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Taxonomy of Acanthophis (Reptilia: Elapidae) in Australia


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Posted by Richard Wells on March 17, 2002 at 20:28:57:

Hello all,
For those interested in the Family Elapidae I offer you my considerations regarding the genus Acanthophis in Australia which were recently published in the AUSTRALIAN BIODIVERSITY RECORD, 2002 (No 5): 1-18 (March, 2002)
A copy of this article is attached below, but owing to its size, I shall send it in parts:

The first part deals with the antarcticus group:

Kind Regards from

Richard Wells

AUSTRALIAN BIODIVERSITY RECORD
______________________________________________________
2002 (No 5) ISSN 1325-2992 March, 2002
________________________________________________

Taxonomy the Genus Acanthophis (Reptilia: Elapidae) in Australia.

by

Richard W. Wells
“Shiralee”, Major West Road, Cowra, New South Wales, Australia

In 1985 Wells and Wellington described a number of species in the genus of Acanthophis as a consequence of their belief that Acanthophis antarcticus was a species complex rather than the single highly variable taxon that previous authors had maintained. The new species in the antarcticus complex then described - viz Acanthophis hawkei, Acanthophis lancasteri, and Acanthophis schistos, are redescribed here, along with a new member of the Acanthophis pyrrhus complex then described, Acanthophis armstrongi. As then, I still believe that the genus Acanthophis is much more speciose than previously maintained by other authors. Additionally, I have considered a number of taxonomic changes to the genus Acanthophis as they relate to Australian taxa made by Hoser (1998). I find that those new species from Australia described by Hoser are clearly available names according to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (1999). Further, I have concluded that the genus Acanthophis is best regarded as a polyphyletic assemblage, comprising two separate lineages i.e. the antarcticus group (comprising antarcticus, bottomi, cummingi, hawkei, lancasteri, praelongus, schistos, and woolfi) and the pyrrhus group (comprising armstrongi, pyrrhus, and wellsi). Consequently, I have erected herein a new generic name for the Acanthophis pyrrhus complex

Genus Acanthophis Daudin, 1803

Acanthophis antarcticus (Shaw and Nodder, 1802)

