Fast and Deadly: The Black Mamba

Faster than a speeding bullet? It might seem that way to the intended victim of the world’s fastest snake! The Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is one of the most feared and deadliest snakes in the world – a snake capable of reaching a top speed of an astonishing 12 mph!  When I say run, I mean RUN FAST!

This is a snake that is practically breaking records all over the board.  Not only is it the longest venomous snake in the whole of Africa, but it is also the second longest snake in the entire world (second only to the King Cobra).

So if you’re traveling around the world, where are you most likely to come across this incredibly fast snake in the wild?

The Black Mamba is naturally found in Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and the Congo.  Tread carefully if you are exploring amidst it’s preferred landscapes of open savannahs, woodlands, and rocky outcrops.

Considered to be quite a secretive snake though and not overly sociable, you can often spot it basking in the sun, much like any other reptile.

When in Africa, do what the Africans do and keep your eyes peeled for this snake. You might be asking yourself now what does it look like so you can avoid a confrontation with a snake that is reputed to be rather … ummm…. aggressive when threatened? We’re talking about a snake that will not hesitate to strike at you with deadly accuracy if it sees you as any sort of a potential threat!

Full grown Black Mambas are typically around 8ft in length, but have been known to grow as large as 14ft. As I said, it’s the LONGEST venomous snake in Africa!

The snake’s body color can range from a dark olive, olive green, to a greyish brown color – how is that for confusing you? Some individuals even have a light band around their body.  And of course, to complicate matters further, as the snake itself ages, its skin actually begins to darken.

But there is one surefire way to accurately identify the Black Mamba – just look closely (not too closely!) at the inside of it’s mouth. The inside is ink black – hence the name “Black Mamba.”

Are you likely to be considered a meal for this snake?  Probably not – Mambas prefer to eat small, warm-blooded mammals such as rodents and squirrels.  Apparently they have been known to eat birds, lizards and even other snakes as well.  But humans? Nope.  You’re safe … sort of.

Let’s do a little role-playing for a moment.  Picture yourself as a mouse on the African savannah … grazing for seeds and minding your own business.  All of a sudden … WHAM! Out of the blue you are struck one or two times by a powerful set of fangs.  Nothing holds you but yet you become paralyzed.  What you don’t realize is that lying in wait is the infamous Black Mamba that likes to strike once, possibly twice, injecting its deadly venom each time.  There is no escape now from the inevitable – you’ve been invited to lunch.

How do you know you’re about to become a mamba’s next victim?  Thankfully, it’s pretty obvious – this is not an overly cryptic snake when it comes to behaviors!

The Black Mamba will actually raise the anterior part of its body and splay out the neck – somewhat like a cobra – hissing and gaping to show the black lining of the mouth when it feels threatened.

Did you know it can actually rear up to 1/3 of its body from the ground? This allows it to reach heights of approximately four feet! Stand back … way back from a mamba! If cornered, the Black Mamba usually delivers multiple strikes, injecting its potent neuro- and cardio-toxin with each strike and preferring to attack your head or body. If you think you’re just going to get a quick nip in the toes, you are sadly mistaken!

An important fact to keep in mind during your travels: without antivenom, the mortality rate from a Black Mamba bite is almost 100% , the highest among venomous snakes!  You could have anywhere between 15 minutes to 3 hours to get access to antivenom which could save your life.  Scary thought eh?

By Candace,


About Candace M Hansen

Wildlife advocate, conservationist and environmentalist.
This entry was posted in Featured Articles, Snakes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fast and Deadly: The Black Mamba

  1. Great article, crisp and informative.
    Keep up the great work

  2. Anders says:

    Good article. Black mamba snakes are in fact rather peaceful snakes and are not aggressive towards humans.

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