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The Top 10 Deadliest Snakes in Africa

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He has a keen interest in biology.

From the Mozambique spitting cobra to the infamous black mamba, this article ranks Africa's 10 deadliest snakes!

From the Mozambique spitting cobra to the infamous black mamba, this article ranks Africa's 10 deadliest snakes!

What is the Deadliest Snake in Africa?

Throughout the African continent, there exists a number of venomous snakes capable of inflicting serious harm (and death) on the human population at large. From the infamous Boomslang to the deadly Black Mamba, this work ranks the deadliest snakes known to exist in Africa. Included in this brief analysis is a general description of each snake, followed by common bite symptoms and treatment options that are available to snakebite victims. It is the author’s hope that a better (and more complete) understanding of these fascinating snakes will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

Selection Criteria

In order to select (and rank) the deadliest snakes of Africa, a number of basic assumptions were necessary.

First and foremost, each of the following snakes described was ranked according to its venom toxicity in relation to humans. To measure this effect, each of the snake’s venom yield (per bite), as well as the mean (average) lethal dose for humans, is taken into consideration.

Secondly, each of the snakes was also ranked according to its potential for inflicting life-threatening bites on the human population at large. This criterion was especially important as a number of venomous snakes are capable of controlling their overall venom output (resulting in “dry bites” that are non-lethal in many cases, thus, skewing the research).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is vital to note that each of the following snakes (and their corresponding bites) were ranked according to their potential to kill in the absence of medical attention. This final factor was necessary, as the vast majority of snake bites are treatable (and highly survivable) when appropriate medical treatment is started immediately. Operating under the assumption that no medical attention was received by a bite victim allows for a clearer understanding of each snake’s lethality in relation to human beings.

Taken together, it is clear that several inherent issues and gaps persist within this ranking process. Nevertheless, the author believes this criterion to be the best means for selecting the 10 deadliest snakes in Africa.

Africa's 10 Most Dangerous Snakes Ranked

  • Boomslang
  • West African Carpet Viper
  • Gaboon Viper
  • Mozambique Spitting Cobra
  • Egyptian Cobra
  • Cape Cobra
  • Saw-Scaled Viper
  • Forest Cobra
  • Puff Adder
  • Black Mamba
The boomslang.

The boomslang.

10. Boomslang

  • Average Size: 3.3 to 5.2 feet
  • Geographical Range: Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia
  • Conservation Status: “Least Concern” (Population Stable)

The boomslang is a species of highly-venomous snake from the Colubridae family. Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, the boomslang is an incredibly dangerous species that is more than capable of inflicting serious harm (or death) on the human population at large. Reaching an average length of approximately 3.3 to 5.2 feet in length (at maturity), this colorful species can be easily identified by onlookers due to its egg-shaped head, light green coloration, and scalation that takes on a black or blue edging. They are currently listed by the IUCN as a species of “least concern,” indicating that current population numbers are stable for the Boomslang at this time.

Within sub-Saharan Africa, the boomslang spends much of its time within the region’s forested regions. From here, the Boomslang is afforded a wide array of potential prey, including lizards, frogs, toads, chameleons, and birds. Small mammals and eggs are also common dietary options, along with the occasional snake when an opportunity arises. As an arboreal species, the boomslang spends much of its time in trees where prey is plentiful, and predation is limited. They are also incredibly reclusive and will actively flee from anything that is too large to eat.

Boomslang Bite Symptoms and Treatment

Unlike many snakes in the Colubridae family (which are relatively harmless to human beings due to their small fangs), the boomslang is considered an incredibly dangerous species with the capacity to seriously harm and kill humans. This is due to the snake’s potent venom, which is comprised of powerful hemotoxins. During a bite, the boomslang delivers tremendous amounts of venom to the bloodstream as their jaws are able to open upwards of 170 degrees, allowing them to “latch” onto their victim with ease. Symptoms usually begin slowly (upwards of several hours later), and include both internal and external bleeding due to the anti-coagulant effects of the venom. This is followed by nausea, migraine headaches, lethargy, confusion, and irritability. If left untreated, damage to the muscular-skeletal system and brain are common, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding that leads to death.