Diagnosis: A relatively thick-set species with a broad and deep head that is very distinct from the neck. The head scales are smooth to slightly rugose in appearance. The eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. Dorsal body colour grey to dark greyish-brown, or red with a series (numbering 20-40) of pale greyish or pale brown transverse bands on the body and tail, each having a contrasting ragged-edged appearance due to the edges of the cross-bands having scattered darker and lighter greyish, brown or black spotting. The dorsal of the head is usually coloured overall resulting in a broad 'V'-shaped or arrow-shaped pattern. The supralabials are whitish with distinctive dark brown or black edging creating a 'barred' effect and there may be a blackish streak on the side of the head, extending from behind the eye to about the neck and forebody, where it dissipates into a series of black spots or blotches. Ventrally creamish or greyish, profusely marked with greyish and black flecking or spots; the tail tip is usually brightly coloured in creamish-yellow, or white. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: temporals 2+4, a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye, supralabials 6, body scales smooth to weakly keeled anteriorly in 21 rows at mid-body, ventrals 110-135, anal entire, and subcaudals 35-60 mostly entire, but the last few divided. Reaches a maximum total length of about 1.0 m., but usually a mature specimen is around 0.45 m.
Notes: As herein recognised, the Eastern Death Adder is known from south-eastern Queensland, northern, eastern and south-eastern New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, south-eastern South Australia, north-eastern and north-western Victoria. Historical records of Acanthophis antarcticus from western New South Wales and eastern South Australia may represent an undescribed taxon most similar to Acanthophis schistos of southern Western Australia and the Nullarbor Plain of South Australia. Its principle habitat is dense heath and dry sclerophyll forest communities in coastal areas and the lower elevated ranges. On occasions A. antarcticus have been found near rock-outcroppings with a north-west aspect in densely vegetated gullies. Some suitable sites are characterised by being unburnt for many years, with large hollow logs, profuse growth of ground vegetation (80-100% coverage), deep leaf-litter layer on the ground, often rock outcroppings are present, and in fairly close proximity to a watercourse. Other sites are similarly undisturbed (i.e. dense) vegetation on sand-dunes. It is also known to utilise areas heavily overgrown with introduced lantana and bitou bush, which can give considerable protection from potential predators. This is a live-bearing species, producing up to 30 young (but usually 12-20) in a litter. The Eastern Death Adder feeds mainly on frogs, small lizards, small mammals and on occasions small birds. Juveniles feed on small lizards. This is a secretive and crepuscular species with excellent camouflage adaptations. Prey is usually captured using a sit-and-wait strategy, where a death adder will disguise its position by crawling under dead grass and leaves on the ground, then carefully coil itself into a small area, and in so doing cover itself in leaf-litter and other ground debris. The tail is drawn up to be exposed, just in front of its head. The snake will remain in this coiled position sometimes for days just waiting for an animal to come along, and when potential prey approaches, the tail is wriggled like a small struggling caterpillar to attract (or distract !) the attention of the would-be food item. As the prey approaches the wriggling tail, the death adder virtually erupts from its cover like a tightly wound spring being released, and rapidly bites the animal and holds on tenaciously as it struggles to escape. The venom is highly toxic and takes only a short while to completely subdue the food item, and sometimes a hungry death adder will begin to devour the paralysed prey while it is still alive. This is a dangerously venomous species that has caused human fatalities from its bite. Urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. Protected under the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Act (1974) but not listed in that State as a Threatened Species in any of the Schedules of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995). It is also protected under the Victorian Wildlife Act (1975) and listed as threatened in Schedule 2 of the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Also protected under the ACT Nature Conservation Act (1980), the SA National Parks and Wildlife Act (1972) and the Qld Nature Conservation Act (1992). Regarded by some as endangered in Victoria. In large areas of this species' range it has completely disappeared due habitat disturbance of one kind or another, and I have little doubt that this species is becoming rarer. It is possibly already extinct or on the verge of extinction in Victoria, and only still commonly found in small areas of north-eastern New South Wales. It should be regarded as an endangered species. The name 'antarcticus' was presumably used to mean 'southern', alluding to the distribution of the species.

Acanthophis bottomi Hoser, 1998

Although originally described as a subspecies by Hoser (1998) viz Acanthophis lancasteri bottomi, it is formally elevated to specific status in this paper. Diagnosis: Although this species has some behaviour patterns reminiscent of A. pyrrhus, it is in fact most similar in body-form and morphology to Acanthophis praelongus and Acanthophis lancasteri. Acanthophis bottomi is a relatively slim-bodied species with a broad and deep head that is very distinct from the neck. The head scales are strongly rugose in appearance and the eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of light coloured slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. Dorsal body colour dark brown, or dark reddish-brown with a series (about 50) of thin paler transverse bands on the body and tail. The banding appears to be stronger in immature specimens and less distinct with age. The dorsal of the head is much darker than the body, being very dark brown to almost black, but this is a seasonal variation, the dark head colouration disappearing with the onset of the dry season. The supralabials are dark brown or dark reddish-brown with brownish-white triangular-shaped markings on the lower parts of the supralabials, and there may be a light-edged brownish streak on the side of the head, extending from behind the eye to about the neck and forebody, where it dissipates into a series of brownish blotches. Ventrally creamish-yellow with scattered dark brown flecks. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: temporals 2+4, a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye, supralabials 6, outer edge of supraoculars raised, prefrontals undivided, body scales smooth posteriorly and strongly keeled anteriorly in 23 rows at mid-body, ventrals 129, anal entire, and subcaudals 42 (24 entire anteriorly, 18 divided). It can reach a maximum total length of about 0.6 m. Holotype: Australian Museum R26274. Angurugu Mission, Groote Eylandt, Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. Collected by D. Levitt.]
Notes: Known from Groote Eylandt (and probably other islands), in the Gulf of Carpentaria as well as the adjacent mainland of the Northern Territory. Acanthophis bottomi occurs mainly in open tropical savanna woodland, rather than rocky habitats. It is a live-bearing species as are all the members of the genus, but the reproductive biology is otherwise unknown. Presumably small mammals and lizards are the main prey as in the closely related Acanthophis lancasteri. This is another secretive, crepuscular and nocturnal species with excellent camouflage adaptations. Prey is also captured by using its tail as a lure as in other Acanthophis. A dangerously venomous species, urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. Protected under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1998). Its conservation status is unknown, but this species may be considered as potentially vulnerable due to its limited distribution and specialised habitat requirements. The name 'bottomi' honours the Australian investigative journalist, Robert Bottom.
Acanthophis cummingi Hoser, 1998

