Black Mamba

Dendroaspis polylepis

Unquestionably one of the most deadly snakes on the planet, the Black Mamba is rightly feared wherever it occurs. It is found in three widely separate parts of the African continent and in South Africa it may be encountered in most of Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo and parts of the North West Province.

Named for the black inside of its mouth rather than its body colour and sporting a characteristic and ominous coffin-shaped head, a Black Mamba may lift up to 40% of its body length upright – meaning a large Black Mamba could deliver a bite to the head or torso of a fully grown man. The venom of the Black Mamba is neurotoxic and causes paralysis of the voluntary and involuntary muscular systems. It will bite readily and repeatedly if cornered or threatened, delivering 100-400mg of venom in a single bite; 10mg is sufficient to kill an adult human from respiratory paralysis in less than an hour though more usually within 7 to 15 hours without treatment with the correct type of anti-venom.

The Black Mamba inhabits savannas and forests and are territorial with specific spots in its home range where it likes to rest, sun bathe, etc. They are diurnal and very active, fast and agile hunters both in the trees and on the ground. They feed on birds and small mammals.

After mating, usually in the months of spring and summer, female Black Mambas lay around 12 eggs in termite mounds or similar hide-aways. The eggs hatch about three months later. Young Black Mambas grow rapidly and from a length of 40-60cm when they hatch may grow to 2m in length by the time they’re a year old. Even newly hatched babies are deadly venomous. Adults measure up to 4.5m long, the biggest venomous snakes in Africa, and may have a lifespan of 20 years.

The IUCN considers the Black Mamba to be of least concern.

42 thoughts on “Black Mamba

  1. Nature on the Edge

    Just been watching an episode of Snakes in the City on DSTV and that couple, the intrepid snake catchers, capture one long black mamba. It was tense! Those pics of yours are impressive, glad you made use of a telephoto lens from a safe distance.

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  2. Mary Strong-Spaid

    I have heard about the black mamba snake, but this is the first time that I have ever seen one.
    Excellent photos! I am guessing you were using a very nice zoom lens and the snake in the closeup photos is much farther away than it appears to be. Near or far, just looking at these makes the heart beat a little faster. πŸ™‚

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      When confronted with a Black Mamba, discretion really is the better part of valour. This really is one creature I would not take chances with, Mary. πŸ˜‰

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      In this case we were safely in our vehicle, Tracy, though there’s always a chance that it would move into the chassis and travel around with us – a scenario I’ve experienced first hand with a mozambique spitting cobra!

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        1. de Wets Wild Post author

          Thankfully we saw the snake slither into the underside of the vehicle as we were standing at the entrance to our accommodation unit watching it being mobbed by a band of mongooses. Got into the car and drove to reception where they contacted two rangers to come and assist us. Five hours later – after having tried flushing it out with a hosepipe, being spat at multiple times and eventually having to remove some of the outside paneling – they got a very, very upset cobra to evacuate.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Certainly neither should be trifled with, John. The rule is always to keep your distance, with any wildlife, but with snakes like this and your rattlers there’s the added incentive of keeping alive!

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  3. John

    Very nice pictures! πŸ˜€ I probably had not actually dared to take a picture of a black mamba. Not just because it is very toxic and can be very angry if it feels threatened. It is the world’s fastest snake. It’s faster than a human!

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  4. Aletta - nowathome

    Dis pragtige foto’s van die mamba. Ons het hulle baie daar in Eshowe se omgewing gesien. Ek hou niks van slange nie, maar het baie respek vir hulle. My Jac Russell Honda het eendag een gevang en dit so in die lug geslinger en gelos! Ons kon die slang nie vind om te sien of dit beseer was nie. Hond het gelukkig ongedeerd daarvan afgekom.

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  5. H.J. for avian101

    I heard about the black mamba being a nasty snake that needs no reason to attack and will chase you even if you run, it’s pretty fast too! Just use you zoom lens and don’t let Joubert try it. Thanks, D. πŸ™‚

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      It is true that they’re aggressive snakes, H.J, that will not hesitate to strike, but only in self-defence. It has no reason to attack people without provocation. The incorrect belief that they would chase people comes from them trying to escape being trapped in a corner – the same route available for a human to get out of such a situation is often the route the snake also chooses, causing people to think the snake “chased” them. You are right about how fast they are though – certainly one of the fastest snakes. We see them fairly regularly on our travels, but they almost invariably leave the scene in haste and almost never stick around for a photo.

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  6. Writer Lori

    Yikes 😬. Snakes scare the crap out of me in general, and deadly ones like this especially so. Amazing photos, but as someone said, hope you were using a telephoto lens…

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      1. sustainabilitea

        I wouldn’t either! I remember the Crocodile Hunter saying in his Aussie accent upon seeing a black mamba “That’s a black mamba. If it envenomates you, you’re gonna die.” Or something along those lines. It’s what I think of whenever I read about a black mamba. πŸ™‚

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