Bites from a boomslang are life-threatening emergencies that require immediate treatment for survival. Following a bite, individuals should be rushed immediately to a medical facility or hospital to begin antivenom treatments as soon as possible. Standard treatment (aside from antivenom) includes bedrest, intravenous fluids for hydration, as well as pain mitigation therapy for the resulting muscular pain that tends to follow. Complete blood transfusions may also be necessary to mitigate the spread of venom within the bloodstream. For these reasons, the boomslang is easily one of the deadliest species of snake in Africa and should be avoided at all costs!

West African carpet viper.

West African carpet viper.

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9. West African Carpet Viper

  • Average Size: 20 to 26 inches
  • Geographical Range: Western Africa
  • Conservation Status: “Least Concern” (Population Stable)

The West African carpet viper (sometimes referred to as the “ocellated carpet viper”) is a species of deadly snake from the Viperidae family. Endemic to Western Africa (as its name implies), the snake is considered to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the world, responsible for more bite-related fatalities (amongst humans) than all other African snake species combined. The West African carpet viper can be easily identified by its relatively small and stout appearance (reaching upwards of 26-inches at maturity), bulging eyes, small snout, and light brown coloration that is dotted by dark brown crossbands. Currently, they are listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN as population figures for this species appear to be steady (as of 2022).

From within their natural habitat in West Africa, the West African carpet viper is afforded a great variety of prey to pursue. As both a terrestrial and nocturnal specimen, the snake is known to do much of its hunting in the early morning hours (or first hours of night). Common prey includes small invertebrates, such as centipedes and scorpions, along with mammals, various birds, lizards, and frogs. In regard to predation in the wild, the West African carpet viper faces few enemies due to its potent venom. Nevertheless, birds of prey appear to be the snake’s primary enemy, along with humans who tend to kill the animal on sight.

West African Carpet Viper Bite Symptoms and Treatment

The West African carpet viper is an incredibly dangerous snake due to its aggressive nature and potent venom. As stated prior, the animal is responsible for more fatalities than all other African snakes combined. Their venom is comprised of several procoagulants, anticoagulants, hemmoraghins, necrotoxins, as well as nephrotoxins that deliver a devastating attack on human and animal bodies alike. Following envenomation (which occurs in 80 percent of all bites), symptoms usually begin within minutes and include localized pain at the wound site, swelling of the extremities, uncontrollable bleeding, and migraine headaches. Without immediate treatment, coagulopathy, blindness, shock, and kidney failure are common, leading to death within hours.

As with all snake bites, a bite from the West African carpet viper should be characterized as a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment for survival. Current fatality rates for this snake are estimated to be 20 percent, making this an incredibly dangerous snake (especially for children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems). Standard treatment for a West African carpet viper bite includes several rounds of ICP or EchiTabG Antivenom. This is usually followed by bedrest, intravenous fluids, and pain mitigation therapy. Complete blood transfusions and dialysis may also be implemented by medical staff to ensure better recovery and to protect the body’s vital organs from further damage. For these reasons, the West African snake is an animal that should be avoided whenever possible.

Gaboon Viper.

Gaboon Viper.

8. Gaboon Viper

  • Average Size: 4 to 5 feet
  • Geographical Range: Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Conservation Status: Unknown (Insufficient Data)

The Gaboon viper is a species of highly-venomous snake from the Viperidae family. Endemic to the rainforests and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, the Gaboon viper is an incredibly dangerous animal with one of the highest venom yields of snake in the world (second only to the king cobra). On average, the snake reaches a total length of 4 to 5 feet at maturity, with a handful of specimens reaching upward of 81-inches. They can be easily identified by their thick bodies (weighting upwards of 25-pounds), triangular-shaped heads, as well as their pair of horns that are visible between their nostrils. The eyes on this species are also quite large, whereas coloration varies between different shades of brown and yellow to help the Gaboon viper camouflage itself under leaves and debris. As of 2022, the animal hasn’t been evaluated by the IUCN. However, current studies suggest that population numbers for the Gaboon viper appear to be stable for the time being.

From within its natural habitat, the Gaboon viper spends much of its time in rainforests and woodlands in regions with low altitudes. This includes secondary thickets and grasslands. Cacao and cashew plantations are another favorite of this species as they offer tremendous cover and clean water supplies for the viper to drink from. The primary food for the Gaboon viper (which are abundant in these areas) includes mice, rats, rabbits, doves, frogs, and toads. Due to their larger size, some Gaboon vipers have even been observed eating small tree monkeys from time to time as well. To date, no predators (with the exception of humans) have been identified for this particular species.