Diagnosis: This species is very closely related to Acanthophis lancasteri, but this is generally a smaller species than Acanthophis cummingi. It is a large and stout-bodied species with a broad and deep head that is very distinct from the neck. The head scales are less rugose in appearance than in its close relative A. lancasteri, and the eyes are smaller with vertically elliptical pupils and the upper eye colour greyish-cream. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of blackish, slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. The dorsal body colour is dark brown, or dark reddish-brown with a series (of about 40 to 60) pale yellowish transverse bands on the body and tail, each having a contrasting ragged-edged appearance due to the edges of the cross-bands having scattered darker and lighter brown or black scales. The supralabials are dark brown or dark reddish-brown with distinctive white triangular-shaped markings on the lower parts of the supralabials, and there may be a brownish streak on the side of the head, extending from behind the eye to about the neck. Ventrally whitish without any darker markings. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: body scales smooth posteriorly and faintly keeled anteriorly in 23 rows at mid-body; ventrals 120-124; anal entire; subcaudals 47-57 some entire anteriorly, but mostly divided; a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye; supralabials 6 (with 4th only slightly higher than wide); outer edge of supraoculars raised; prefrontals undivided; Acanthophis cummingi reaches a maximum total length of about 1 m., but usually a mature specimen is around 0.6 m. [Holotype: Australian Museum R 12438. Yirrkala Mission, NT - (Hoser cites Type Locality as “Yirrkala Mission, Darwin NT” - but this Mission is actually in the north-eastern part of Arnhem Land). Collected by W.S. Chaseling].
Notes: Only known from a small part of tropical Australia, centred on the coastal plain of the far north of the Northern Territory. It lives mainly in open tropical savanna woodland on black-soil floodplains subject to periodic inundation by wet season rains. This is a live-bearer, but the number of young produced in a litter is not known. This species feeds on frogs, lizards and small mammals and is also known to be cannibalistic. It is a nocturnal, secretive and terrestrial species usually found active at night particularly during or following rainfall. I have collected this species active at night during wild tropical storms with torrential rain and lightning. As the northern wet season intensifies, flooding of lowland coastal plains forces this species to utilise low rises or rocky hills as refuges until the flood waters recede at the end of the Wet, when this species then returns to lowland areas for the Dry Season. This is a dangerously venomous species so urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. It is protected under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1998). The conservation status of Acanthophis cummingi is unknown, but this species may be considered as potentially vulnerable due to its limited distribution and specialised habitat requirements. The name 'cummingi' honours the Australian investigative journalist Fia Cumming.
Acanthophis hawkei Wells and Wellington, 1985

