of the science of zoology. In the main the papers of Wells and Wellington assigned species names to well recognised taxa that until then did not have such names and as such their taxonomic judgements are not in doubt.

In recent years there seems to have been an attempt by some in the "herpetological establishment" to wipe any references to Wells and Wellington from the record, perhaps encapsulated in the attempt by Sprackland et. al. to wipe the name Varanus keithhornei (Wells and Wellington 1985) in favour of his later proposed name Varanus teriae (Sprackland 1991), which violates the basic ICZN rule of "priority". That case being before the ICZN in 1998. Refer to Shea (1998), or other relevant articles within the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature published in 1997-8 (cases 3042-3043). Another example is the apparent suppression of a name given by Wells and Wellington in 1985 to the western form of "Children’s Python", subsequently re-named as "stimsoni" again in violation of the ICZN priority rule.

The name wellsei was chosen to help ensure that recognition of the substantial contribution to herpetology in Australia of Richard Wells remains in the future and is not "erased" from the historical record. This should not be taken as a carte-blanche endorsement by this author of Wells’ taxonomic judgements in all matters.

Acanthophis wellsei donnellani subsp. nov.

Holotype: A specimen in the Western Australian Museum number: R2999, from Vlaming Head Lighthouse, Western Australia, Lat. 21°48'S, Long. 114°10'E.

Paratype: A specimen in the Western Australian Museum number: R19674, from Vlaming Head Lighthouse, Western Australia, Lat. 21°48'S, Long. 114°10'E.

Diagnosis: Similar in most respects to A. wellsei wellsei, from which it is separated by the following suite of characters.

Females have on average, statistically significantly lower ventral scale counts than A. wellsei from elsewhere, as well as a relatively longer tail.

The supraocular scales are distinctly flared when compared with other A. wellsei.

Keeling is more pronounced on scale rows 1-4 and specimens from this region appear to be paler in ground colour than those from elsewhere.

Dorsal ground colour is often lightish with yellowish greyish crossbands superimposed on a light-reddish-brown background, with black tips on the posterior margins of the yellowish grey crossband scales (black tips are on the last row only on each band).

A. wellsei donnellani subsp. nov. is restricted to the Cape Range area of Western Australia as opposed to the main A. wellsei wellsei population that is found in the region centered around the Hamersley and Chichester ranges of WA.

Aplin and Donnellan (1999) page 285, stated that obvious differences between specimens of A. wellsei (Cape Range populations - now A. wellsei donnellani subsp. nov. and A. wellsei wellsei) "may also relate to differences in substrate between the two areas (limestone and sand vs iron-rich rocks and skeletal soils)", and then on page 289 provide a "detailed distribution" of A. pyrrhus and A. wellsei in north-west Western Australia. This map shows a disjunct distribution for the Cape Range population of A. wellsei, separated from the main Pilbara population by a population of the more widely distributed A. pyrrhus, thereby giving further evidence of the genetic isolation of the Cape Range population.

Furthermore, while it is obvious that habitat requirements (such as substrate) would influence the evolution of morphology of snakes, the character differences (scalation traits and so on) observed by Aplin and Donnellan are effectively genetically fixed in these snakes and while substrate may have led to these states arising, it does not at any given point in time affect the phenotypes produced by adult snakes in terms of the character states they have commented on. This is being genetically predetermined as evidenced by the same characters appearing in captive-bred snakes bred in plastic tubs on newspaper and similar set-ups.

By way of example, in the Sydney region A. antarcticus are known from various rock-type substrates, namely shale/clay (where they are relatively uncommon) and sandstone, and there is no evidence whatsoever of differing scale and other traits in terms of the habitat substrate the snakes are found on.

Furthermore bearing in mind that we are talking subspecific differences and not species divisions, it is not essential to prove total genetic isolation of the two populations as implied by Aplin and Donnellan (p. 285) in order to validly assign subspecific designation to the Cape Range population.

Bearing in mind the ongoing need to conserve an ever increasingly fragmented biodiversity, coupled with the risk of private keepers hybridizing snakes from widely differing gene pools, the need to properly name the Cape Range population of A. wellsei sooner rather than later is important.

