Black Mamba Facts
Latin Name: Dendroaspis polylepis
Lifespan: Up to 12 years in captivity has been recorded.
The body of the black mamba is grey to brown in colour. The only true black colour is the inside mouth lining.
The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa averaging 2 – 2.5 m (6.5 ft – 8.2 ft), with really large specimens reaching lengths of 4.2 m (13.8 ft). The black mamba is a very nervous and fast moving snake capable of moving at speeds of up to 20km/hour (12.4 miles/hour). While moving they are capable of lifting their bodies 2 thirds of the ground, giving them a good all-round view of their surroundings.
If cornered and threatened they can be extremely dangerous and won’t hesitate to strike. Like most snakes mambas are very shy and would rather avoid confrontations and move out of sight before being seen.
The black mamba is much feared and considered by many to be the most dangerous snake in Africa. The reason for this is their aggressive behaviour and potent venom which is predominantly neuro-toxic. A single bite can kill the average man in an hour. A person that is allergic to bees can die within 20 minutes if bitten by a black mamba! The neuro-toxic venom consists mainly of proteins that enter the blood-stream and bond on to the ends of the nerves where the nerves join onto the different muscles. These proteins block off the nerve impulses from the brain which then stops the heart from pumping as well as the muscles which expand and contract the lungs, followed soon by death.
Polyvalent anti-venom is available but many doctors prefer not to use it as there are numerous cases of people reacting allergic to the anti-venom which often consists of the white-blood cells from horses. The alternative treatment that hospitals often use is to put the patient on a life-support machine to keep the heart pumping as well as artificial respirators to keep the lungs going. They keep the machines on until the body is strong enough once again to sustain its self.
The mamba’s venom is very effective for immobilising its prey. Within just a few seconds of biting it prey, it dies from respiratory failure. Their diet consists of mainly small mammals such as; rats, mice, squirrels, dassies (hyraxes) as well as birds.
The black mamba will often have a permanent lair if not disturbed too often. A typical mamba lair would be a hollow in a tree or in the cavities of old termite mounds. They are not considered an arboreal species but can often be seen warming up on cold days high in trees. Black mambas are not territorial as they don’t scent-mark the areas they live in and they defend areas against other mambas.
Breeding takes place in the early spring. After a successful copulation the eggs develop in the female’s body for about 60 days. Mature females lay between 15 and 25 eggs which are often hidden within termite mounds. The eggs incubate for about 60 days before hatching. The hatchlings are about 50 cm (20 inches) in length and totally independent after leaving the eggs.