Diagnosis: This is the largest of the Death Adders, both in length and body-form. It is a very thick-set species when mature, with a large broad and deep head that is very distinct from the neck. The head scales are only slightly rugose in appearance and the eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. The dorsal body colour is usually grey to dark greyish-brown, with a series (50-60) of pale greyish or pale brown transverse bands on the body and tail, each having a contrasting ragged-edged appearance due to the posterior edges of the cross-bands having a series of neatly aligned black scales. Occasionally a reddish colour phase may be found also. The dorsal part of the head is usually bi-coloured overall, resulting in the broad 'V'-shaped or arrow-shaped pattern being interrupted across the parietal area by a broad darker brown band. The supralabials are whitish with distinctive black edging creating a 'jagged' effect and there may be a brownish streak on the side of the head, extending downwards from behind the eye to about the back of the mouth. Ventrally creamish or greyish, profusely marked with greyish and black flecking or spots; the tail tip is usually brightly coloured in creamish-yellow, or white. The juveniles are darker and more intense in colouration than the adults. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: body scales smooth to weakly keeled anteriorly in 21 rows at mid-body; ventrals 110-135; anal entire; subcaudals 35-60 mostly entire, but the last few divided; temporals 2+4; a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye; and supralabials 6. Acanthophis hawkei reaches a maximum total length of about 1.1 m. and at this length, specimens may have a mid-body girth of some 300mm; usually a mature specimen is around 0.5 m. [Holotype: Northern Territory Museum R3677, collected 1.5 miles south-west of Brunette Downs Station Homestead, Barkly Tablelands, Northern Territory by Hans Van Dyk on 20 April, 1977].
Notes: Known only from the Barkly Tablelands of the central Northern Territory and slightly into north-western Queensland, although Hoser (pers. com.) considers that A. hawkei does not occur in Queensland, being entirely restricted to the black-soil plains of the eastern Northern Territory (however, Hoser actually figures a specimen from Camooweal, Qld on p. 34 of his Acanthophis revision). It inhabits the Mitchell Grass (Astrebla spp.) association on black-soil plains. As is the case with all other Acanthophis, it is a live-bearing species, producing up to 20 young in a litter, the young measuring around 200 mm. in total length when born. The diet of A. hawkei mainly comprises small mammals, but lizards are also consumed as well. This is a secretive and crepuscular species with excellent camouflage adaptations, that is active in the open only at night. During the day they shelter in deep earth cracks, or beneath thick vegetation on the ground. This is a dangerously venomous species so urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. It is protected under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1998) and the Qld Nature Conservation Act (1992). This is an abundant species within its habitat. The name 'hawkei' honours one of Australia's greatest Prime Ministers, Robert Lee Hawke.


Acanthophis lancasteri Wells and Wellington, 1985

Diagnosis: This is a relatively stout-bodied species with a broad and deep head that is very distinct from the neck. The head scales are moderately rugose in appearance and the eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils and the iris greyish-yellow. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. Dorsal body colour may be dark brown, or dark reddish-brown with a series (about 50) of pale reddish-brown transverse bands on the body and tail, each having a contrasting ragged-edged appearance due to the edges of the cross-bands having scattered darker and lighter greyish, brown or black scales (mainly grey). The dorsal of the head is usually coloured overall with a two-toned pattern of grey and brown, but sometimes the head and neck may be quite dark, almost black. The supralabials are dark brown or dark reddish-brown with two distinctive brownish-white triangular-shaped markings on the lower parts of the supralabials, and there may be a brownish streak on the side of the head, extending from behind the eye to about the neck and forebody, where it dissipates into a series of brownish blotches. Ventrally whitish. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: body scales smooth posteriorly and strongly keeled anteriorly in 23 rows at mid-body; ventrals 122-134; anal entire; subcaudals 47-57, some entire anteriorly, but most divided; a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye; supralabials 6 (with 4th only slightly higher than wide); outer edge of supraoculars raised; and, prefrontals undivided. Reaches a maximum total length of about 0.6 m., but usually a mature specimen is around 0.45 m. [Holotype: Western Australian Museum R70690 collected at 45 km NNE of Halls Creek, Western Australia].
Notes: Acanthophis lancasteri is confined to tropical Australia, from the Kimberley area of northern Western Australia across the adjacent ranges of the upper Northern Territory. Low rocky ranges in tropical open savanna woodland with Triodia-dominated ground cover represent its main habitat. This is a live-bearing species that may produce up to 20 young in a litter. Mature specimens prefer small mammals as their main diet, but juveniles feed mainly on lizards with some juvenile and immature specimens having been recorded as cannibalistic in captivity. Prey is also captured by using its tail as a lure as in other Acanthophis. This is another secretive, crepuscular and nocturnal species with excellent camouflage adaptations. It is a dangerously venomous species so urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. Protected under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1998) and the WA Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (as amended). It is probably not under threat given the large and remote distribution of the species. The name 'lancasteri' honours the American actor Burt Lancaster.

