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The Pilbara Death Adder, Acanthophis wellsei. Inaccessible oppulance.

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

Keeping the Pilbara Death Adder

NATURE 4 YOU – Tie and Scott Eipper

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The Pilbara Death Adder is a species of snake that must only be kept by experienced elapid keepers. The toxicity of the venom combined with their speed make the Pilbara Death Adder a species suited for the more experienced keeper.

We at Nature 4 You do not endorse the keeping of venomous snakes without suitable experience and only when you have the appropriate permits and facilities to care for the animal properly.


COMMON NAMES: Pilbara Death Adder

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Acanthophis wellsei

PRONUNCIATION: ak-anth-oh-fis wells-e

ETYMOLOGY: Acanthophis - spine snake (reference to tail) wellsei - after Richard Wells



LIFE EXPENTANCY: No records of life span, it is expected they should have the same life span of other members of their genus. Not much is known about the Pilbara Death Adders.

The Pilbara Death Adder is native to Australia, found in two isolated populations. One throughout the Pilbara in Western Australia and the other on the North West Cape. Pilbara Death Adders are predominately found in rocky areas with spinifex clumps. Pilbara Death Adders are thought to prey on frogs, lizards and small mammals in the wild. As a group, Death Adders are primarily nocturnal, often found crossing the roads at night through suitable habitats, or while in ambush position, often partially concealed by leaf litter or other ground debris. Pilbara Death adders have a robust body form, but are quite slender compared to other members of the genus. Pilbara Death Adders are reddish-orange to brown in colour, with lighter bands. Some specimens are stunningly marked with black to dark brown cross bands that vary in thickness, with a dark coloured head. The underneath is usually lighter than the top of the body, with darker flecking. These colours become more apparent when the snake flattens out in a defensive display. Usually their lips lack barring. The caudal lure is white to orange, but may also be black to grey. Unlike most other elapids, Death Adders ambush their prey. Most others hunt their prey. Death Adders rely on camouflage as their main defence from predators, but will flatten out and make short defensive strikes before attempting to flee if cornered. The tail is used for caudal luring, making it highly sensitive to touch. There is little known and published on the toxicity of a Pilbara Death Adder's venom. It is assumed that their bite would be just as a bite from others in their genus. To go by a Common Death Adder, Acanthophis antarctus, the venom is neurotoxic with weak haemolytic and anticoagulant activity. Myotoxic properties have been recorded from their bite of a Northern Death Adder, Acanthophis praelongus. Pilbara Death Adders are not commonly encountered in both their natural habitat and captivity.

Pilbara Death Adder, Acanthophis wellsei


A single Pilbara Death Adder needs a terrestrial enclosure about 300mm wide X 800mm long X 400mm High. The housing of juveniles is best done by housing them in plastic style enclosures with ventilation holes either drilled or melted with a soldiering iron. This plastic tub can be placed inside the larger enclosure. Plastic tubs are often utilised for small snakes as they are cheap, easy to clean and seal very well. This is important as a small snake is able to escape through very small gaps, which are often present in timber enclosures. Juveniles can be kept in smaller conditions but should be kept by themselves. Not only can cage-mates turn on each other, the unpredictability of their nature combined with the toxicity of their venom makes one snake per cage a lot easier and safer to deal with. We house our juveniles singularly in plastic tubs. These tubs have clips on the side to lock the lids in place, are readily available and easy to modify. We start our hatchling Pilbara Death Adders in 2L tubs measuring 22cms L x 16cms W x 8cms H and move them up to appropriately sized caging as they grow. We use paper towel on the bottom of these tubs as it is easy to clean - simply remove the soiled paper towel and replace with new.

Neonate Pilbara Death Adder in a tub