Gaboon Viper Bite Symptoms and Treatment

Although bites from the Gaboon viper are extremely rare (due to their sluggish and unaggressive nature), a single bite is considered extremely dangerous for humans. This is due, in part, to the snake’s venom, which is comprised of cytotoxins. Although the venom, itself, is not particularly toxic, the Gaboon viper tends to inject extremely large amounts of venom into their victims (upwards of 200 to 1,000 milligrams) with each bite. This, in turn, leads to serious envenomation in nearly every bite. Bite symptoms usually begin within moments and include rapid swelling of the wound site, severe pain, blistering, as well as shock. Prolonged exposure to the venom can also result in uncontrolled defecation and urination, swelling of the tongue, convulsions, as well as unconsciousness. Without treatment, hypotension is common, followed by heart damage and internal bleeding (resulting in death).

Bites from a Gaboon viper should be classified as a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment for survival. Standard treatment usually involves several rounds of antivenom and is followed by bedrest, intravenous fluids, as well as pain mitigation therapy. And while most individuals will recover from bites, long-term issues are common with this particular species, as amputation of the affected sites is often necessary to save an individual’s life. For these reasons, the Gaboon viper is a species of snake that should be avoided whenever possible.

Mozambique spitting cobra.

Mozambique spitting cobra.

7. Mozambique Spitting Cobra

  • Average Size: 3 to 5 feet
  • Geographical Range: Central and Southern Africa
  • Conservation Status: “Least Concern” (Population Stable)

The Mozambique spitting cobra is a highly-venomous snake from the order Squamata and Elapidae family, respectively. Endemic to Central and Southern Africa (including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa), the Mozambique spitting cobra is an incredibly dangerous species capable of seriously harming (or killing) humans. As with many of the cobra species mentioned on this list, the animal can be easily recognized by its large hood and distinct coloration that is best described as a mixture of slate, blue, olive, and black along the back. Underbellies, in contrast, showcase a pink, purple, or yellow appearance that is speckled by black bars across the neck region. Black specks are also common along the throat, along with pink or yellow bars. They are currently listed by the IUCN as a species of “least concern,” indicating that population numbers are relatively stable (as of 2022).

From within its natural habitat in central and southern Africa, the Mozambique spitting cobra is commonly found in the region’s savannas and tropical territories. This is due, in part, to the cobra’s innate desire to be near water (which provides the snake with hydration and a means of escape when disturbed). Common prey, which is abundant in this region of Africa, includes frogs, various birds, eggs, small mammals, and insects. When the occasion arises, the Mozambique spitting cobra has also been observed consuming other snakes, including the infamous black mamba (as the snake had developed an immunity to its potent venom over time).

Mozambique Spitting Cobra Bite Symptoms and Treatment

As with all of the snakes presented in our current list, the Mozambique spitting cobra possesses an incredibly potent venom that is similar to the Mojave green rattlesnake in toxicity. Comprised of postsynaptic neurotoxins and cytotoxins, the venom delivers a devastating effect on an individual’s body. Symptoms usually begin within minutes of a bite and include swelling, necrosis of the wound site, extreme pain, and severe (uncontrollable bleeding). As its name implies, the snake is also able to deliver its powerful venom by “spitting,” resulting in severe vision impairment or total blindness in its victims. Without treatment, death is common via internal bleeding, heart attack, or organ failure.

Bites from the Mozambique spitting cobra are life-threatening emergencies that require immediate medical attention. And while only a handful of fatalities have been recorded from this specific species over the last few decades, it is important to note that this is due to the snake’s non-aggressive behavior and remote location in the wild. Following a bite, doctors will immediately begin treating the issue with polyvalent antivenom. This is generally followed by intravenous fluids, bed rest, and care aimed at making the patient as comfortable as possible. Most individuals tend to recover from the effects of the venom within a few weeks; however, disfigurement is common among victims, as amputations, severe necrosis, and eye damage are commonly seen in survivors. For these reasons, the Mozambique spitting cobra is a species of venomous snake that is incredibly dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.

The Egyptian cobra.

The Egyptian cobra.

