The highly venomous but rather shy Boomslang (Afrikaans for “Treesnake”) occurs in parts of all South Africa’s provinces, occupying fynbos, savanna, thicket and forest habitats. It is also widely distributed over much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Boomslang is diurnal, arboreal and very agile, hunting by sight for chameleons, lizards, geckos, frogs, small mammals and small birds. When threatened, a Boomslang will inflate its throat and strike out at the attacker (see photos in gallery below). Their venom is a potent haemotoxin, delivered in extremely small doses of between 1 and 15mg, breaking down blood components, preventing blood from clotting and causing hemorrhages into the body tissues and externally. While it may be a slow-acting venom in these small doses, drop for drop it is the most potent venom of any African snake, and without prompt treatment with antivenom and blood transfusions a Boomslang envenomation of just 1mg will kill an adult human within 1-3 days. Thankfully a Boomslang will much rather retreat than bite when crossing paths with a human, and left unmolested a bite from one is highly unlikely to occur.
Boomslange mate in spring, with females laying clutches of up to 30 eggs in holes in trees, burrows in the ground or in heaps of dead leaves about 60 days later. The eggs hatch about 3 months after being laid, with the newly hatched babies measuring about 25cm. Adults measure up to 2m long and can weigh up to half a kilogram. Males are far more colourful than the females.
Deadly battle between a Southern Boubou and a Boomslang
Can you spot the Boomslang?
Now, for a bit of a tongue-in-cheek Public Service Announcement: If ever you visit South Africa, and in the unlikely event of being bitten by a Boomslang, then be sure to pronounce the name correctly, as can be heard in this very interesting video, when you arrive at the hospital. Pronouncing it as the two English words “BOOM” and “SLANG” (as in this horrible tutorial), especially with an ominous tone in your voice, will cause your nursing staff to start laughing uncontrollably and delay your rescue until they’ve been able to compose themselves…