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10 Most Venomous Snakes in Africa

Interesting facts about some of Africa’s most dangerous and most venomous snakes!

Black Mamba

  • The Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is Africa’s largest venomous snake, reaching an average 2.5 m in length (8 feet). The biggest ones however, can get as long as 4.5 m (14 feet)! :)
  • It is also the continent’s most feared snake.
  • Extremely aggressive, it will not hesitate to strike.
  • Fast and agile, it reaches speeds of up to 20 km/h (12 mph).
  • Despite its name the “black” mamba is not black, but rather brown/olive or brownish-grey in colour.
  • The snake has an “inky black” mouth displayed when threatened.
  • It has extremely potent neuro and cardio-toxic venom, capable of killing a dozen men in as little as one hour.
  • Without anti-venom, the mortality rate for a black mamba is almost 100%.
  • Diet-wise, the animal feeds on creatures such as moles, rats, mice, birds, squirrels and other small mammals.

Mozambique Spitting Cobra

  • The Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) is perhaps the most widespread cobra of tropical and subtropical Africa.
  • It is considered as one of the most dangerous African snakes, second only to the Mamba.
  • As its name entails, the snake can spit (“spray” is perhaps even more accurate) its neurotoxic venom with great accuracy and reach (jets up to 3 m).
  • Its bite can cause severe tissue damage (happens rarely; does not necessarily bite), while venom to the eyes can cause impaired vision or even blindness.
  • When needed, it can also elevate to as much as two-thirds of its body length.
  • May simulate death to avoid further molestation.

Puff Adder

  • The Puff Adder (Bitis ariens) is responsible for more fatalities (accounts for +/- 60% of all snake bites) than any other snake in Africa.
  • Most common on the African continent and inhabits the majority of regions (except for some deserts and rainforests).
  • Since it relies on camouflage to hide itself and lies still when approached, people tend to step on them and get bitten.
  • Has very long fangs (12-18 mm).
  • Average length is 1 m.

  • Moves in a similar fashion to the way caterpillars move.
  • When disturbed hisses loudly and forms a tight coil.
  • Strikes sideways.
  • Can inject between 100 and 350 mg of cytotoxic venom in a single go. The lethal dose for a human is 100 mg of its venom.
  • Good swimmer and climber.

Gaboon Viper

  • The Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica) is the ultimate ambush snake as it perfectly blends in with leaf cover and surrounding vegetation.
  • Ambushes its prey (large birds and some mammals) by standing still, and attacks by surprise.
  • Very heavy-bodied (weighs up to 10 kg), and can grow to over 2 m in length.

  • Large triangular head, develops two nostril horns with age.
  • Has the longest fangs of any snake in the world (records at 50 mm).

Egyptian Cobra

  • The Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje) is most commonly found in Egypt, but is in fact the most widespread of African cobras.
  • Average size is 1.5-2 m, though some can exceed 2.5 m (8 feet) in length.
  • The snake has the third most toxic venom of any cobra, just after the Northern Philippine Cobra and Cape Cobra.
  • In fact, its venom is so potent it can kill a fully-grown elephant in as little as 3 hours.
  • Some people believe that Cleopatra committed suicide using an Egyptian Cobra.

Saw-Scaled Viper (Carpet Viper)

  • Found North of the African Equator, Saw-Scaled or Carpet Vipers (Echis carinatus) are small yet viciously efficient and badly tempered snakes.
  • Average adult vipers reach a length of less than a meter (20-30 inch).
  • Gets its name from the “sizzling” warning sound it makes as its scales rub together.
  • The snake’s venom is hemotoxic and very virulent.
  • According to some researchers, the Carpet Viper’s venom is 5 times more toxic than that of the cobra, and 16 times more toxic than the Russell’s Viper (one of Asia’s most deadly snakes).
  • Better left alone! :)

Boomslang

  • The Boomslang (Dispholidus typusis) is the most venomous rear-fanged snake in the world.
  • It is found in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • “Boomslang” comes from the Afrikaans word “tree snake”. It is therefore a “tree-dwelling” snake species.
  • Unlike the Gaboon Viper, the Boomslang’s fangs are much shorter, yet it can open its mouth at a full 180 degrees to bite.
  • While fatalities are rare since the species is very timid, its venom is haemotoxic and results in internal bleeding .
  • Sexual dimorphism is particularly apparent in Boomslangs: females are brown, whereas males are light green with black highlights.