6. Egyptian Cobra

  • Average Size: 4 to 5 feet
  • Geographical Range: Northern and Western Regions of Africa
  • Conservation Status: Unknown (Insufficient Data)

The Egyptian cobra is a species of highly venomous snake from the Elapidae family. Found predominantly in the northern and western sectors of Africa (most notably, along the Sahara), the Egyptian cobra is widely considered by experts to be one of the continent’s deadliest species. As with the majority of cobras, this species can be easily identified by onlookers due to its flattened head, unique coloration, and wide hood. They are most commonly seen with a solid black coloration that is contrasted by a creamy white (sometimes grey or yellow) underbelly. Teardrop markings are also quite common below the eyes. To date, current population numbers have not been evaluated by the IUCN, but are expected to be relatively stable for the time being.

As its name implies, the Egyptian cobra is found predominantly in North Africa around Egypt, the Congo basin, as well as east Kenya, and Tanzania. From here, the snake is commonly seen living in dry (or sometimes moist) savannas, semi-desert regions, rocky outcroppings, and steppes. In more recent years, a number of Egyptian cobras have also been found in the area’s numerous agricultural fields, where food is plentiful. Common prey for the snake includes mice, rats, chickens, as well as small fish.

Egyptian Cobra Bite Symptoms and Treatment

The Egyptian cobra is an exceptionally dangerous (and deadly) species of snake. This is due to their venom, which is comprised of powerful neurotoxins and cytotoxins. On average, a single bite yields approximately 175 to 300 milligrams of the snake’s potent venom, delivering significant (and lethal) amounts of venom in nearly every bite. Bite symptoms usually begin suddenly (within minutes of a bite), as the venom delivers a devastating attack on the victim’s central nervous system (Owlcation.com). Some of the first signs of envenomation include vertigo, swelling of the wound site (and extremities), necrosis, as well as excruciating muscle pain, and weakness. Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and headaches have also been reported among individuals. Without medical care, death is common and generally results from complete paralysis of the lungs (leading to suffocation).

A single (or even partial) bite from the Egyptian cobra is a life-threatening emergency. Unfortunately for many individuals, seeking medical care is not always possible due to the snake’s remote habitat near the desert and semi-desert regions of North Africa (leading to a number of deaths that could have been averted by proper treatment). For cases involving rapid care, though, standard treatment involves multiple rounds of polyvalent antivenom followed by several weeks of bedrest and intravenous fluids. Intubation may also be necessary for individuals suffering from prolonged envenomation. While most individuals will make full recoveries from their bites, others continue to suffer from muscle pain, weakness, bouts of vertigo, and skin abnormalities for weeks or years to come. For these reasons, it is not difficult to see why the Egyptian cobra is one of Africa’s most dangerous species.

The cape cobra.

The cape cobra.

5. Cape Cobra

  • Average Size: 3.9 to 4.6 feet
  • Geographical Range: Southern Africa
  • Conservation Status: Unknown (Insufficient Data)

The cape cobra (sometimes referred to as the “bruinkapel,” or “geelslang”) is a species of highly-venomous snake from the Elapidae family. Endemic to Southern Africa and its surrounding territories, the cape cobra is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous species on the continent due to its aggressive behavior and toxic venom. Reaching upwards of 4.6-feet at maturity, the cape cobra can be easily identified due to its slim hood, as well as its copper-like coloration that takes on a yellowish-brown appearance. Current population numbers remain unknown for this species, as the IUCN has not undertaken an in-depth review of the cape cobra’s numbers and sightings. Nevertheless, they appear to be currently stable at the present time.

In Southern Africa, the cape cobra has been observed in a number of climates, including the Kalahari Desert, arid savannas, as well as Africa’s scrublands. Within these habitats, the snake is offered a wide array of food that includes rodents, small birds, lizards, toads, as well as other snakes (when the occasion or opportunity presents itself). Unlike many of Africa’s snakes, the cape cobra is a diurnal species, meaning that it spends much of its time hunting during the hot daylight hours while spending its evening hours in a safe hiding place away from potential predators. While little is currently known about predation in the wild, large birds (such as eagles) appear to be the primary threat to cape cobras (along with humans).

Cape Cobra Bite Symptoms and Treatment

As one of Africa’s deadliest snakes, the cape cobra possesses a remarkably toxic venom that is comprised of both cardiotoxins and postsynaptic neurotoxins (Owlcation.com). When combined, these two toxins form a coordinated attack on both the central nervous system and lungs of their victims, leading to severe complications (including death) within hours.