Acanthophis praelongus Ramsay, 1877

Diagnosis: As herein restricted, this is a rather small, slender-bodied species with a broad and deep head distinct from the neck. The head scales are moderately rugose in appearance and although relatively broad, is much less so than other Acanthophis; the eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. The dorsal body colour may be dark brown, or greyish-brown with a series (about 50) of pale brown transverse bands on the body and tail, each having a contrasting ragged-edged appearance due to the edges of the cross-bands having scattered darker and lighter greyish or brown scales. The dorsal of the head is usually coloured overall with a two-toned pattern of grey and brown, but sometimes the head and neck may be darker and more intensely patterned. The supralabials are light with distinctive brownish markings on the lower parts of the supralabials, and there may be a light-edged brownish streak on the side of the head, extending from behind the eye to about the neck and forebody, where it dissipates into a series of brownish blotches. Ventrally whitish with blackish flecks and blotches mainly at the outer edges of the ventral scales. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: body scales smooth posteriorly and strongly keeled anteriorly (and on the neck) in 23 rows at mid-body; ventrals 120-130; anal entire; subcaudals 40-50, some entire anteriorly, but mostly divided; a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye; supralabials 6 (with 4th only slightly higher than wide); outer edge of supraoculars raised; prefrontals undivided. It reaches a maximum total length of about 0.6 m., but usually a mature specimen is only around 0.4 m. and quite elongate for an Acanthophis.
Notes: The synonymising of Acanthophis antarcticus rugosus Loveridge 1948 with Acanthophis praelongus by Cogger, Cameron and Cogger (1983) was rejected by Wells and Wellington (1984, 1985) who considered Acanthophis rugosus to be a valid species in its own right (confined to the island of New Guinea) and A. praelongus to be restricted to Australia (Cape York Peninsula). Subsequently, Hoser (1998) has reviewed the genus Acanthophis in Australia and New Guinea and concluded that there are at least four different species of this genus on the island of New Guinea: Acanthophis barnetti, Acanthophis crotalusei, Acanthophis laevis and Acanthophis rugosus. I have not considered the validity of Hoser’s determinations for New Guinea as I feel the taxonomy of the genus Acanthophis beyond Australia is still clouded by the possibility of other new taxa awaiting discovery as well as the status of the residual synonymy which I am unable to comment upon at this time. However I do concur with his recognition of A. praelongus and A. rugosus as distinctive species. Hoser has also restricted Acanthophis praelongus to Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. As herein defined, Acanthophis praelongus is largely confined to Cape York Peninsula, and adjacent coastal areas of tropical north-eastern Queensland as Hoser maintains. I have collected A. praelongus from north-eastern Queensland and find these to be very different snakes to other ‘northern’ Acanthophis that have been widely regarded as being conspecific with A. praelongus. Acanthophis praelongus (sensu stricto) occurs in a variety of habitats, ranging from tropical savanna woodland, dry open forest, tropical rainforest, monsoon forest and vine thickets. It is live-bearing with up to 6 young being produced in a litter, measuring around 12 cm each at birth. This species feeds mainly on lizards, frogs and small mammals. It is usually observed at active at night on the edges of forest or woodland habitats, particularly in rocky areas, and particularly during or just after a period of heavy rainfall. This is a dangerously venomous species that has caused human fatalities from its bite. Urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. It is protected under the Qld Nature Conservation Act (1992). Regarded as common. The name 'praelongus' means 'very-long', a reference to the elongate body-form of the species.