It is also noted that West Australian herpetologists have in the past taken an overly conservative view in terms of naming taxa that they have inspected (e.g. Storr 1981). Rather than take the chance that another 20 years will elapse before this taxa is appropriately named, this author takes the opportunity to formally name it forthwith.

Distribution: restricted to the Cape Range area of Western Australia, where it is most common in hilly areas and near watercourses. There is also a population of Acanthophis pyrrhus in the generally lower region that apparently separates the population A. wellsei donnellani subsp. nov. from the main population of A. wellsei wellsei. It is assumed by both this author and Aplin and Donnellan, that A. pyrrhus is a more derived species than A. wellsei and it is further presumed (by this author at least) that in the relatively recent geological past, A. pyrrhus have extended their range and numbers at the expense of A. wellsei, this event perhaps occurring in tandem with the progressive drying out of Australiasia within the last million or so years.

Captivity: Little known, but thought to be similar in captive requirements to the type subspecies A. wellsei wellsei. A few live specimens of A. wellsei donnellani subsp. nov. from the Cape Range area are believed to be held in captivity in WA at the present time (Aplin and Donnellan, 1999).

Etymology: The diagnosis for this subspecies, including the information as provided above was essentially provided by Aplin and Donnellan (1999) and subsequently corroborated by this author from inspection of living specimens from the relevant places.

Hoser (2001) named a variant of Cannia australis in honour of Ken Aplin. Thus the opportunity is now taken to name a subspecies of snake in recognition of the research done (on these very snakes) by Steve Donnellan.

Acanthophis woolfi Hoser, 1998

Holotype: Held at the Queensland Museum from "Mount Isa area", Queensland, Lat: 20° 44’ Long: 139° 29’; R61449.

Paratype: Held at the Queensland Museum from "Mount Isa area", Queensland, Lat: 20° 44’ Long: 139° 29’; R61538

Diagnosis: Similar in most respects to both A. hawkei and A. antarcticus, to which this form is obviously most closely related. A. woolfi may usually be distingushed from the previous two species by the relative lack of white on the supralabials. See the photo published in Hoser (1998).

Scalation can be moderately rugose and colouration varies, although reddish/orangey colour forms are most common, which no doubt reflects the dominant soil colour in their range. In line with A. hawkei, young A. woolfi tend to have slightly darker and more intense colours than adults, indicating colour change through life.

The species has in the past been confused with A. pyrrhus due to it's colour and distribution. However it appears that most if not all A. pyrrhus recorded from Western Queensland are in fact assignable to this species. The species has been confused with A. antarcticus due to it's similar size and build.

In more recent times a number of herpetologists, including curators at the Queensland Museum have confused this species with the better-known Acanthophis hawkei.

In 2001 this author saw a specimen in a jar labelled as "Acanthophis hawkei", which was in fact this species.

A. hawkei invariable has thick cream barring on the upper labials above the mouth, which is distinctive of that species. A. woolfi does not have this, instead having dark or dark barred pigment on the upper labials. Anecdotal evidence from private breeders suggests that A. wolfi has smaller young than seen in A. hawkei, but in the absence of hard and consistent data, this is not a certainty. However it is mentioned here so as to encourage private keepers to publish their breeding results for this species.

Known Distribution: The area bounded by Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Dutchess and Dajarra, all in north-west Queensland. To the north-west, A. hawkei appears to take over, while to the west A. pyrrhus becomes the species encountered. Where A. woolfi occur, no other Acanthophis are known. There is a possibility that A. woolfi may occur further south and east of the range indicated here. Museums throughout Australia appear to lack in Acanthophis specimens from north-west Queensland. This most probably reflects a lack of collecting rather than any actual rarity. A. woolfi appears to be reasonably common in the area between Dutchess (Lat: 21° 21’ Long: 139° 52’) and Dajarra (Lat: 21° 42’ Long: 139° 31’), with herpetologists reporting seeing up to five in a single night’s driving.

Captivity: Of three specimens known by this author to have been kept in captivity, none presented any husbandry problems and each lived for some years. Qld/NPWS refused to give this author a permit to collect and keep this species, but did grant a permit to collect, hold, photograph, then release any form of reptile in that state. It is hoped that several people are eventually allowed to hold these animals legally so husbandry and ecological questions can be answered.

