The Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)

Dendroaspis Polylepis


Black Mambas get their name from the inside of their mouths which are light grey to pitch black. Their true colors vary from light to dark grey, dark brown to an olive color. Venomous snake in the world next to the King Cobra. Not only are they super long  but they are super-fast and can go up to 20km/h for short distances They use their speed for fleeing away from danger, not to attack.

The Black Mamba does not occur in desert areas but are known to be more coastal or bushveld reptiles. They are commonly found in the Southern and Eastern side of South Africa such as Limpopo, the KZN region and Mpumalanga. The preferred habitat is Bushveld, which is a mixture of trees with grass in low laying areas 1500 meters below sea level. They can be found anywhere on the ground, long grassy areas and even up in tree’s.

The Black Mamba is known to be shy and will avoid confrontation, however, because they are extremely nervous snake, they can quickly change from a timid to defending when they feel threatened. When threatened they can lift a third of their bodies off the ground, gape their mouth, showing the dark side of their mouth. They will also make a hollow hissing noise, they can also make a small hood to intimidate the threat, but if the threat persists they will strike. They are known for striking multiple times.

The venom is extremely toxic and is one of the most rapid acting venoms in the world.The quantity of venom injected is limited, as mambas have small heads that cannot provide enough room for large venom gland compared to that of the puff adder. The average amount of venom obtained from extracting the venom from the normal adult size snakes is around 80 – 100 mg of dry venom quantity.The venom is rapidly absorbed by the capillary bed of the body and quickly knocks the victim down. When exposed to a lethal amount of BM Venom, a full grown adult human can die within 20 minutes. Typically, the bite will cause paralysis in 45 minutes after the bite, if no first aid is received. First aid for this bite consists of a pneumatic cuff high on the bitten limb and rapid transportation of the victim to a hospital. The venom contains potent neurotoxins which will lead to muscle tremors, excessive salivation, excessive sweating, and pins and needle feelings around the lips with a funny, metallic taste in the mouth. The muscular weakness will rapidly progress toward full paralysis of skeletal – and breathing muscles i.e. the diaphragm and rib cage muscles, followed by death . First, breathing stops and the heart has about 5 minutes until the oxygen runs out and the heart stops.  Around 70% of BM bites will be deadly if not treated adequately.


Even though they are not endangered, these snakes are still being threatened by the constant move and whims of the human populations. We all need to make a conscious effort to protect these beautiful reptiles and their habitats. To witness a large black mamba on a safari is a sight that will be etched into your mind forever. Although they are very dangerous, they want to avoid confrontations with man, they are not.

Mike Perry

Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica)


A medium snake growing to 1,6 m in length, slender in build, but becomes robust when large. The head is distinct from the neck with a broad temporal area. The colour is light to dark brown or olive with some scales edged in black. The skin between the scales is black giving this snake a fish-net stocking appearance on the dorsal side. The ventral is light pink to creamy or yellow or apricot colour with from one to three irregular black bands on the throat. Some specimens are mottled towards the tail. The scales are smooth and in 23 – 25 rows at midbody.


Fixed front fangs. The fangs are modified with the exit on the front of the fang, which gives this snake the ability to spray its venom towards an attacker’s eyes as a form of defense. The venom can be ejected from a reared up position or from down on the ground without rearing up. The snake simply gapes the mouth and sprays in the direction of the attack.


A cytotoxin that causes extensive, usually superficial, skin and subcutaneous tissue destruction. Some victims may have multiple bites. A bite on the hand or foot, that does not receive early treatment, will result in the bones being exposed, with the result that this needs to be repaired by skin grafts. A prolonged hospital stay is the usual result of this type of damage. Antivenom can be used for up to 5 hours from the time of the bite, to prevent or limit the amount of tissue destruction. After this, major damage would have been done, and the use of and repair would be done in theatre. Neurological symptoms seems to be limited to drowsiness in man, but death in small rodent prey is rapid from the neurotoxins. The lethal dose for adult man is estimated at 50 mg and the venom yield is 80 – 200 mg the average being 140 mg. Venom can also be sprayed and venom in the eyes will cause instant burning pain, the victim will be rubbing the eyes because of the pain and the snake is busy escaping into the grass. Venom is sprayed from a reared up position but also from ground level without making a hood. Effective distance of the venom spray is about 2 – 2.5 meters.


From southern KZN, north to Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Gauteng. Further into Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.


This snake prefers open bushveld areas, with grass, rocks or boulders and streams.