Following a bite from the cape cobra, symptoms usually begin within minutes and include severe pain and swelling of the extremities, necrosis at the wound site, migraine headaches, as well as abdominal cramps, vomiting, and severe nausea. Vertigo, diarrhea, convulsions, and paralysis are also common once the snake’s neurotoxins seize control of the central nervous system. In its final stages, cardiac arrest, coma, and/or complete respiratory failure are common, with death following shortly after.

Bites from a cape cobra are an extremely dangerous situation that requires immediate medical care for survival. Although the overall fatality rate for a cape cobra bite is currently unknown, experts believe it is extremely high for both treated and untreated cases due to the venom’s potency (toxinology.com). For most bites, standard treatment involves admittance to the hospital, thorough cleaning of the wound site, along with respiratory support through intubation and a ventilator. This is usually followed by numerous rounds of SAIMR Polyvalent Antivenom (also known as “Walterinnesia Snake Antivenom”). Pain mitigation therapy and intravenous fluids are also administered in the majority of cases to make the patient as comfortable as possible while also maintaining adequate hydration (a necessary component of quick recoveries). Even with these measures in place, however, long-term complications are common for this species and include muscle pain and weakness that can last for a few days, months, or for the remainder of the victim’s life.

The saw-scaled viper.

The saw-scaled viper.

4. Saw-Scaled Viper

  • Average Size: 1 to 3 feet (0.3 to 0.91 meters)
  • Geographical Range: Africa, Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent
  • Conservation Status: “Least Concern” (Population Stable)

The saw-scaled viper is a species of highly-venomous snake that comes from the Viperidae family. Endemic to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Central Asia, the saw-scaled viper is regularly classified as a member of the “Big Four,” which refers to a group of snakes responsible for more bites (and deaths) than any other species on the planet. Extremely aggressive and ill-tempered, the snake is an incredibly dangerous species capable of inflicting serious harm and death on the human population at large. They can be easily identified by onlookers due to their small size (reaching only 1 to 3 feet a maturity), rounded snouts, and unique coloration (which is a blend of reddish-brown, green, and grey).

For specimens present in Africa, the saw-scaled viper is found predominantly north of the equator. From here, the animal spends much of its time near dry savannas and semi-arid territories. Although prey in this sort of environment is relatively limited, the saw-scaled viper preys on various rodents, invertebrates (such as scorpions and centipedes), small mammals, toads, and other reptiles. To date, some of the most common predators this species faces are large birds, other snakes, as well as humans.

Saw-Scaled Viper Bite Symptoms and Treatment

The saw-scaled viper possesses an extremely potent venom that is comprised of both procoagulants and nephrotoxins. When combined, these two compounds deliver an intense attack on the internal organs of their victim. Envenomation is almost always severe for humans, as the average venom yield of this species is approximately 18 milligrams (with a lethal dose measuring in at only 5 milligrams for most). Following a bite, symptoms usually begin within hours but can be delayed upwards of 6 days in rare cases. Signs of a bite generally include severe swelling, muscular weakness, pain at the wound site, blistering of the skin, as well as hypotension (low blood pressure). This is followed by anuria (low urine output), gastrointestinal bleeding, as well as coagulation of the blood (resulting in complications). Without treatment, renal failure and cardiac arrest are commonly cited as the primary cause of death for victims.

Experts estimate that fatality rates for a saw-scaled viper bite are in the vicinity of 10 to 20 percent. As a result, any bite from this species should be classified as a life-threatening emergency. Following admittance to a hospital or medical facility, standard treatment involves several rounds of polyvalent antivenom to subdue the venom’s more toxic effects. This is followed by intravenous fluids, pain medication, as well as intubation (in cases involving breathing difficulties). In extreme cases, dialysis may also be needed to prevent kidney failure (toxinology.com). Even when all of these protocols are followed, however, many bites continue to prove fatal for individuals as few are able to seek treatment in a timely manner (due to the snake’s remote habitat). Likewise, many facilities lack appropriate medical supplies (and antivenom) to combat the snake’s deadly venom in North Africa. For these reasons, the saw-scaled viper is not a snake you want to cross paths with, as one wrong move could prove deadly!

The forest cobra.

The forest cobra.

