What preys on black mamba?
The black mamba , also called the common black mamba or black-mouthed mamba, is a highly venomous snake of the genus »Dendroaspis» , and is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. It was first described in 1864 by Albert Günther. It is the longest species of venomous snake in Africa, and the second-longest venomous snake in the world after the king cobra. It is also the fastest moving snake in Africa, and one of the fastest moving snakes on the planet, perhaps the fastest, capable of moving at 11 km/h over a distance of 43 m .
The venom of the black mamba is highly toxic. Based on the median lethal dose values in mice, the black mamba LD50 is 0.28/0.32 mg/kg subcutaneous.Fry, Bryan, Deputy Director, Australian Venom Research Unit, University of Melbourne . . venomdoc.com. Retrieved October 14, 2013. Although there are other venomous snakes that exhibit higher LD50 toxicity scores, its venom is one of the most rapid-acting. In cases of severe envenomation, it is capable of killing an adult human in as little as 20 minutes. Two such cases have been documented in the medical literature. In one such case, an adult male was bitten on his right arm, just above the wrist by a black mamba which was estimated to be approximately 2.5 m in length. The victim began to show signs of prominent neurotoxicity within minutes. At ten minutes post-envenomation, respiratory paralysis set in and 20 minutes post-envenomation the victim showed no signs of life and was deceased. Other cases of rapid death, within 30–60 minutes are relatively common among this species. However, depending on the nature of the bite, death time can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 6–8 hours. Without rapid and vigorous antivenom therapy, a bite from a black mamba is rapidly fatal almost 100% of the time. One herpetologist called this species «death incarnate», and to South African locals the black mamba bite is known as the «kiss of death».
The black mamba is considered the most dangerous and feared snake in Africa, though the ocellated carpet viper is responsible for more human fatalities due to snakebite than all other African species combined. According to wildlife biologist Joe Wasilewski, black mambas are the most-advanced of all the snake species in the world. Their venom apparatus and method of delivering venom is also probably the most-effective and most-evolved among all venomous snakes. Its combination of speed, unpredictable aggression, and potent venom make it an extremely dangerous species. Though the black mamba has a reputation for being very aggressive, like most snakes it usually attempts to flee from humans unless threatened.
Many experts regard the black mamba and the coastal taipan as the world’s most dangerous snakes.
The black mamba’s back skin colour is olive, brownish, grey, or sometimes khaki. The adult snake’s length is on average 2.5 meters , but some specimens have reached lengths of 4.3 to 4.5 meters . Black mambas weigh about 1.6 kilograms . on average. The species is the second longest venomous snake in the world, exceeded in length only by the king cobra. The snake has an average life span of 11 years in the wild.
The snake’s scientific name is »Dendroaspis polylepis»: »Dendroaspis» meaning «tree asp», and »polylepis» meaning «many-scaled».
The name «black mamba» is given to the snake not because of its body colour, but because of its ink-black mouth. It displays this physical attribute when threatened.
The black mamba lives in Africa, occupying the following range: north east Democratic Republic of the Congo, south western Sudan to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, eastern Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, southwards to Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and Namibia; then north easterly through Angola to south eastern Zaire. The black mamba is not commonly found at altitudes above 1,000 metres , although the distribution of black mamba does reach 1,800 metres in Kenya and 1,650 metres in Zambia. The black mamba was also recorded in 1954 in West Africa in the Dakar region of Senegal. However, this observation, and a subsequent observation that identified a second specimen in the region in 1956, has not been confirmed and thus the snake’s distribution there is inconclusive. The black mamba’s distribution contains gaps within the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria and Mali. These gaps may lead physicians to misidentify the black mamba and administer an ineffective antivenom.
The black mamba uses its speed to escape threats, not to hunt prey. It is shy and secretive; it always seeks to escape when a confrontation occurs. If a black mamba is cornered it mimics a cobra by spreading a neck-flap, exposing its black mouth, and hissing. If this endeavour to scare away the attacker fails, the black mamba may strike repeatedly. The black mamba is a diurnal snake. Although its scientific name seems to be indicative of tree climbing, the black mamba is rarely arboreal. These snakes retreat when threatened by predators.