Etymology: Named after herpetologist Paul Woolf. He has assisted many other reptile people for some years through his involvement with the Herpetological Society of Queensland and other groups. For his efforts he’s been unlawfully harassed by wildlife officials in Queensland and New South Wales, the latter of which is where he resided in 1998.

Acanthophis yuwoni sp. nov.

Click here to see four photos of this newly described taxa.  This photos may be reproduced by anyone provided that at the same place the original photographer (Axel Groenveld) AND weblink to are also acknowledged and/or cited as the source.  These are conditions of reproduction.Holotype: A female specimen held in the Zoological Museum of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ZMA 16222 from the Kei Islands, Indonesia Approx. Lat: 5° 40’ Long: 133°. Total length 39.9 cm, tail 6.7 cm 121 ventrals. The type specimen is over 100 years old and thus the colouration may be slightly different from that in life. The dorsal colouration of the type specimen is one of a brownish nature consisting of alternating darker and lighter cross-bands, the darker cross-bands being more than twice as broad as the lighter ones and with darker scales towards the anterior edges. The top of the head has dominantly darkish pigment, with a distinct light brown line down the anterior centre of the head. Some of the labials have dark blotches.

Photos of the holotype (in colour) can be found on the internet address immediately after original publication of this paper in "hard copy", by following the relevant link/s from that webpage (via the thumbnail images accompanying the description and no more than three mouse clicks from that webpage), or:
Click here to see four photos of this newly described taxa.  This photos may be reproduced by anyone provided that at the same place the original photographer (Axel Groenveld) AND weblink to are also acknowledged and/or cited as the source.  These are conditions of reproduction.Click here.

The tail has a yellowish-almost white tip. The ventralia are dark brown with a pale edge.

Diagnosis: This snake is similar in many respects to A. crotalusei and A. rugosa from which it can be readily separated by distribution. A. yuwoni is the only Acanthophis known from the Kei Islands. It is separated from A. laevis from nearby New Guinea, A. groenveldi from nearby Ceram and A. macgregori from nearby Tanimbar by it’s higher ventral count (more than 118). At this stage there is no known overlap in this character between A. yuwoni and the other three species (laevis, groenveldi and macgregori). A. yuwoni is separated from all other Acanthophis by distribution. One can also separate all species by DNA analysis.

Etymology: Named after Frank Bambang Yuwono for his ongoing contributions to herpetology in a relatively understudied part of the world, namely the Indonesian archipelago.

Final taxonomic note:

Following publication of Hoser (1998) a number of authors including Ken Aplin and Steve Donnellan (1999) and Glen Shea (2002) criticised this author for using 1985 Wells and Wellington names that they asserted did not comply with the ICZN's code in terms of diagnostic information separating the named taxa from other identified forms. At the species level, this only applied to the name "lancasteri", as the other species "hawkei" was conceded as complying wholly within the ICZN's code.

Shea wrote:

"Secondly, your use of the name Acanthophis lancasteri is not in accordance with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. The name lancasteri, as published by Wells and Wellington (1985), is a nomen nudum (i.e., not accompanied by sufficient information to validate the name - Wells and Wellington neither provide in words characters that purport to differentiate the taxon, nor give reference to a published statement that purports to differentiate the taxon - just giving reference to Storr's published redescription of north-western adders under the name praelongus is insufficient to validate the Wells & Wellington name, as Storr doesn't distinguish the north-western population from Cape York praelongus) and is hence not available to apply to the north-western adders, if they are regarded as distinct from praelongus.

Until a formal naming of this taxon, it should be referred to as either praelongus, or as Acanthophis sp."

If this is in fact the case, then the name "bottomi" as published by Hoser in 1998 becomes applicable to all populations of the species (as it is properly separated from all other similar taxa), with the populations cited by Hoser 1998 and above as "lancasteri lancasteri" becoming an unnamed taxa at the subspecies level.

In relation to the subspecies "A. antarcticus schistos", the same criticisms have been leveled against Wells and Wellington (and in turn myself for using their names). If in fact "schistos" is an invalid name, the West Australian subspecies would then not have an available name and would in effect need a formal redescription as a subspecies taxa.