3. Forest Cobra

  • Average Size: 4.2 to 7.2 feet (1.4 to 2.2 meters)
  • Geographical Range: Central and Western Africa
  • Conservation Status: Unknown (Insufficient Data)

The infamous forest cobra (occasionally referred to as the “black cobra” or “black and white-lipped cobra”) is a highly-venomous species of snake from the Elapidae family. Classified by experts as the world’s longest species of cobra in the world (reaching an incredible 10+ feet at times), the forest cobra also holds the distinction of being one of Africa’s deadliest snakes. This is due, in part, to the snake’s high degree of aggressiveness. Coupled with its potent venom, this is a snake that should certainly be avoided by humans whenever possible. As with most cobras, the forest cobra can be easily identified by its large hood, wide body, and unique coloration that is best described as glossy-black with a whitish-brown (sometimes yellow) underbelly. As of 2022, the IUCN has not completed a review of the forest cobra’s population numbers. However, they are believed to be relatively stable at this time.

Located in central and western Africa (near Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, and Cameroon), the forest cobra spends much of its time near the region’s more forested areas (hence its name). However, it is important to note that a number of specimens have also been observed in Africa’s numerous grasslands, savannas, and rocky outcroppings (Owlcation.com). Prey is both plentiful and abundant in these areas and includes amphibians, lizards, small fish, birds, eggs, mice, and rats.

Forest Cobra Bite Symptoms and Treatment

The forest cobra possesses a powerful venom that is comprised of numerous postsynaptic neurotoxins. Following a bite, average venom yields for this species are approximately 571 milligrams, resulting in serious envenomation in nearly 100 percent of bites (Owlcation.com). As a result, symptoms of a forest cobra bite generally begin within 30 minutes of a bite and include fatigue (lethargy), vertigo, hypotension, hearing loss, an inability to speak, as well as shock. Abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting are also common, along with fever and pallor (a whitening of the victim’s skin). Without immediate treatment, death is common for individuals and often results from complete respiratory failure (suffocation) or cardiac arrest.

A single bite from a forest cobra is considered a life-threatening event that requires immediate medical attention. As of 2022, current fatality rates of treated and untreated bites are currently unknown due to the snake’s remote location. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that fatality rates are high for this particular species due to the presence of postsynaptic neurotoxins within its venom. Standard treatment for a forest cobra bite includes several rounds of SAIMR Polyvalent Antivenom, followed by bed rest, intravenous fluids, and pain medication. For extreme cases involving breathing difficulties, intubation and ventilation may also be required in recovery efforts. While this treatment regimen offers the best means for defeating the potent effects of the venom, it is important to note that long-term complications are extremely common for forest cobra bite victims, with severe organ damage, muscle pain, and skin deformities being among the most cited issues.

The puff adder.

The puff adder.

2. Puff Adder

  • Average Size: 3 to 6 feet
  • Geographical Range: Central and Southern Africa
  • Conservation Status: “Least Concern” (Population Stable)

The deadly puff adder is an incredibly dangerous species of snake from the Viperidae family. Endemic to Central and Southern Africa (with the exception of the continent’s desert and rainforest territories), the puff adder is responsible for more snakebite fatalities in Africa than any other snake in the region. As an average-sized specimen, most puff adders reach an overall length of approximately 3 to 6 feet at maturity. They can be easily identified in the wild by the dark bands that line their head and neck, as well as their unique coloration that varies between gold and silver (and is dotted by dark brown or black crossbands). As of 2022, the species is currently listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN as population figures are remarkably stable for the puff adder. In fact, they are regularly cited by locals as one of the most abundant and widespread species of snake in Africa.

Within its natural habitat, the puff adder is most commonly found in rocky grasslands, as the snake tries to avoid extreme heat and more moist environments (such as the rainforests). As a relatively sluggish species, this type of terrain is crucial to the puff adder’s survival in the wild, as it offers the snake a great deal of camouflage. Prey is also abundant in these areas, and includes small mammals, birds, eggs, frogs, toads, as well as lizards. Predation, in turn, is somewhat limited with the puff adder (due to its size and potent venom); nevertheless, its primary threats tend to involve larger birds (such as falcons or eagles) as well as humans.