Acanthophis schistos Wells and Wellington, 1985

In his recent revision, Hoser (1998) relegated Acanthophis schistos to being merely a subspecies viz. Acanthophis antarcticus schistos. However, I have collected both schistos and antarcticus and consider them quite different allopatric species. Accordingly, I maintain the earlier consideration of Wells and Wellington (1985) that schistos is a distinct species in its own right.
Diagnosis: Acanthophis schistos is a relatively short-bodied and thick-set species with a broad and deep head that is very distinct from the neck. The head scales are smooth to slightly rugose in appearance. The eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils, with the iris pale above and darker below. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a series of slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft spine. The dorsal body colour dark grey to dark greyish-brown, with a large series (40-50) of pale greyish or pale brown transverse bands on the body and tail, each having a contrasting ragged-edged appearance due to the posterior edge of the cross-bands having scattered darker brown or black spotting. The supralabials are white with distinctive dark brown or black edging creating a 'barred' effect and there may be a blackish streak on the side of the head, extending from behind the eye to about the neck and forebody, where it dissipates into a series of black spots or blotches. Ventrally whitish, and the tail tip is usually brightly coloured in yellow, white or black. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: body scales smooth to weakly keeled anteriorly in 21 or 23 rows at mid-body; ventrals 110-124; anal entire; subcaudals 36-50, single anteriorly, divided posteriorly; a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye; supralabials 6. It reaches a maximum total length of about 0.7 m., but a large specimen would be around 0.45 m. [Holotype: Western Australian Museum R64698 collected at Canning Dam, near Perth, Western Australia].
Notes: As herein recognised, the Western Death Adder occurs from extreme southern South Australia, ranging from Eyre Peninsula westwards along the edge of the Nullarbor Plain and across the southern and south-western parts of Western Australia, to about as far north as the Darling Range near Perth. It prefers dense heathland in rocky coastal areas and lower elevated ranges and plains. Sometimes found near rock-outcroppings which are probably used as refuges. Live-bearing, producing up to 12 young in a litter. Feeds mainly on frogs, small lizards, small mammals and on occasions small birds. Juveniles feed on small lizards. This is a secretive, crepuscular and nocturnal species with excellent camouflage adaptations. Prey is usually captured by using its tail as a lure as in A. antarcticus. This is a dangerously venomous species whose bite has resulted in human fatalities. Urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. It is protected under the SA National Parks and Wildlife Act (1972) and the WA Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (as amended). The conservation status of this species is unknown, but it may be considered as potentially vulnerable in some parts of its range due to its fragmented distribution and specialised habitat requirements. In large areas of this species' range it has completely disappeared due habitat disturbance of one kind or another, and I have little doubt that this species is becoming rarer. It is possibly already extinct or on the verge of extinction in much of its Western Australian distribution, and is only still commonly found in scattered parts of its WA range and on the Nullarbor Plain. The name 'schistos' literally means 'rocks', and alludes to the habitat of the species.

Acanthophis woolfi Hoser, 1998
Diagnosis: This is another relatively stout-bodied species with a broad and deep head that is distinct from the neck. The head scales are weakly rugose in appearance and the eyes are small with vertically elliptical pupils. The tail is slender and laterally compressed towards the end, terminating with a light coloured series of slightly enlarged rough scales and a soft slightly curved spine. The dorsal body colour is usually yellowish-brown in adults, but reddish or orange-red in juveniles or immatures, with 50-60 paler yellowish or whitish-brown transverse bands which become much more distinct as they mature. Along the posterior edges of the bands some of the scales may be blackish or brownish coloured, and so highlight the banding effect on the body. The ventral area is whitish, lips with barely any white and the distal portion of tail is creamish. This species is unusual in death adders, in that it is much darker in colour at birth than in maturity. Some important features of the scalation of this species are: dorsal scales smooth in 21 rows at mid-body; anal entire; anterior subcaudals scales entire, but divided posteriorly; a series of subocular scales between supralabials and eye; supralabials 6; prefrontals divided (4). Acanthophis woolfi reaches a maximum total length of about 0.6 m., but usually a mature specimen is around 0.45 m. [Holotype: Queensland Museum ‘R61449’, from ‘Mt Isa Area’, Queensland]. Notes: Known only from an area bounded by Cloncurry, Duchess, Dajarra, and Mt Isa in north-western Queensland. It inhabits tropical savanna shrubland, with low rocky hills. This is a live-bearing species, but its litter size unknown. The diet comprises principally lizards and small mammals. This is a dangerously venomous species so urgent medical attention should always be sought following a bite from this or any other Death Adder. Protected under the Qld Nature Conservation Act (1992). The conservation status of this species is unknown, but it may be considered as potentially vulnerable due to its limited distribution and specialised habitat requirements. The name 'woolfi' honours the Australian herpetologist Paul Woolf.




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