Black Mamba Fact File
Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)Kingdom:
What does the name mean? The name Dendroaspis polylepis is derived from four separate Greek words. The first part, "Dendro" is derived from the greek word "Dendron" meaning "tree". The second part "Aspis, is a generic term for the word "shield", but also used to describe the shape of a snake coiling itself thus resembling a shield.
"Poly", means "many", or "much" and "Lepis" is derived from the Greek word "Lepidos" meaning "scale".
Dendroaspis polylepis can be roughly translated as "Many scaled tree snake".
Description: The Black Mamba is the second longest venomous snake in the world after the
King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
and probably the most feared of all snakes.
This species belongs to the family
which includes all proteroglyphs (front fixed fanged snakes) such as cobras.
This species has an average length of2.5m (8.2ft), and a maximum length of 4.5m (14.7ft).
The name may be somewhat misleading as it does not refer to the colour of this species, but rather to the colour inside the mouth which is in fact pitch black.
The general overall colour of the snake can be best described as gun-metal grey with the belly being an off-white, or pale grey colour. There is no sexual dimorphism, and both male and female have a similar appearance.
The eye is black with a yellow edge on the pupil.
The head has often been dramatically described as being "coffin shaped" which inevitably adds fuel to this species' fearsome reputation.
The venom of the Black Mamba is dangerously
Prior to the development of antivenin, bites from this snake resulted in 100% fatality in humans. The average venom yield averages between 100-250mg and in extreme cases even 450mg. Between 10-15mg is considered fatal in humans.
The venom attacks the central nervous system and death usually results from respiratory failure. Death in humans may occur within 20 minutes. That being said however,in most cases death occurs between 2-4 hours. My personal experience of a bite from this snake involved a delay of around 2.5 hours before the administration of antivenin and yet I'm still here to tell the tale. I am not alone, there are several incidents of people surviving Black Mamba bites.
Click here to read about my personal account of a Black Mamba bite
Distribution: This species is common throughout sub-saharan Africa, particularly South and East Africa. Its geographic range includes countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, Tanzania, Kenya, and Namibia. Due to unfavourable habitat, these snakes are seldom recorded in West Africa.
Habitat: This species prefers open wooded savannah, rocky outcrops and hills as well as riverine forests. The species often makes use of abandoned termite mounds, and hollow trees for shelter.
Habits: Contrary to its name, this species is predominantly terrestrial. However as its name does imply, it is an excellent climber and will often seek refuge and hunt for prey in trees.
Black mambas are diurnal (active during the day), retreating to their favourite spot to sleep at night.This is an extremely nervous "highly strung" species that seems always on edge - a characteristic that has added to its fearsome reputation. It is regarded as the fastest moving snake in the world attaining speeds in excess of 19kmh (11.8mph). Despite popular belief, these snakes are not territorial in the true sense, they do not defend territories, however they will remain in one area if left undisturbed.
Both myth and legend have described this to be an aggressive species, yet these magnificent snakes will rather flee than confront a potential threat. That being said however, once cornered, it will defend itself with remarkable vigour. It has the ability to strike several times in quick succession when all other defensive threat displays have been ignored.
Threat displays include spreading a narrow hood, raising one-third of its body length off the ground facing its aggressor, and displaying the trademark black mouth.
These snakes are generally elusive and avoid human contact, however further encroachment of natural habitats by humans is leading to more frequent encounters (usually at the expense of the snake).
Reproduction: Mambas are oviparous (lay eggs). Courtship and mating usually takes place in late spring or early summer (October-December). Males may engage in ritual combat prior to mating with a female.
After a gestation period of roughly 50-60 days the female will lay between 10-27 eggs in a site she has carefully chosen, usually consisting of rotting vegetation.
No further parental care takes place once the eggs have been deposited. After an incubation period of approximately 90 days (3 months) the neonates emerge from their eggs.
Neonates measure around 51cm (20 inches). It is important to note that neonates are just as venomous as the adults as soon as they emerge from the egg.
Diet: Prey items usually consists of small mammals such as rats, mice, squirrels, and even hyraxes. Other documented prey items include birds, frogs , and occasionaly other snakes.
Subspecies: There are no known subspecies.
IUCN Red List: Not evaluated.
CITES: Not listed.
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