The Highly Venomous Boomslang: A Brief Analysis
The Boomslang: Quick Facts
Common Name: Boomslang
Binomial Name: Dispholidus typus
Species: D. typus
Conservation Status (IUCN): “Least Concern”
Other Names: Bucephalus typus (A. Smith, 1828); Dispholidus typus (Boulenger, 1896)
The Boomslang is a species of highly venomous snake from the Colubridae family of reptiles. Its name, which refers to “tree snake,” is derived from both African and Dutch words. The Boomslang is a relatively long snake, reaching an average length of 3.3 – 5.2 feet in length (and occasionally exceeding 6-feet on rare occasions). The snake is also well-known for its egg-shaped head and large, round eyes; giving the animal exceptionally good vision. Coloration tends to vary significantly for the Boomslang, as males are usually light green, while females are often brown. Although reaching relatively long lengths, the snake is quite thin, reaching a maximum weight of only 1.124 pounds.
The Boomslang is well-known for its solitary lifestyle and mild temperament. As a result, researchers often describe the snake as relatively harmless to humans, as it usually only bites when provoked or harassed by onlookers.
The Boomslang is native to Sub-Saharan Africa, and is found primarily in Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. As an arboreal species, the Boomslang prefers forested regions, but has also been known to inhabit karoo scrubs and savannas. The Boomslang also tends to prefer higher elevations, and is common in areas above 4,000 feet. Due to its preference for moist regions, the Boomslang favors the Eastern and Central Plateaus of Africa due to the abundance of water and large variety of vegetation. This is crucial for the snake, as the Boomslang relatively leaves the safety of trees.
Prey and Predators
The Boomslang is considered a diurnal species (meaning it hunts primarily during the day). The snake is also arboreal (remaining, exclusively, in trees). Although the Boomslang is very reclusive (and often flees from larger prey), typical diet of the snake includes lizards, frogs, and chameleons. The Boomslang is also known to prey upon small birds, bird eggs, small mammals, and various insects.
As a relatively small snake, the Boomslang faces numerous predators throughout Africa including large birds and other snakes. Falcons and ospreys, in particular, have been known to prey actively on the Boomslang.
"A lot of snake bites occur purely out of reaction. If someone picks up a rock or piece of wood a snake is laying under, the snake could strike out of defense."— Fred Rainwater
As an oviparous species (referring to the animal’s ability to lay eggs), the Boomslang is known to produce upwards of 30 eggs after mating. Females typically lay these eggs within rotting logs, hollow trees, or within areas capable of producing adequate shelter from the elements (and potential predators). Unlike most snakes, the Boomslang’s eggs require a long incubation period of nearly three months before they hatch. Male and female hatchlings differ significantly from one another at birth, with males being grey with blue spots, whereas females are typically light/pale brown in coloration. Full adult coloration is not achieved for several years after birth. On average, the Boomslang’s hatchlings are approximately 7.9 inches long with a width of an adult’s small finger. Although adult Boomslangs are considered highly venomous, their venom is not known to pose a threat to humans until they reach an average length of 18 inches several months after birth.
Although most snakes from the Colubridae family are harmless to humans (due to their small fangs and inability to inject venom into fully grown adults), the Boomslang is considered an exception to this rule and is considered extremely dangerous to humans. With the ability to open its jaws to 170-degrees, the snake is capable of latching on to humans with ease, using its large fangs (located at the back of its mouth), to inject considerable amounts of venom. The Boomslang’s venom primarily consists of hemotoxins that are known to prevent coagulation in humans. As a result, internal and external bleeding from a Boomslang’s bite is extremely common. The Boomslang’s venom is also slow-acting, with symptoms not appearing until many hours later (giving its victims a sense of false hope and reassurance). Once the venom begins to take effect, initial symptoms include nausea, headache, drowsiness, fatigue, confusion, and irritability. Left untreated, the snake’s venom eventually attacks tissues in the muscular system, causing hemorrhaging in various parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, fatalities are common when appropriate medical treatment is not sought immediately. Although antivenom exists for the Boomslang, they offer only limited support to bite victims, who often require additional treatments (including complete blood transfusions). Due to the geographical isolation of the Boomslang, however, human bites are thankfully rare.
Before reading this article, were you aware of the Boomslang snake?
In closing, the Boomslang is one of the most fascinating animals in the world due to its beautiful coloration, unique characteristics, and natural ability to thrive throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Although highly venomous and capable of holding its own against most predators, the Boomslang is remarkable in that it tends to avoid dangerous situations and human contact, altogether. Nevertheless, the Boomslang possesses a remarkably potent form of venom that is capable of inflicting serious damage on its victims if emergency care is not sought immediately; making this small snake one of the world’s most dangerous animals. Although current information regarding the Boomslang is relatively inadequate, it will be interesting to see what new forms of information can be learned about this incredible animal in the years and decades that follow.
Christie L. Wilcox. “What It Feels Like To Die of a Boomslang Bite.” Science Sushi, June 28, 2016. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/science-sushi/2015/11/02/what-it-feels-like-to-die-of-a-boomslang-bite/
“The Boomslang Snake Of Africa.” Reptiles Magazine. Accessed August 14, 2019. http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Venomous-Snakes/Boomslang-Snake-Of-Africa/.
Wikipedia contributors, "Boomslang," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Boomslang&oldid=905335543 (accessed August 14, 2019).
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© 2019 Larry Slawson