Cape Cobra

  • The Cape Cobra (Naja nivea) has a highly neurotoxic venom believed to be the most potent of all African cobras.
  • Beautiful snake that varies both in colour (from yellow to copper/mahogany coloured and purplish/black) and size (average is 4 feet; can grow to 6 feet).

  • Mortality rate in humans is +/- 60% if not treated immediately.
  • Death normally occurs between 2 and 5 hours after a person is bitten, and is usually the result of respiratory failure due to the onset of paralysis.

Green Mamba

  • The Green Mamba is similar to its black cousin in terms of venom composition (only one-tenth as toxic though), yet it differs in colour (glossy grass-green) and size (1.8 m/5.9 feet on average).

  • It is also shy and less aggressive than the black specimen, and tends to be arboreal (instead of mainly terrestrial).
  • There are two types of green mambas: the Western Green Mamba (Dendroaspis viridis; native to West Africa), and the Eastern Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps; indigenous to the eastern side of southern Africa).

African Bush Viper

  • The Bush Viper (Atheris squamigera), sometimes called the “Leaf Viper”, is an arboreal snake species that inhabits the rainforest and woodland habitats of Africa (Congo Basin, Uganda, Kenya…).
  • Primarily nocturnal.
  • Highly venomous yet relatively passive. Will defend itself when molested.
  • Often comes to the ground to feed on small rodents, frogs and lizards. Uses its tail to hang from the low lying branches and unsuspectedly strikes on its chosen meal.
  • Usually green but adapts to its environment for survival: olive brown or rusty brown colour not uncommon.

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29 Responses to 10 Most Venomous Snakes in Africa

  1. Dave and Deb January 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    I am glad that I didn't see any of these while I was camping my way through Africa. That was always my biggest fear. Especially when I had to go to the bathroom.

    • africafreak January 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

      Hey guys! :)

      Talking about bathrooms, back in the days my mother once got an unusual visitor while she was taking a bath (in Burundi). A snake's tail suddenly began to hang from the ceiling…right beneath her eyes! It was a very pretty Boomslang (rather dangerous though), so needless to say she started panicking! :)

      The best part is that we never found the snake after that, although we searched for it throughout the house! Until today, the legend of the "ghost snake" remains… :)

  2. Anil January 10, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Reminds me of a book called Snake Charmer I read a year or two ago. Great story about a snake researcher, I highly recommend it.

    • africafreak January 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm #

      Thanks Anil, will have a look at it! ;)

  3. africafreak January 10, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    Just found another cool video on some of the most venomous snakes in the world! Here it is:

    [youtube _LanZgLozR8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LanZgLozR8 youtube]

  4. marlene January 19, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    We have been hearing for the past 2 days something that sounds like someone is playing on a flute at the back of a very bushy area on our farm (out in the wilderness of mozambique). Our local worker insists that it is made by a very big black mamba and that they do that often. Does anybody know if this is a fact? Please let us know.

    • africafreak January 19, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

      Hi Marlene,

      That's very weird, have never heard of this story before! Did you search the actual bush (be careful though…)?

      Let me come back to you on that one…

      Michael

      • africafreak January 19, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

        Hi again Marlene! :)

        Here's what an expert in snakes, Chris, has to say on the matter:

        A Mamba makes a husky whistle sometimes but rarely! Your "flute" sound is more likely an insect of some type though. Or a cat…lol :)

        Could also be a Rinkhaals…they make some funny old noises…they're thanatonic though, so if you approach it it will play dead until you get too confident and get bitten.

        Little rectifications on Mambas:

        – They are rarely aggressive if threatened, they'd much rather run when encountered.

