The Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is a fast, nervous, lethally venomous snake, and when threatened, becomes highly aggressive. These snakes have always been blamed for numerous human fatalities, and the African mythology exaggerates their capabilities to legendary proportions.
The stories about the black mambas entering houses and killing everyone inside or chasing people for miles are all obvious exaggerations. Due to their amazing speed, some African myths make them capable of outrunning even horses, which isn't true.
The Black mamba lives in the savannas and rocky hills of southern and eastern Africa. Its fragmented range includes many African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
They can be found as high up as 5,900 ft (1800 m) but they usually live in lower altitudes up to 3,300 ft (1000m). They commonly spend nights hiding in holes, disused burrows or deep among fallen trees or rocks. The black mamba isn't considered an arboreal snake, but they are sometimes found up in bushes and small trees.
The black mamba is commonly placed among the most venomous snakes in the world lists. It packs a venom 3 times more toxic than that of the Cape Cobra, over 5 times that of the King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) and a staggering 40 times more toxic as the Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica).
For these reasons, the Black Mamba is considered by many experts the world’s deadliest snake together with the Coastal Taipan. These snakes are also known as by other names like the Southern brown mamba, Black-mouthed mamba or Swart mamba.
They are also among the fastest snakes in the world and can slither at speeds of up to 12.5 mph (20 km/h), but it will use its speed not to hunt but to escape threats. Their average lifespan in the wild is about 11 years.
They get their name, not from the color of their skin, which can range from olive to grayish, but rather from the distinct black color present inside their mouth, which they are eager to show when threatened probably as a mean of intimidation.
Black mambas can grow up to 14 feet (4 m) in length, but on average they reach lengths of around 8 feet (2.5 m). They have a long and slender body, covered with smooth scales, and it has a distinctive narrow and coffin-shaped head.
The Black mamba is like most snakes shy by nature, and will almost always seek to escape when confronted. However, if they get cornered, they will raise their heads, sometimes with up to two-fifths of their body off the ground, spread their cobra-like hood, open their black mouths, and hiss violently.
If an attacker persists, the mamba will strike not once, but several times, and in the process injects large amounts of the potent neuro and cardiotoxin present in their venom with each strike.
Younger black mamba snakes are hunted and killed by mongooses but even the deadly adult black mambas are preyed upon by birds of prey like the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) and large eagles.
The Atlanta Zoo rename its black mamba snake in a tribute to the now-retired basketball player Kobe Bryant, who's nickname was "The Black Mamba".
In 1873, Wilhelm Peters described 2 black mamba subspecies (D.polylepis polylepis and D.polylepis antinorii), but these are no longer considered distinct.
In 1896, Boulenger combined the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) and the eastern green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps) in the same species, this was changed only in 1946, when FitzSimons split them into separate species again.
Venom / Bite
Before the advent of Black Mamba antivenin, a bite from this fearsome snake was fatal almost 100 percent of the times, usually, death occurred typically within a period of 30 to 60 minutes.
Their venom is neurotoxic, and it hardly produces more than local pain and minor swelling at the bite site, but within 15 minutes to just a few hours paralysis of the facial and limb muscles, sweating, excessive salivation and tunnel vision.
If left untreated these symptoms are followed within 6 or 7 hours by nausea, confusion and eventually respiratory failure.Several days of hospitalization and both artificial respiration and very large doses of antivenom are required to treat a black mamba bite.
The black mamba venom has a subcutaneous LD50 value of only 0.28 mg/kg, which is the most used to test out real bites. The venom is injected through 2 movable hollow front fangs ,which lie flat inside the mouth, until the snake opens it to deliver its deadly bite.
They inject an average 100 to 120 milligrams, but it can it can be as high as 400 milligrams per bite, and only takes 10 to 15 milligrams to kill a person. In theory, a single bite may inject enough venom to kill 10 to 40 adult humans, now that's a theory one should not test.
Unfortunately, the Black Mamba antivenin is, even today, still not widely distributed in the rural parts of the snake range, and deaths caused by the Black mamba are still frequent.
Diet / Feeding
The base diet of the Black Mamba snakes consists of small mammals, especially rodents, and birds that it captures in his advances to trees, which climbs with frequency and ease. It also hunts and kills other snakes on occasion.
The black mamba is usually a diurnal species, but it actively hunts its prey day or night, delivering a single deadly bite and then retreating, waiting until the venom kills the prey. The exception being birds, in that case, the snake clings to its prey, to prevent it from flying away.
The mating season for this species occurs from October to December, late spring to early summer in Africa. Male snakes will sometimes travel very long distances in search of females.
The female black mamba deposits up to 18 eggs in a nest, usually made of decaying vegetation, guarding it over an incubation period of about 80 to 90 days. The decomposing vegetation will give off heat, keeping the eggs warm.
The juveniles are born with approximately 8 inches (20 cm) in length with a greyish-green colouration. They reach maturity with little more than 1 meter in length. The juvenile Black mambas are self-sufficient and can fend for themselves from birth, and capable of catching preys as a big a rat.
Conservation / Threats
The Black Mamba snake has no special conservation status. However, encroachment on its territory due to agriculture is not only putting pressure on the species but also contributes to more potentially dangerous human contact with these deadly African snakes.
The species is considered as Least Concern because of its very large distribution throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with no significant population declines.
Did You Know?
A recently discovered fossil snake was 49 feet long, longer than a school bus! Meet the Titanoboa.