Africa's 7 Deadly Snakes: Click With Caution
1. The Black Mamba (Dendoaspis polylepis)
Black Mamba’s are the largest venomous snakes in Africa, with adults reaching average length of 8 feet (2.5m). Oddly, the black mamba is not black at all, but brown/olive in colour. The name comes from the inky black mouth they show when threatened. It can reach speeds of up to 12 mph (20km/hr) when attacking, which means you probably couldn't outrun it. The black mamba can strike up to 12 times in quick succession – delivering enough neuro and cardio-toxic venom to kill over a dozen men within an hour. The toxin starts to take effect in only a few minutes and can cause paralysis, vomiting and loss of consciousness. They have been known to take down lions and other large predators when defending their territory. What does all this add up to: an extremely aggressive snake when cornered, that's probably faster than you and with only one strike can kill you in 30 minutes.
2. The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)
This snake kills the most humans in Africa, and is thus known to be the continent’s deadliest. Adders only reach around 1 metre in length but are extremely wide snakes. Colour patterns vary according to habitat, which is extensive. The puff adder has large fangs and releases a cytotoxic venom which attacks the body cells or tissues causing major inflammation and extreme pain. If untreated, death can result within 25 hours.
3. The Boomslang (Dispholidus typus)
Found only in Sub-Saharan Africa, this snake derives its name from its habitat – boomslang means “tree snake” in Afrikaans. A shy but lethal predator, this snake’s weapon is its venom, which is haemotoxic, meaning that it affects the body’s natural blood clotting mechanism resulting in the bleeding of the internal organs. What complicates matters is that the venom is often slow acting which makes victims underestimate the seriousness of the bite. Symptoms can take up to 24hrs to show, with the gruesome end of a victim bleeding to death from every orifice.
4. The Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje)
As the name suggests, this aggressive snake is most commonly found in Egypt but also resides in other parts of North Africa. Legend has it that Cleopatra used the venom of this snake to commit suicide, which would certainly do the job. The glands of this cobra are found behind its eyes, and they produce a deadly neurotoxin just like the mamba that is released through its fangs. The neurotoxin attacks the central nervous system and causes paralysis and respiratory failure. The speed and effectiveness of the toxin is unmatched and can cause death in only 10 minutes.
5. The Cape Cobra (Naja nivea)
The Cape Cobra is endemic to Southern Africa and is notoriously irritable and aggressive. When disturbed the cobra famously raises its forebody off the ground, spreads a wide hood and hisses loudly. While on the defensive, it strikes without hesitation with its neurotoxic venom. If the threat remains motionless, the snake will quickly attempt to escape, but at any sign of movement will adopt its defensive posture again. Death from a bite can result in as little as 60 minutes.
<image source: Marius Burger>
6. The Gaboon Viper (bitis gabonica)
Found in the rainforests and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, this snake makes the list for having the longest fangs (up to 2 inches) and the highest venom yield of any venomous snake. This one of the more heavy snakes, weighing up to 10kg. It is the ultimate ambush snake as it is so well camouflaged, blending in easily with leaf cover and surrounding vegetation. It strikes its prey by standing still, and attacks by surprise. A bite can cause blistering, convulsions, shock and internal bleeding.
7. The Mozambican Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica)
This is definitely one of Africa’s most feared snakes after the black mamba. When needed, it can elevate as much as two thirds of its total body length, and has been known to simulate death to avoid further attack. As the name suggests, the snake “spits” its neurotoxic venom up to 3 metres (8 feeet) away with pinpoint accuracy. If it manages to hit you in the eye permenant blindness can occur.