The black mamba is land-dwelling while the other three mamba species are tree-dwelling.
Mamba Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Dendroaspis spp.
Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.
Mamba Conservation Status
- Average Litter Size
- 6-25 eggs
- Common Name
- Special Features
- Lighter bellies
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Mambas are venomous, fast-moving snakes found in Africa that can grow up to 14 feet long. Known for their venom and fearsome reputation, they are present in many African stories and legends. They are some of the most venomous snakes in Africa. Three of the species live in trees and are green in color, while the black mamba is land-dwelling and grey to brown in color. The black mamba has the deadliest venom of all mamba species.
4 Amazing Mamba Facts!
- The black mamba is Africa’s longest venomous snake.
- An untreated black mamba bite has a 100% mortality rate and is called the “kiss of death” or “seven steps.”
- The black mamba is one of the fastest-moving snakes in the world, capable of slithering at 12.5 mph.
- The mamba genus, Dendroaspis, means “tree asp.”
The mamba genus, Dendroaspis, means “tree asp.” Mambas are in the same family as coral snakes and cobras, Elapidae. Elipidae snakes have a pair of fangs in the upper front jaw of their mouths. They are proteroglyphous, meaning “front-fanged.”
4 Types of Mamba
There are four species of mamba:
- Eastern green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps), also called the white-mouthed or common mamba
- Western green mamba (Dendroaspis viridis), also known as Hallowell’s mamba
- Jameson’s mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni)
- Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis).
Jameson’s mamba has 2 subspecies: D. j. jamesoni and D. j. kaimosae.
Discover more about the four types of mambas here.
Evolution and Origins
Mambas have evolved to adapt to their environment in a number of ways. Like other species in its Elapidae family, the mamba has developed a hood-like area around its neck that will flare out when it is threatened, making the snake appear larger in an effort to startle and scare off potential predators. Since the mamba is a proteroglyph its fangs are fixed and do not retract into its mouth so the snake’s fangs are shorter than other vipers. A University of Georgia Tech study found that snakes’ scales have evolved to act like hooks to generate friction that moves the reptile forward.
Mambas are known for their very fast slithering speeds and their ability to raise a long hood when threatened.
How to identify a mamba snake:
- The black mamba has a color of grey to dark brown, is over 6.6 ft and up to 14 ft in length, and has a coffin-shaped head and black mouth.
- The western green mamba has a slender body and a length of 4.6-6.9 ft.
- The eastern green mamba has a green body and measures more than 6.6 ft long on average.
- Jameson’s mamba has a color of dull green with a cream or yellow belly, a long and narrow head with small eyes, and grows 4.9-7.2 ft in length.
The best time of year to find any mamba snake species is during the fighting, breeding, and egg-laying seasons, depending on the species and climate of their location. Fighting usually happens in late winter to early spring or during the rainy season, breeding happens in the spring or late fall, and egg-laying happens in the summer or fall. In other words, they are most active during the warmer months. The one season they are not active is the winter when they go into brumation, like a partial sleep for cold-blooded animals. During that time, they go into holes, tree stumps, dens, or caves.
Believe it or not, humans are more predatory of mambas rather than the other way around. However, they are highly aggressive when threatened. The eastern green mamba is the only one that is shy and actively avoids humans. On the other hand, humans have attacked mambas after confusing their slithering for chasing after them instead of fleeing away.
Venom: How Dangerous Are Mambas?
All mamba species have deadly venom and three species are nervous and aggressive, while the eastern green mamba is shy of humans. Their front-facing fangs lie flat in their mouths until they are ready to bite.
The western green mamba’s venom can kill with one bite containing neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, and fasciculins. The eastern green mamba’s venom has neurotoxins that if untreated can trigger death by respiratory paralysis in 30 minutes. Jameson’s mamba’s venom has neurotoxins, cardiotoxins, hemotoxins, and mycotoxins, and can kill in 30-120 minutes if left untreated. The black mamba’s bite is called the “kiss of death,” can kill if left untreated and starts causing symptoms in 10 minutes. With a bite from either species, it is up to 12 times the lethal dose in humans and can cause collapse in 45 minutes and death from respiratory failure leading to cardiovascular collapse in 7-15 hours.