Puff Adder Bite Symptoms and Treatment

The puff adder possesses an extremely potent form of venom that is comprised of various cytotoxins. Following a bite, severe envenomation is guaranteed in nearly 100-percent of attacks as the snake’s average venom yield is approximately 150 to 300 milligrams (with a mean lethal dose of 100 milligrams in humans). Symptoms of a bite usually begin within minutes, and include severe local and systemic effects. Bleeding and severe swelling are often cited as the first symptoms to appear, and are generally followed by widespread tenderness, muscle pain, and necrosis of the wound site. Fluid retention (edema), hypotension, shock, and gastrointestinal issues are also common once venom has spread further into the body and will eventually lead to death (or serious complications) without adequate treatment.

Fatality rates for a puff adder bite vary significantly, and depend largely on the degree of envenomation that has occurred. For milder bites, fatalities tend to occur in 15 to 20-percent of bites, whereas severe bites carry a mortality rate of approximately 52-percent. As such, any bite from a puff adder should be characterized as a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical treatment for survival. Standard treatment involves multiple rounds of antivenom, which is followed by bedrest, intravenous fluids, and pain therapy. Extensive cleansing of the wound site is also extremely important for puff adder bites as the cytotoxic effects of the venom can lead to gangrene and secondary infections, leading to serious issues.

While these measures are often enough to prevent fatalities in victims (assuming medical treatment was started in a timely manner), it is important to note that long-term complications remain extremely high for puff adder bites. For these reasons, humans should exercise extreme caution when in the vicinity of the puff adder’s habitat and/or territory.

The black mamba.

The black mamba.

1. Black Mamba

  • Average Size: 6.6 to 10 feet
  • Geographical Range: Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Conservation Status: “Least Concern” (Population Stable)

The deadly black mamba is a species of elapid snake renowned for its incredibly potent venom and aggression. Endemic to Eastern and Southern Africa, this large species (reaching upward of 10+ feet at maturity) is regularly classified as Africa’s “most feared snake” due to its dangerous and unpredictable nature. As their name implies, the black mamba can be easily recognized by onlookers due to its ink-black mouth, greyish-brown skin, and long length (Owlcation.com). Due to their widespread distribution and population numbers, the snake is also classified as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN, as no decrease in their numbers has been recognized at this time.

From within its natural habitat, the black mamba is predominantly found living throughout Africa’s numerous savannahs, woodlands, and rocky slopes. As both a terrestrial and arboreal species, the animal is well-adapted to hunting a wide variety of prey. This includes small birds, mice, rats, lizards, toads, insects, and the occasional snake. Due to their tremendous size, speed, and extremely potent venom, predators are naturally few and far between, as humans remain the biggest threat to the black mamba’s survival in the wild.

Black Mamba Bite Symptoms and Treatment

The black mamba’s venom is comprised of a variety of neurotoxins. Delivering multiple strikes in quick succession, severe envenomation is common amongst black mamba bites in nearly every bite. Following a strike, symptoms usually begin within 10 minutes and involve drooping eyelids, vertigo, mental confusion (brain fog), impaired vision, as well as tingling, and a metallic taste in the mouth (Owlcation.com). As the venom begins to subdue the body’s vital organs, drowsiness, gastrointestinal duress, and profuse sweating are also common and are followed by complete paralysis of the lungs (leading to death by suffocation).

For individuals bitten by a black mamba, medical treatment is essential for survival as their bites are considered fatal nearly 100 percent of the time. Most fatalities occur within 3 hours of a bite but can occur in as little as 20 minutes in cases of extreme envenomation. This short amount of time is extremely problematic, as the vast majority of bites tend to occur in remote habitats far away from medical facilities (causing individuals to die before they can receive life-saving antivenom treatment). For those fortunate enough to receive medical care in a timely manner, however, standard treatment involves several rounds of antivenom, followed by bed rest and pain mitigation therapy. For many individuals, though, this treatment plan will not be enough as the black mamba’s venom is renowned for its ability to cause multi-system organ failure (leading to death for many individuals that are hospitalized). In these cases, life-support systems (such as ventilation, intubation, and dialysis) may also be utilized to subdue the venom’s effects.

For those lucky enough to survive a black mamba bite, it is important to note that lifelong complications are common amongst victims and include severe muscle pain, migraine headaches, and severe organ damage that can be life-threatening over time. It is for these reasons that the black mamba is (easily) the deadliest and most dangerous snake in Africa.

Works Cited

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Images/Phographs:

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Larry Slawson

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