Photo: Close-up of a black mamba

Black mambas are actually brown in color. They get their name from the blue-black of the inside of their mouths, which they display when threatened.

Photograph by George Grall

Map

Map: Black mamba range

Black Mamba Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Reptile
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
11 years or more
Size:
Up to 14 ft (4.3 m)
Weight:
Up to 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
Did you know?
Black mambas use their incredible speed to escape threats, not to hunt prey.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Black mamba compared with adult man

Black mambas are fast, nervous, lethally venomous, and when threatened, highly aggressive. They have been blamed for numerous human deaths, and African myths exaggerate their capabilities to legendary proportions. For these reasons, the black mamba is widely considered the world’s deadliest snake.

Black mambas live in the savannas and rocky hills of southern and eastern Africa. They are Africa’s longest venomous snake, reaching up to 14 feet (4.5 meters) in length, although 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) is more the average. They are also among the fastest snakes in the world, slithering at speeds of up to 12.5 miles per hour (20 kilometers per hour).

They get their name not from their skin color, which tends to be olive to gray, but rather from the blue-black color of the inside of their mouth, which they display when threatened.

Black mambas are shy and will almost always seek to escape when confronted. However, when cornered, these snakes will raise their heads, sometimes with a third of their body off the ground, spread their cobra-like neck-flap, open their black mouths, and hiss. If an attacker persists, the mamba will strike not once, but repeatedly, injecting large amounts of potent neuro- and cardiotoxin with each strike.

Before the advent of black mamba antivenin, a bite from this fearsome serpent was 100 percent fatal, usually within about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, antivenin is still not widely available in the rural parts of the mamba’s range, and mamba-related deaths remain frequent.

The black mamba has no special conservation status. However, encroachment on its territory is not only putting pressure on the species but contributes to more potentially dangerous human contact with these snakes.

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