Final legal note for Australian snake keepers:

The Acanthophis names as used by Hoser (1998) have become adopted by some, but not all wildlife authorities and within this ambit, some names are recognised by some and others are not.

By way of example, as of early 2002, both Queensland and WA wildlife authorities recognise both A. wellsei and A. hawkei, but not the other taxa newly named in Hoser (1998) over and above the widely recognised trio of A. antarcticus, A. pyrrhus and A. praelongus.

Identified NSW NPWS officials have privately stated that they would never formally recognise anything named by this author, while other states authorities appear to be in a state of confusion and/or undertaking to follow whatever Hal Cogger puts in his books.

The relevant issue is that in some states it is illegal to hold so-called "unscheduled" species. For keepers who legally hold "new" species that have resulted from a reclassification of a known taxa (via a splitting of one species into more than one) and held them prior to such being published, they are generally regarded as being within the law. Or at least that is the consistent legal advice received by this author.

However there is a bit of confusion with regards to others who may knowingly obtain such taxa from legal sources after the 1998 reclassification.

Hoser (2002) in a letter to the Victorian Wildlife authorities has attempted to clear up this matter with the DNR (as they call themselves) and at the time of writing here was still awaiting their response and formal position.

Notwithstanding this, potential keepers of Acanthophis species should confirm their legal positions and options with the relevant legal authorities before embarking on such a course.


Various assistance’s, mainly in the form of providing literature, locality data or providing of study specimens in their care (including museum specimens), by Ken Aplin, Brian Barnett, Stuart Bigmore, Frank Bonaccorso, Brian Bush, John Cann, Patrick Couper, Jeanette Covacevich, Andrew Geddy, Allen Greer, Axel Groenveld, Chris Hay, Marinus Hoogmoed, Ulrich Kuch, Bill Love, Andrew Lowry, Samuel McDowall, Roy and Lyn Pails, Mark O’Shea, Ross Sadlier, Glen Shea, Alex Staszewski , Grant Turner, Robert Valentic Richard Wells, Ross Wellington Paul Woolf and Frank Yuwono. Many others who freely allowed the author to observe live snakes in their care and provided other assistance’s have been omitted from this list.


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Ball, S. 1993. Further data on the Pilbara Death Adder - A suspected New Species, Monitor, Bulletin of the Victorian Herpetological Society, 5 (1):5-10.

Barnett, B. F. and Gow, G. F. 1992. The Barkly Tableland Death Adder, Acanthophis antarcticus, Monitor, Bulletin of the Victorian Herpetological Society, 4 (1):13-23.

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Hoser, R. T. 1982, Frequency of sloughing in captive Morelia, Liasis and Acanthophis (serpentes), Herptile, 7 (3):20-26. *

Hoser, R. T. 1983. Mating behavior in Australian Death Adders, Genus Acanthophis (Serpentes Elapidae), Herptile (8) 1, 1983:25-33. *

Hoser, R. T. 1984a. Search for the Death Adder, Notes From NOAH, 11 (9):12-14. *

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Hoser, R. T. 1985b. On Melanistic tendencies in Death Adders Acanthophis antarcticus (Shaw). Litteratura Serpentium (English Edition), 5 (4):157-159. *

Hoser, R. T. 1985c. On the question of immunity of snakes, Litteratura Serpentium (English Edition), 5 (6):219-232. *

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* Papers can be downloaded from the world wide web at

RAYMOND HOSER has been a herpetologist for over 30 years.

He’s published over 140 papers and five books. His principal research interest is Acanthophis.

To view photos of some of the type specimens mentioned in this paper:


To download the 4 mb pdf (Acrobat) file of the exact article as it appeared in the journal Crocodilian (excl. colour photo pages of specimens) - click here - it will take about 30-40 minutes to download with dial-up connections.

Click here to download and view a 3.3 mb mpg (video) file of two mating Sydney Death Adders.

Click here to download and view a 4.4 mb mpg (video) file of two mating Death Adders (A. antarcticus X A. cummingi).

Click here to download and view a different (and more graphic) 7.2 mb mpg (video) file of two mating Death Adders (A. antarcticus male (different to above) X A. cummingi female).

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