What do Black Mambas Eat?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: June 9, 2022
Image Credit reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Key Points

  • All snakes are carnivores.
  • Black mambas are the deadliest and one of the fastest snakes on the planet.
  • The diet of black mambas consists of small mammals, birds and amphibians.

Black Mambas are one of the deadliest snakes on the planet. The only place you can find these elusive serpents is in sub-Saharan Africa. Black Mambas are also known to be one of the fastest snakes in the world so you can imagine they need a good diet to maintain their stamina. Let’s find out more about their diets!

Where Do Black Mambas Get Their Name?

In actuality, black mambas are brownish grey. So, where do they get their foreboding name? If you’ve ever seen the inside of a black mamba’s mouth, hopefully from a safe distance, you can see it is inky black. When threatened, these snakes open their mouths in warning, giving them the “black mamba” namesake.

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What Do Black Mambas Eat?

what do black mambas eat
Black Mambas eat small mammals like Xerus (African ground squirrels).

Black Mambas eat small mammals, birds and amphibians. Did you know all snakes are carnivores? Black Mambas are carnivores too, meaning they eat meat. Here is a list of the foods that the Black Mamba eats:

Do Black Mambas Hunt for Food?

Yes, Black Mambas actively hunt for food. Some animals, like Black Widows wait for food to come to them, but Black Mambas hunt for their prey.

When Do Black Mambas Hunt?

Black Mambas are diurnal meaning they are active during the day. They will hunt throughout the day when they need food. Like most snakes they only need to eat once every couple of weeks.

How Do Black Mambas Hunt?

what do black mambas eat
Black Mambas attack their prey by striking with their venom filled fangs. They then wait for the prey to die before swallowing it whole.

Cormac Price/Shutterstock.com

Black mambas are terrestrial meaning they spend most of their time on the ground vs in trees. They will slither around in the forest floor looking for small rodents, amphibians, birds or even other snakes. For example, if they snuck up on a juvenile African ground squirrel they would raise their body up, quickly strike the squirrel, biting it with their sharp fangs, injecting it with potent venom. Some snakes will hold onto their prey in their mouth and wrestle with it until it dies, but Black Mambas bite and then back away.

Maybe they let go and back away because they are so fast, they know they can chase down whatever they catch or maybe it is because they know their venom acts quickly so they don’t need to expend the energy to battle with the animal. They will follow the injured prey, wait for the venom to kill it (which doesn’t take long) and then swallow the prey whole.

Do Black Mambas Eat Live or Dead Animals?

what do black mambas eat
Black Mambas prefer to eat live prey like mice and squirrels.

NickEvansKZN/Shutterstock.com

Black Mambas prefer to eat live prey. They like warm-blooded mammals like mice, squirrels, hyraxes and bush babies. But they can be scavengers if they need the food and will eat dead animals if they need to.

What Do Baby Black Mambas Eat?

Baby Black Mambas eat the same diet as adult ones, just smaller prey. Females lay 6-20 eggs and the snakes look much like the adults when they hatch. They start out at 20 inches long and grow quickly, reaching 6 feet by the time they are one year old. After the female lays the eggs she is done with her mothering duties. Newborn snakes are on their own and are capable of hunting and catching prey. They may start with small prey like insects, beetles, baby mice, and nestling birds and then work their way up to bigger mammals.

Do Black Mambas Eat Black Cobras?

what do black mambas eat
Black Mambas can eat Black Cobras, but it is not common. They prefer warm-blooded mammals.

Willem Van Zyl/Shutterstock.com

Black Mambas do consume Black Cobras, but it is not that common. Specimens of black cobras (also called forest cobras) have been found in the stomachs of Black Mambas. If they do prey on other snakes it is usually baby or juvenile snakes. Black cobras are also venomous so it is not an ideal prey; it is much safer to try to catch a harmless bush baby.

Do Black Mambas Eat Each Other?

Some snake species are cannibalistic, meaning they eat each other. A research study on African cobras suggests that the males eat each other more often than believed. Species like King cobras, Kraits, King snakes and African file snakes “are thought to consume snakes regularly.” Why would snakes eat other snakes of the same species? A few reasons we see cannibalism in the wild are lack of other food sources, it cuts down on competition for food, it cuts down on competition for mates and as opportunistic feeders they will eat what is available. It is undocumented whether Black Mambas eat each other.

What Eats Black Mambas?

what do black mambas eat
Secretary Birds can kill and eat Black Mambas. They deliver a powerful kick that snaps the snake’s neck.

Mike van Kal/Shutterstock.com

Black Mambas are at the top of the food chain so there are not very many animals that eat Black Mambas. The main threat to these snakes is birds of prey like Secretary birds and Brown snake eagles. Whiles eagles will swoop down and snatch a snake at the back of the head, hoping to break its neck Secretary birds have a unique snake hunting technique. Secretary birds are tall crane-like birds, some as tall as 4 feet, that have long powerful legs. They hunt on the ground and if they come across a snake they will stomp on its head, snapping its neck in less than a second, faster than a snake can strike!

Is the Black Mamba the Fastest Snake?

The black mamba is not the fastest snake on the planet, but second only to the sidewinder. Sidewinder speeds can reach up to 18 mph, while the black mamba’s max speed is only 12 mph. Still, this is very fast for a snake. These two snakes are not found in the same location, so the black mamba is the fastest snake in its environment.

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness and suggesting actions we can all do to help wildlife. As a former elementary school teacher I have a love for learning and teaching. My goal is to get kids fired-up about animals. Learning about the animals we share this earth with makes life better. When I am not writing I am living the good life with my husband and six kids (we are down to two that are still at home...and our giant labradoodle, Tango!).