AppearanceThe black mamba's back skin colour is olive, brownish, grey, or sometimes khaki. The adult snake's length is on average 2.5 meters , but some specimens have reached lengths of 4.3 to 4.5 meters . Black mambas weigh about 1.6 kilograms . on average. The species is the second longest venomous snake in the world, exceeded in length only by the king cobra. The snake has an average life span of 11 years in the wild.
NamingThe snake's scientific name is ''Dendroaspis polylepis'': ''Dendroaspis'' meaning "tree asp", and ''polylepis'' meaning "many-scaled".
The name "black mamba" is given to the snake not because of its body colour, but because of its ink-black mouth. It displays this physical attribute when threatened.
DistributionThe black mamba lives in Africa, occupying the following range: north east Democratic Republic of the Congo, south western Sudan to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, eastern Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, southwards to Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and Namibia; then north easterly through Angola to south eastern Zaire. The black mamba is not commonly found at altitudes above 1,000 metres , although the distribution of black mamba does reach 1,800 metres in Kenya and 1,650 metres in Zambia. The black mamba was also recorded in 1954 in West Africa in the Dakar region of Senegal. However, this observation, and a subsequent observation that identified a second specimen in the region in 1956, has not been confirmed and thus the snake's distribution there is inconclusive. The black mamba's distribution contains gaps within the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria and Mali. These gaps may lead physicians to misidentify the black mamba and administer an ineffective antivenom.
BehaviorThe black mamba uses its speed to escape threats, not to hunt prey. It is shy and secretive; it always seeks to escape when a confrontation occurs. If a black mamba is cornered it mimics a cobra by spreading a neck-flap, exposing its black mouth, and hissing. If this endeavour to scare away the attacker fails, the black mamba may strike repeatedly. The black mamba is a diurnal snake. Although its scientific name seems to be indicative of tree climbing, the black mamba is rarely arboreal. These snakes retreat when threatened by predators.
HabitatThe black mamba has adapted to a variety of climates ranging from savannah, woodlands, rocky slopes, dense forests and even humid swamps. The grassland and savannah woodland/shrubs that extend through central, eastern and southern Africa are the black mamba's typical habitat. The black mamba prefers more arid environments such as light woodland, rocky outcrops, and semi-arid dry bush country.The black mamba's environment is rapidly diminishing. In Swaziland alone, 75% of the people are involved in subsistence farming. Because of agricultural encroachment on the black mamba's habitat, the snake is commonly found in sugarcane fields. The black mamba will climb to the top of the sugarcane to bask in the sun and possibly wait for prey. The majority of human attacks occur in the sugarcane fields of east and southern Africa which employ thousands of workers. This encroachment on the snake's territory contributes to potentially dangerous human contact with these venomous snakes.
FoodAs stated, the black mamba is diurnal. It is an ambush predator that waits for prey to get close. If the prey attempts to escape, the black mamba will follow up its initial bite with a series of strikes. When hunting, the black mamba has been known to raise a large portion of its body off the ground. The black mamba will release larger prey after biting it, but smaller prey, such as birds or rats, are held onto until the prey's muscles stop moving. They have been known to prey on bushbabies, bats, and small chickens.
PredatorsNot many predators challenge an adult black mamba, thus it enjoys a somewhat invulnerable status. However, it does face a few threats such as birds of prey particularly snake eagles . Although all commonly prey on snakes, there are two species in particular that do so with high frequency, including preying on black mambas. The two species are the black-chested snake eagle and the brown snake eagle . The Cape file snake which is apparently immune to all African snake venoms and preys on other snakes including venomous ones, is a common predator of black mambas . Mongooses which are also partially immune to venom, and are quick enough to evade a bite, will readily tackle a black mamba for prey. Humans do not usually consume black mambas, but they often kill them out of fear.
DefenseBased on the median lethal dose values in mice, the black mamba LD50 from all published sources is as follows:
⤷ subcutaneous : 0.32 mg/kg,Fry, Bryan, Deputy Director, Australian Venom Research Unit, University of Melbourne . . venomdoc.com. Retrieved October 14, 2013. 0.28 mg/kg.
⤷ intravenous: 0.25 mg/kg, 0.011 mg/kg.
⤷ intraperitoneal: 0.30 mg/kg , 0.941 mg/kg. 0.05 mg/kg .
Its bites can deliver about 100–120 mg of venom on average and the maximum dose recorded is 400 mg. It is reported that before the antivenom was widely available, the mortality rate from a bite was nearly 100%. Black mamba bites can potentially kill a human within 20 minutes, but death usually occurs after 30–60 minutes, sometimes taking up to three hours. Presently, there is a polyvalent antivenom produced by SAIMR to treat black mamba bites from many localities.
If bitten, common symptoms are rapid onset of dizziness, coughing or difficulty breathing, and erratic heartbeat. In extreme cases, when the victim has received a large amount of venom, death can occur in less than an hour from respiratory or cardiac arrest. Also, the black mamba's venom has been known to cause paralysis. Death is usually due to suffocation resulting from paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
The black mamba is regarded as one of the most dangerous and feared snakes in Africa. Nevertheless, attacks on humans by black mambas are rare, as the snakes usually avoid confrontation with humans and their occurrence in highly populated areas is not very common compared with some other species.
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