This medium sized cobra is very common and is also often implicated in snakebite in KZN, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and Mozambique. It can be active during the day, but becomes more active towards evening. This snake preys on almost anything and is fond of frogs, toads, rodents, birds and their eggs and nestlings as well as other snakes. It is often found around human habitation, and a common pest at game lodges, where it poses a threat to visitors. The most common encounter with this cobra would be venom spat in the eyes, but bites to sleeping people are also regularly reported. This occurs mostly in Zululand and Swaziland where the rural people sleep on grass mats with their doors open at night because of the oppressive heat, allowing these cobras to enter their houses, with disastrous results. Bites can be on any body part as the victim is bitten while sleeping.


Some facts about

Their bodies are cylindrical and seen to be quite slender. They have very long venom glands; some can grow up to 10cm! Although they have poor eyesight their sense of smell is very keen and is the main use during hunting.


The colour of skin is brown, olive or grey but they are known for the diamond shape pattern on the rest of their bodies expect the head where you can clearly see a V-shape form. They reach an average length of 60cm however some of them do grow up to a meter. They have very rough scales that are slightly keeled.

Environment and Distribution:

Are found all along the east coast of South Africa but not in the Western Cape areas. But they can also be found in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Free State. They enjoy to be in quite damp areas such as the moist savannah, lowland forest and fynbos and also because there is a lot of prey available in these areas.


Although the venom is non-lethal it can cause dangerous tissue damage when bitten because of the mild cytotoxic venom so it is important to have immediate medical attention when bitten.

Final words:

These snakes don’t get the attention they deserve in modern days. Not only are they extremely attractive but they are also a huge environmental soldier by taking our vermin and pests.

The Cape Cobra (Naja nivea)


This cobra is slender in build when under 1 meter but can get quite robust when it reaches 1,5m and over in length. The head is slightly distinct from the neck. Large adults have broader heads with well-developed muscles in the temporal region that bulge over the venom glands. Average size is 1,2m and can reach 1,8m and longer. The colour can be very variable, from dark mahogany and chocolate brown, to bronze, copper, yellow and bright light butter yellow, plain or often speckled or with dark blotches on the body. Juveniles have a dark throat band, which fades with age. Because of all the different colour varieties this snake has many colloquial names like geelslang, gespikkelde kapel, bruin kapel, koper kapel and vleknekkie which means “stained neck” because of the dark band on the throat of the juvenile Cape cobra. The scales are smooth and shiny in 19 – 21 rows at midbody.


Fixed front fangs. This cobra does not spit its venom.


A potent neurotoxic venom that attacks the nervous system. This is the most venomous cobra in Africa with bites often leading to a fatal paralysis. Average adult venom yield varies from 60 – 120mg, average pooled venom yield is 100mg. 15-20 mg of Cape cobra venom is considered a deadly dose. This venom is neutralized by early intravenous injection of adequate quantities (80 – 100 ml) of polyvalent snakebite antivenom. Medical help must be sought urgently after a bite from this snake. This snake causes a number of serious and fatal bites annually. Antivenom is usually effective before complete paralysis has set in, which is normally under 2 hours but could be much sooner depending on the amount of venom injected by the snake. Once paralysis has set in the antivenom cannot remove the venom from its target site on the post synaptic membrane of the nerve end. This means that the victim has to be kept on ventilation for 4 – 7 days until the body finally gains the upper hand, venom is metabolized and the breathing muscles restore the breathing back to normal. Being on ventilation also has its complications so the victim may then have pneumonia which means you have to stay in hospital longer than you anticipated. From this it can be seen that it is far better and more cost effective to get early antivenom treatment, to prevent a week of ventilator treatment. The venom of this cobra cause a general weakness syndrome, described as Progressive Weakness, and death is caused by paralyses of the muscles controlling the breathing.


South Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces, North West, Free State, western part of Gauteng, southern and central Botswana and southern Namibia.


A snake common in the more arid areas of the country, it seems to prefer dry scrub country. Attracted to human habitation by the presents of rats and mice, and also water. Will live down rodent burrows and may stay in an area as long as it is not disturbed and there is enough food.


This snake is a diurnal snake meaning it is active in the day, but may become active towards evenings when conditions are very hot and dry. Would normally try and escape, but if cornered it will face its aggressor, rear the front part of the body off the ground and spread a broad hood. This snake will visit human habitation hunting rodents and other prey. This snake preys on rodents, frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, birds and their eggs. A number of bites and deaths are reported every year because of interaction between the home owner and the family when a cobra visits the garden.


These cobras are oviparous meaning they lay eggs. The eggs number from 8 – 20 depending on the size of the female. The eggs are deposited down a rodent burrow and are left to hatch by themselves. They hatch about 2 months later and the baby snakes are about 30 cm in length, look like the adults but have a dark band on the throat, which starts to fade with age.

By: Mike Perry