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Amphibians >> Suborder Serpentes
Dendroaspis polylepis; one of the fastest and deadliest snakes in the world
The black mamba is named for the lining of its mouth, which is purple-black and is displayed when threatened. The overall color of this snake ranges from olive-brown to brown-gray, with a lighter-colored belly and brownish scales along the back. With a length of 8 to 14 feet, the black mamba is the longest venomous snake in Africa.
Distribution and Habitat
The black mamba is found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, with individuals sighted as far north and west as Senegal, and as far south as north-eastern South Africa. Most reports of this species come from eastern and southern Africa, however. It is found a variety of different habitats, including well-wooded savannah and riverine forest, particularly in areas with an abundance of rocky hills and large trees. It is primarily a ground dweller, but can occasionally be seen in a tree.
Small mammals and birds make up the majority of the black mamba's diet. A fast and agile hunter with excellent vision, it will actively pursue its prey, striking rapidly to inject its venom. The venom causes almost immediate paralysis, followed by heart failure.
Breeding generally occurs in October and November. Males compete for females by entwining their bodies and attempting to force their opponent to the ground.
The female lays 6-17 eggs in a burrow, and then leaves them. The eggs hatch in about three months, with hatchlings being 16-24 inches long. They grow quickly, and can reach a length of 4 feet within their first year.
Habits and Behaviors
Black mambas are active during the day. They sleep in hollow trees, burrows, rock crevices, and empty termite mounds, and usually return to the same nest night after night.
One of the fastest snakes in the world, the black mamba can move as fast as 12 miles per hour for short bursts and up to 7 miles an hour for longer distances.
Black mambas tend to retreat as fast as possible from humans. When cornered, however, a black mamba will raise the front part of its body and its head 3-4 feet off the ground, open its mouth wide, spread a flat "hood," and shake its head. If the threat persists it will make several quick strikes and then escape as quickly as possible. The black mamba's venom can kill a full-grown human within 20 minutes, and is always fatal if the victim does not receive an almost immediate antivenin.
This page was last updated on February 21, 2017.