The black mamba has adapted to a variety of climates ranging from savannah, woodlands, rocky slopes, dense forests and even humid swamps. The grassland and savannah woodland/shrubs that extend through central, eastern and southern Africa are the black mamba’s typical habitat. The black mamba prefers more arid environments such as light woodland, rocky outcrops, and semi-arid dry bush country.The black mamba’s environment is rapidly diminishing. In Swaziland alone, 75% of the people are involved in subsistence farming. Because of agricultural encroachment on the black mamba’s habitat, the snake is commonly found in sugarcane fields. The black mamba will climb to the top of the sugarcane to bask in the sun and possibly wait for prey. The majority of human attacks occur in the sugarcane fields of east and southern Africa which employ thousands of workers. This encroachment on the snake’s territory contributes to potentially dangerous human contact with these venomous snakes.
As stated, the black mamba is diurnal. It is an ambush predator that waits for prey to get close. If the prey attempts to escape, the black mamba will follow up its initial bite with a series of strikes. When hunting, the black mamba has been known to raise a large portion of its body off the ground. The black mamba will release larger prey after biting it, but smaller prey, such as birds or rats, are held onto until the prey’s muscles stop moving. They have been known to prey on bushbabies, bats, and small chickens.
Not many predators challenge an adult black mamba, thus it enjoys a somewhat invulnerable status. However, it does face a few threats such as birds of prey particularly snake eagles . Although all commonly prey on snakes, there are two species in particular that do so with high frequency, including preying on black mambas. The two species are the black-chested snake eagle and the brown snake eagle . The Cape file snake which is apparently immune to all African snake venoms and preys on other snakes including venomous ones, is a common predator of black mambas . Mongooses which are also partially immune to venom, and are quick enough to evade a bite, will readily tackle a black mamba for prey. Humans do not usually consume black mambas, but they often kill them out of fear.
Based on the median lethal dose values in mice, the black mamba LD50 from all published sources is as follows:
⤷ subcutaneous : 0.32 mg/kg,Fry, Bryan, Deputy Director, Australian Venom Research Unit, University of Melbourne . . venomdoc.com. Retrieved October 14, 2013. 0.28 mg/kg.
⤷ intravenous: 0.25 mg/kg, 0.011 mg/kg.
⤷ intraperitoneal: 0.30 mg/kg , 0.941 mg/kg. 0.05 mg/kg .
Its bites can deliver about 100–120 mg of venom on average and the maximum dose recorded is 400 mg. It is reported that before the antivenom was widely available, the mortality rate from a bite was nearly 100%. Black mamba bites can potentially kill a human within 20 minutes, but death usually occurs after 30–60 minutes, sometimes taking up to three hours. Presently, there is a polyvalent antivenom produced by SAIMR to treat black mamba bites from many localities.
If bitten, common symptoms are rapid onset of dizziness, coughing or difficulty breathing, and erratic heartbeat. In extreme cases, when the victim has received a large amount of venom, death can occur in less than an hour from respiratory or cardiac arrest. Also, the black mamba’s venom has been known to cause paralysis. Death is usually due to suffocation resulting from paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
The black mamba is regarded as one of the most dangerous and feared snakes in Africa. Nevertheless, attacks on humans by black mambas are rare, as the snakes usually avoid confrontation with humans and their occurrence in highly populated areas is not very common compared with some other species.
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Black Mamba Snake Facts: Separating Myth From Reality
Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels.
Updated on April 02, 2019
The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is a highly venomous African snake. Legends associated with the black mamba have earned it the title of «world’s deadliest snake.»
The black mamba’s bite is called the «kiss of death,» and it’s said to balance on the end of its tail, towering over victims before striking. The snake is also believed to slither faster than a man or horse can run.
However, despite this fearsome reputation, many of the legends are false. The black mamba, while potentially deadly, is a shy hunter. Here’s the truth about the black mamba.