If you are bitten by a mamba, seek medical attention immediately and ask for mamba antivenom. Lie down with the wound below the heart, remove any jewelry, and cover the wound with loose, sterile bandages.
All four mamba species make their habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, each with its own range. The black mamba is land-dwelling (terrestrial) while the other three are tree-dwelling (arboreal).
Jameson’s mamba has a geographic range in Central and West Africa and some parts of East Africa. It has a variety of habitats including rainforests, woodlands, savannahs, and deforested areas up to 7,200 ft. Countries it can be found in are South Sudan, Gabon, Angola, Zambia, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Benin, Togo, and Ghana.
The eastern green mamba lives in the coastal areas of southern East Africa, including in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and eastern South Africa.
The western green mamba makes its home in coastal tropical rainforests, woodlands, and thickets of western Africa, including in southern Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and southwest Nigeria.
The black mamba is present in many countries in central, eastern, and southern Africa, especially the northern regions of southern Africa and the coastal areas of South Africa. Unlike the other mamba species, it lives on land in various habitats, especially savannahs, open woodlands, and rocky hills. It does not live in deserts. It has populations in Cameroon, northern Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo, southwestern Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, eastern Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Botswana to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Namibia, northeastern Angola and the southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mambas are diurnal so are active and hunt during the day when they require food, which is only once every couple of weeks.
These snakes are carnivorous and have a preference for live prey, including mammals such as mice, rats, squirrels and African ground squirrels (Xerus), hyraxes, and bush babies. They also eat birds (particularly nestlings and fledglings), frogs, lizards, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, bats, and other snakes such as the forest cobra. They will consume dead animals if they require food.
Predators and Threats
The biggest threats to mambas are humans and birds of prey such as secretary birds and brown snake eagles, which aim to break a snake’s neck by swooping down and grabbing it by the back of the head. Secretary birds can be as tall as 4 feet and use their long, powerful legs to step on a mamba’s head and instantly snap its neck.
Adult mamba snake species do not have many other predators except for mongooses and honey badgers. Baby mambas are most vulnerable to predators during the egg or young stages of the life cycle.
Their lifespan is about 11 years in the wild, while their lifespan in captivity is about 18 years.
Population and Conservation
The green mamba’s population is unknown and listed by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern, but South Africa lists it as Vulnerable due to habitat destruction and deforestation of its coastal habitats. The western green mamba’s population is stable and listed by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern. Jameson’s mamba population is stable and listed by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern. The black mamba’s population is stable and listed by the IUCN Red List as Least Concern.View all 163 animals that start with M
Mamba FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How many types of mambas are there?
There are four species of mambas: Eastern green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps), Western green mamba (Dendroaspis viridis), Jameson’s mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni), and the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis).
Is a mamba a snake?
Yes, it is a type of snake referring to the genus Dendroaspis.
Is a mamba a viper?
No, it is in the same family as cobras and coral snakes, but it is probably confused for a viper. Both are venomous and usually brightly-colored snakes.
Are black mambas aggressive?
Yes, when threatened, they are very aggressive. They can bite repeatedly.
Are mambas venomous?
Yes, all are venomous, with the black mamba having the deadliest venom of all.
How do mambas hunt?
Mambas are active especially during the day (diurnal) but predators who hunt during the day or night, so they hunt and bite their prey to kill them with their venom.
Are mambas aggressive?
Three out of the four species are very aggressive, especially when threatened, but at first seem to be timid. The eastern green mamba is shy of humans and actively avoids them, using its camouflage to hide in the trees.
Where do mambas live?
All mambas live in Africa. Three of the four species live in trees, while the black mamba lives on the ground.
What do mambas eat?
Mambas eat bush babies, hyrax, birds, bats, rodents, and eggs.
How long do mambas live?
Their lifespan is 11 years in the wild, 18 years in captivity. However, in the wild they die early on in their life cycle if predators eat them while they are still in eggs or too young to move fast enough away from them.
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