Why the Black Mamba is the World’s Most Dangerous Snake

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: August 9, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The black mamba is dangerous because it has an intensely potent venom and the ability to attack high on a person’s body where the venom can do more damage.
  • Unlike other snakes that sometimes inflict “dry bites” without venom to scare away predators – the black mamba ejects full capacity venom every time.
  • The black mamba’s venom is so dangerous and can act upon the human body so quickly, that it has a 100% mortality rate if it is not treated with a full course of anti-venom. 14% will die even if treatment is administered.

When we consider the most dangerous snakes in the world, the black mamba stands alone at the top of the list. Now, some people are going to disagree. After all, the black mamba isn’t the most venomous snake and it doesn’t kill as many people as other snakes like Indian cobra or Russell’s viper.

Those statistics aren’t what we’re looking at in this case. Instead, we’re going to focus on the rare combination of physical characteristics, venom, and hunting prowess of this incredible snake that makes it so deadly to human beings. Discover what makes the black mamba the worst snake that a person can run into in the wild.

The black mamba is dangerous because it has an intensely potent venom and the ability to attack high on a person’s body where the venom can do more damage.

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Black Mamba’s Venom Makes It the World’s Most Dangerous Snake

Black mambas are rarely black, and they're actually named for the inside of their mouth.

Black mambas are rarely black, and they’re actually named for the inside of their mouth.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

The header says it all: black mamba venom is a potent cocktail that includes powerful neurotoxins. The venom starts affecting the individual who is bitten within ten minutes, causing a wide variety of effects such as dizziness, blurred vision, ataxia, and many others.

After 45 minutes, an adult can collapse from these effects. Within 7-15 hours, an individual can suffer respiratory and cardiovascular failures leading to death. However, some individuals can die much faster.

Many snakes have venom that can kill humans, but the speed with which the black mamba venom impacts humans is faster than average.  

Envenomation Rate

Although black mambas bites doesn’t cause necrosis or swelling, the fact is that the snakes inject a lot of venom per bite. On average, they inject 100-120g of venom into a human, and the maximum envenomation ever recorded for a bite was 400g. That is somewhere between 10x and 40x the amount of venom that is needed to kill a single adult.

The overkill on their envenomation is just one factor, though. Many snakes around the world do not want to waste their venom on something that they cannot eat. That includes humans. Venomous snakes will sometimes use a “dry bite”, a bite without venom in it to get humans to back off and leave them alone.  

That does not happen with black mambas. In fact, it is believed that 100% of all black mamba bites, or slightly under that rate, use venom. They also have long teeth that penetrate deeply through clothes and flesh. If a person is bitten by a black mamba, there is little question about it: their life is in serious danger.

Mortality Rate

The black mamba’s venom is so dangerous and can act upon the human body so quickly, that it has a 100% mortality rate if it is not treated with a full course of antivenom. These attacks usually happen somewhat far from cities where a person can seek effective aid . Furthermore, the rapid onset of symptoms could prevent a lone person from getting the help they need.

Even if a person is given a full course of antivenom, they still have a 14% chance of dying as a result of the bites. The black mamba has an incredibly powerful venom that makes it the world’s most dangerous snake.

Other Factors That Make Black Mamba the World’s Most Dangerous Snake

Black mamba in a defensive posture

A black mamba can raise up to 40% of its body off the ground, explaining why most bites are on the upper body.

©Cormac Price/Shutterstock.com

Venom alone isn’t enough to make a snake dangerous or we would be talking about one of the taipans or sea snakes. Instead, we are going to delve deeper into factors that make the black mamba so very hazardous. You’ll see how a combination of factors leads to black mambas being deadly.

Aggression When Cornered

The black mamba may react more aggressively than other snakes when it is threatened or cornered. More specifically, they may be more willing to bluff charge or bite than other species which bite as more of a last resort.

Their apparent willingness to engage threats makes black mambas appear to be more aggressive. Like other snakes, though, they would prefer to leave an encounter and escape. They do not want to waste their venom on something they cannot eat.

People that try to handle the snake or get in their way of escaping from an encounter may be met with its deadly bites.

Speed

Most snakes are relatively slow-moving except when striking. Some sources say that the black mamba can move at about 7 to 12 mph. The latter speed is even faster than the average human.

A black mamba will not chase down a person to attack them. Typically, they will use their speed to escape from a threat, like a human. Myths of them chasing people on horseback are simply false. However, their speed does make getting away from a close encounter with a black mamba that feels threatened a bit more difficult.

Ability To Land Bites on the Upper Body

Black mambas are long snakes. In fact, they are the second-longest venomous snake in the world, only behind the king cobra. Growing up to 14-feet long makes the black mamba a very formidable snake. The more worrisome element is that it can lift up to 40% of its body off the ground.

The venom will have a much shorter distance to reach vital organs. As a result, people suffer from increased health complications from these bites than snakes who bite ankles.

The unique physiology of the black mamba along with its behaviors increase the danger posed by this venomous snake.

The World’s Most Dangerous Snake is Not the Deadliest

Black mamba

When threatened, a black mamba will often spread a narrow cobra-like hood.

©131346563/Shutterstock.com

The black mamba is the world’s most dangerous snake due to its massive potential to inflict harm upon people. However, it’s not the deadliest snake in the world by any measure. The black mamba doesn’t bite as many people as Russell’s viper or other members of the Big 4 in India.

While the chances of a person surviving a bite are rather low, relatively few people are bitten by the black mamba. Fortunately, this snake lives far away from the most highly populated places. The same cannot be said about the snakes that live in the Indian subcontinent. In that area, over a billion people share land that is rife with deadly snakes.

While the black mamba is not even in the top 10 snakes in terms of being the deadliest, it has far more potential to kill people than other snakes. We should be collectively thankful that the black mamba is not more prevalent in the world today.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © NickEvansKZN/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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