Fast Facts: Black Mamba Snake
- Scientific Name: Dendroaspis polylepis
- Common Name: Black mamba
- Basic Animal Group: Reptile
- Size: 6.5-14.7 feet
- Weight: 3.5 pounds
- Lifespan: 11 years
- Diet: Carnivore
- Habitat: Sub-Saharan Africa
- Population: Stable
- Conservation Status: Least Concern
This snake’s color ranges from olive to gray to dark brown with a yellow underbody. Juvenile snakes are paler in coloration than adults. The snake gets its common name for the inky black coloration of its mouth, which it opens and displays when threatened. Like its relative, the coral snake, the black mamba is covered with smooth, flat scales.
The black mamba is the longest venomous snake in Africa and the second-longest venomous snake in the world, following the king cobra. Black mambas range from 2 to 4.5 meters (6.6 to 14.8 ft) in length and weigh, on average, 1.6 kg (3.5 lb). When the snake rises to strike, it may appear to balance on its tail, but this is simply an illusion created by the fact that its body is so unusually long, as well as the fact that its coloring blends into its surroundings.
While the black mamba is the fastest snake in Africa and perhaps the fastest snake in the world, it uses its speed to escape danger, rather than hunt prey. The snake has been recorded at a speed of 11 km/h (6.8 mph), for a distance of 43 m (141 ft). In comparison, the average female human runs 6.5 mph, while the average male human jogs at 8.3 mph. Both men and women can run much faster for a short distance. A horse gallops at 25 to 30 mph. Black mambas don’t pursue people, horses, or cars, but even if they did, the snake couldn’t maintain its peak pace long enough to catch up.
Habitat and Distribution
The black mamba occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Its range runs from northern South Africa up to Senegal. The snake thrives in moderately dry habitats, including woodlands, savannas, and rocky terrain.
Diet and Behavior
When food is plentiful, the black mamba maintains a permanent lair, venturing out in the daytime to seek prey. The snake feeds on hyrax, birds, bats, and bushbabies. It is an ambush predator that hunts by sight. When prey comes in range, the snake rises off the ground, strikes one or more times, and waits for its venom to paralyze and kill the victim before consuming it.
Reproduction and Offspring
Black mambas mates in the early spring. Males follow a female’s scent trail and may compete for her by wrestling each other, but not biting. A female lays a clutch of 6 to 17 eggs in the summer and then abandons the nest. Hatchlings emerge from the eggs after 80 to 90 days. While their venom glands are fully developed, the young snakes rely on nutrients from the egg yolk until they find small prey.
Black mambas tend not to interact much with each other, but they have been known to share a lair with other mambas or even other species of snakes. The lifespan of the black mamba in the wild is unknown, but captive specimens have been known to live 11 years.
The black mamba is not endangered, with a classification of «least concern» on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. The snake is abundant throughout its range, with a stable population.
However, the black mamba does face some threats. Humans kill the snakes out of fear, plus the animal has predators. The Cape file snake (Mehelya capensis) is immune to all African snake venom and will prey upon any black mamba small enough to swallow. Mongooses are partially immune to black mamba venom and quick enough to kill a juvenile snake without getting bitten. Snake eagles hunt the black mamba, particularly the black-chested snake eagle (Circaetus pectoralis) and brown snake eagle (Circaetus cinereus).
The Black Mamba and Humans
Bites are uncommon because the snake avoids humans, isn’t aggressive, and doesn’t defend its lair. First aid includes application of pressure or a tourniquet to slow the progression of the venom, followed by administration of antivenom. In rural areas, antivenom may be unavailable, so deaths still occur.
The snake’s venom is a potent cocktail containing the neurotoxin dendrotoxin, cardiotoxins, and muscle-contracting fasciculins. Early symptoms of a bite include headache, a metallic taste, excessive salivation and perspiration, and a tingling sensation. When bitten, a person collapses in under 45 minutes and can die within 7 to 15 hours. The ultimate cause of death includes respiratory failure, asphyxiation, and circulatory collapse. Before antivenom was available, the mortality from a black mamba bite was nearly 100%. Although rare, there are cases of survival without treatment.
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- Spawls, S. «Dendroaspis polylepis«. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2010: e.T177584A7461853. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-4.RLTS.T177584A7461853.en
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