The black mamba is a staple of many lists featuring the world’s most dangerous snakes. This is largely due to their venom, which is among the most toxic in the world. With that many “mosts” in their record, their reputation is clearly well deserved.
The mythology surrounding their deadliness is perhaps an exaggeration. Though black mambas avoid all human contact, this doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat.
After all, black mambas are top predators for many reasons. Their evolution finely tuned them to maintain dominance in their ecosystems.
Continue reading below to learn how and why they evolved to become one of the world’s most infamous snakes.
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Contrary to popular belief, the black mamba gets its name for its jet-black mouth. Instead of black bodies, these snakes are tan-brown in color. This earns them the lesser-known name “southern brown mamba”.
Their bite is so deadly that it’s nicknamed the “kisser of death”. As the fastest and most lethal snake in Africa, the power of the black mamba is revered.
Its scientific name, Dendroaspis polyepis, translates to “tree snake with many scales”.
Adult black mambas grow 6.5 to 9.8 feet long (2 to 3 meters) and are only smaller than the king cobra.
What they lack in size, they make up for in speed. And speed is what makes them such a threat. Their top speed is 10 miles per hour (16.5 kilometers per hour). This allows them to charge, strike, and hide in quick succession.
The black mamba’s body coloring is widely varied, but its only constant is its dark black mouth. Their bodies can be brown, olive, khaki, and rarely gray-black. In bright light, their scales might show a purple sheen.
Their fangs are their best weapon and can grow over a quarter of an inch (6.5 mm) long. Their bodies are also very thin, especially towards the tail. The shape allows them to lean back before striking and the ability to strike the upper body.
Geography and Distribution
Black mambas are home to much of sub-Saharan Africa. Savannahs and rocky hills are favorites of the black mamba and occur across their range.
These snakes inhabit the following locations:
- The Democratic Republic of Congo
- South Africa
There have been sightings in west Africa, but whether the snakes live there is in dispute. Along with a few sightings, there is a lack of available habitat in the location. This suggests the snakes escaped captivity rather than migrated.
Their habitat is exclusively the woodlands, savannahs, and rocky hills of sub-Saharan Africa. Here, there is an abundance of their favorite nesting and hiding spots. Hollow trees, termite mounds, and rock crevices are popular rest spots for the black mamba.
The black mamba is one of the mamba species that isn’t primarily arboreal. They prefer living terrestrially but are still comfortable moving and resting in trees.
Black mambas are cold-blooded. This means they have no internal way of regulating and increasing body temperature.
By nature, the snakes live in areas where safe sun spots are available. Every day, they take the time to warm their blood in these spots.
Black mambas are pinnacle predators in sub-Saharan Africa. With little to be scared of, there are vast opportunities for feeding. Though the snakes prefer live prey, they aren’t above scavenging for a meal in a pinch.
The snakes hunt from a central nest or lair and return after every kill, if undisturbed. It doesn’t take long for a black mamba to consume a meal. This is thanks to their caustic stomachs, which break down food in less than 10 hours.
When on the hunt, black mambas seek out small vertebrates. Fledglings, rodents, bats, and bushbabies are the black mamba’s favorite snacks. They almost exclusively seek warm-blooded prey for warmth.
The species is rather shy when it comes to larger animals and humans. If possible, they’d prefer to never encounter a human.
Don’t let this have you think the black mamba isn’t aggressive. When threatened, black mambas move and strike faster than any other snake.
On the ground, black mambas move with their neck raised and slither from shelter to shelter. Their excellent sensory perception allows the snake to function diurnally. This makes it active during both day and night.
Like many species, the black mamba uses its eyes to detect movement. It will then strike if any motion is sudden. They can sense the slightest vibrations on the ground. They can even feel the footsteps of the most light-footed of animals.
When the snake takes on an aggressive pose, it flicks its tongue and hisses.
When the threat of harm comes, it flashes its black mouth and flares its neck. The neck flare is similar to a cobra. Combined with the color of its mouth, the image is an effective deterrent.
How Venomous is the Black Mamba?
The black mamba is among the most venomous snakes in the world. They’re lethally venomous with a bite that can kill a human within an hour.
Black mamba deaths are poorly documented. Most deaths occur in rural Africa, where access to healthcare is limited. In addition, doctors have little knowledge of how venom harms a body.
When venom enters the body, neurotoxins and cardiotoxins work through the bloodstream. As these toxins spread, they begin disabling the nervous system. When victims are incapacitated, the cardiotoxins shut down the heart.
The Kiss of Death
Without swift action, the bite of a black mamba is likely the kiss of death. The snakebite cannot go untreated for very long without risking intense pain.
When the black mamba strikes, it rarely does it once. When attacking, it bites in quick succession, unloading more venom each time.
With each passing second, neurotoxins from the venom continue attacking the nervous system. After an hour, paralysis will begin to set in, and breathing becomes difficult.
