Just hearing the words “death adder” can send chills down your spine. A creature with a name like that doesn’t sound like one you want to mess with. These killer snakes have extremely toxic venom and the longest fangs of any other snake in all of Australia! Common death adders (Acanthophis antarcticus) can inject a great deal of venom when they attack — around 85 mg on average. Shazza, a particularly unique common death adder, lives at the Australian Reptile Park. Amazingly, this incredible and imposing snake has enough venom to kill 60 humans!
Shazza the Common Death Adder
Regular health checks are very important for the snakes at the Australian Reptile Park. Reptiles do not show obvious signs (or any signs at all) when they are sick or unhealthy. In addition, they don’t eat very often, so you can’t judge their health by their food intake. The best way to know if the snakes are healthy is to do regular health checks. Of course, doing a health check on a venomous snake isn’t always easy — in fact, it can be quite dangerous.
Big, beautiful, and deadly, Shazza measured over 40 inches long at her most recent health check. Additionally, she weighed in at 3.11 pounds. Compare those numbers to the average common death adder’s size of around 24 inches long and only 1.5 pounds. As you can see, Shazza is a heavyweight champion! She is more than double the size of an average common death adder!
Of course, size isn’t everything — common death adders also have toxic venom in their arsenal. These snakes are ambush predators, so they hide and quietly wait for animals to get close enough before striking. Then, they inject highly toxic venom into their prey. It doesn’t take much venom to kill, but on average, these snakes inject around 84mg in a single bite.
The highest venom yield from a single death adder was 160mg. While that is certainly impressive, it’s no match for Shazza’s recent achievements. During her most recent health exam, Shazza produced an unbelievable venom yield of 270mg. That is almost 3.2 grams of raw snake venom, enough to kill over 60 healthy human adults!
Milking Snakes at the Australian Reptile Park
So, how do you measure the venom yield of one of these deadly snakes? You milk it, of course. Yes — you milk a snake.
Before we go any further, know that snake milking should only be done by a professional in a secure environment. Even then, milking a snake is a very dangerous job.
For the brave souls of the Australian Reptile Park, however, milking deadly snakes is just part of the job. The park extracts venom from these dangerous animals in order to create lifesaving antivenom for snake bites. To do so, they hold the snake’s head and insert its fangs into a vial. The venom “milks” into the container. It’s an occupation that is not for the faint of heart.
The Australian Reptile Park is a one-of-a-kind facility — it is the only place on earth where they milk Australia’s terrestrial snakes to make antivenom. The snake venom the park collects helps to save hundreds of lives in Australia each year! This facility collects venom from five dangerous species: black snakes, brown snakes, taipans, tiger snakes, and common death adders.
Common Death Adders in Australia
Before common death adder antivenom was developed, roughly half of those bitten succumbed to its effects within two hours, experiencing paralysis and respiratory failure. Although death adders are not aggressive, they are very good at hiding. They often nestle their bodies among leaf litter or even hide in plain sight using their camouflage coloring. These snakes don’t flee if humans get too close, which makes it easy to step on one accidentally!
Though common death adders are not aggressive snakes, touching one can cause it to lash out in defense. Common death adders are also the fastest-striking snakes in the world, so getting too close could be the last thing you do. That is why the work done at the Australian Reptile Park is so important.
In Australia, common death adders typically live in woodlands, forests, heaths, and grassland regions, particularly on the eastern coast. They prey on birds, lizards, and frogs. If threatened, the snake will defend itself with ferocity and deadly speed.
Unfortunately, death adders in Australia are declining due to invasive cane toads and habitat loss. The invasive cane toads have toxic glands that produce poison, which kills any death adder that eats one. In addition, cane toads also prey on young death adders, so they are causing more than one problem for these incredible snakes.
That is why Shazza is such an important ambassador for her species. Not only does her incredibly high venom yield save hundreds of lives each year, but she and her keepers educate hundreds of thousands of park visitors each year as well.
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