In this situation, victims need to seek medical attention right away. Check out this link for expert info on what to do when a black mamba bites you.
There have been so few cases of survival from black mamba bites without treatment. One of the only possible cases for this is a dry bite, where the snake bites without depositing any venom.
The other is if the snake bites a vein or artery. An intense blood flow from the wound can flush the venom out before toxins set in.
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Mating and Reproduction
Black mambas have a very transactional relationship with reproduction. Males and females will mate, and that concludes all their interactions. The females are left to nest and incubate the eggs by themselves.
Female black mambas lay between 15 and 25 eggs per breeding season. The breeding season for black mambas usually lasts from September to April.
After mothers lay the eggs, they incubate the newborn clutch for around 60 days. When young black mambas hatch, they no longer need their mothers. Born ready to hunt, newborns can take down small rodents within a week.
Male black mambas fiercely compete for the right to breed each year. If a male has competition for a mate, they wrestle in a series of biting, chasing, and entangling. Afterward, the winner pins the other’s head to the ground as a display of victory.
Population and Conservation Status
The black mamba boasts a healthy, increasing population across sub-Saharan Africa. Their current conservation status is of least concern today.
Snakes have few natural predators, and their biggest threat today is from humans. Human expansion into their habitat will force populations to move and likely condense.
These apex predators perform an important ecological role in their habitat. Their role is also hugely beneficial to the humans that live alongside them.
Their diet predominantly consists of rodents. Rodents tend to carry lots of diseases and bacteria that can harm humans. Predators like the black mamba reduce these rodent populations. This prevents them from ballooning out of control and affecting our lives.
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Black Mambas in Popular Culture
For Americans, the name “black mamba” might conjure thoughts of Kobe Bryant instead of a snake.
The late basketball star’s Black Mamba alter ego was top of mind since he broke into the league. His trademark “mamba mentality” lives on today.
Bryant once said he thought of the Black Mamba name after watching a scene in Kill Bill. The protagonist uses a Black Mamba to kill one of the assailants during the movie. This scene was another introduction to the black mamba for many Americans.
In African lore, people revered black mambas as symbols of intelligence and power.
Many legends describe the snakes planning human attacks, stalking them for days prior. Others claim that snakes could leap and strike a person’s face. While both are false, their reputation as dangerous snakes is well earned.
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- Black mambas are the fastest snakes in the world.
- They are arboreal and terrestrial, capable of living in trees or on the ground.
- Black mambas can extend so far during a bite they often hit the upper body.
- The black coloration in the mouth is a tool to scare off predators.
- Black mamba bites can have an anesthetic effect causing bites to go unnoticed for some time.
- When isolated, black mamba venom can be used in pain relief medicine.
Is the black mamba the deadliest snake?
Black mambas are among the most feared snakes in Africa, but they are not the world’s most deadly. Inland and Coastal Taipans are the most venomous snake in the world.
Their bite releases the most venom of any snake species. Taipan venom also comes equipped with an enzyme allowing it to spread faster. If left untreated, the bite likely will kill a human within an hour.
The common brown snake is also considered one of the world’s deadliest. They account for roughly 60% of all snakebite deaths annually in Australia. Their venom also attacks the cardiovascular system rather than the nervous system.
Can a human survive a black mamba bite?
While possible, few humans survive black mamba bites without good hospital access. A single bite can carry enough neurotoxins to kill 19 adult humans. The venom is so fast acting that victims often become paralyzed within an hour.
Mark Laita, a wildlife photographer, was bitten by a black mamba while shooting. His case is famous today because it is one of few cases of a human surviving a black mamba bite without any antidote.
Are black mambas aggressive?
The short answer is yes. Black mambas are very aggressive snakes. No black mamba is interested in sizing up a human or attacking one without provocation. If approached, their first instinct is to run and hide.
Always let them run and hide. Black mambas are among the fastest on the planet and will strike if threatened. They will likely bite multiple times, depositing more venom each time.
Who would win: king cobra or black mamba?
The black mamba is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world. However, it wouldn’t stand much of a chance against a king cobra.
Both snakes are incredibly venomous, and the black mamba has more venom per drop. But venom doesn’t matter in this fight. Their venom wouldn’t have nearly the same effect on another highly venomous snake.
King cobras are sizeable snakes. They average 2 to 4 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) longer than mambas when fully grown, which gives them a clear power advantage.
The king cobra’s diet also consists of snakes, so it’s evolved to kill snakes the size of a black mamba.
The speed of the black mamba would make the fight a headache, but the king cobra could eventually chase it down. But since the two do not share any habitat, this battle is impossible.
What happens if you’re bitten by a black mamba?
The initial bite will likely hurt tremendously as the black mamba sinks its fangs in. If the victim can get away safely, they must seek medical attention. Almost all fatalities tied to the black mamba were cases when no antidote was available.
Additionally, black mambas are capable of biting without being noticed.