        – The main venom type is Neurotoxic with smaller parts of cyto and haemo in it; it should always be treated as Neurotoxic with Polyvalent antivenom!

        • marlene January 20, 2010 at 8:24 am #

          Hi Africa Freak
          Thanks for your swift reply. I also doubted the story but our worker is quite insistent. Have lived most of my life in Africa and have never heard of snakes whisteling. The flute sounds more like human action, definitely not husky. I think it could be an Indian Myna. Regarding the rarely aggressive, I must tell you that in this region they are pretty much aggressive. The other day one big mamba even attacked our car when we were driving past it. Perhaps it is the extreme heat or their diet. We have a lot of action regarding snakes in these parts of the woods, they are found quite often near our house, and with 2 kids, a cat and 2 dogs, it is a miracle that nothing serious has happened. Antivenom is not an option in this area and the nearest medical facilities are 45 km away. So it would be properly bye bye if we were to be bitten.

  5. marlene January 20, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Hi guys and/or girls, sorry for the spelling mistakes, just saw it, but with age it seems to only get worse, unlike a good red wine! ;)

    • africafreak January 20, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

      No worries, the spelling mistakes are all gone now; just like magic! :) And thanks once again for your interaction, what you have written about is extremely valuable! Can't believe one mamba actually attacked your car; how is that for a scoop? Lol!

      Was it a black mamba?

      Cheers,

      Michael

      • marlene January 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

        Hi Michael,

        Yes, It was definitely a “biggy” black mamba, at least 4m long. My hubby encounters them almost every day out on the farm. We have them all: puff adders, cobras, boomslang, mega big pythons (not venomous, but still dangerous, can easily kill kids and pets). In the last week only, we have seen 9 baby puff adders on our lawn. We had to destroy them unfortunately, because my hubby finds it an unacceptable risk for the kids, and neither he nor our workers are keen on catching them. It is simply too risky especially considering that they do not keep any antivenom in this region, they don’t even have intravenous supplies most of the time. This is still very much dark Africa. But please do not despair, it is still great to live here, especially the kids do better here than in Holland. They both are suffeing from some form of autism but are doing so much better here it is hardly noticeable anymore. Bye for now I will catch you later on again, but thanks for the info.

        Marlene

        • africafreak January 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

          Sounds like an interesting farm you have there! :)

          Cheers,

          Michael

        • Lisa December 12, 2012 at 8:14 am #

          I live in Mozambique and took a picture of a viper that was at our house. Is there a place I can show the picture so that somebody can tell me what kind it is?

          Also – Marlene – where do you live in Mozambique? What area?

          • Africafreak December 13, 2012 at 11:38 am #

            Hi Lisa,

            If you want, you’re welcome to register on our website (http://www.africafreak.com/register/) to share your image. The system is still in “beta” but you should be able to upload the pic rather easily…

            Let me know if you have any other questions…

            Keep well,

            Michaël

  6. Travel Ideas January 23, 2010 at 6:35 am #

    Fascinating info…and a bit unnerving. Might be interesting for potential Africa visitors if you could say a few words about how unlikely it is that visitors on safari would ever run into any of these!

    • africafreak January 25, 2010 at 9:12 am #

      Thanks a lot for the advice, you are absolutely right! :)

      Chances of bumping into such creatures are slim, but they do exist nevertheless. 9 times out of 10 though, if you ever get close to a snake it will flee in no time.

  7. Bscottcca January 20, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Ok, as a born and bred South African, and living in Namibia and regularly having worked with snakes, I’m seriously concerned on some of the content here.
    As an Advanced Life Support Paramedic, I have also had my fair share of lectures on snakes.

    The Boomslang’s colubrid, back fanged. it uses three pairs of main teeth to pull the food into it gullet. With that being said, the fangs that inject the venom are also on these back fangs.

    As stated above it seems some miss typed or misread info was added:
    “Like the Gaboon Viper, the Boomslang’s fangs are very long, and it can open its mouth at a full 180 degrees to bite.”

    The Boomslang does not have long fangs like a gaboon adder. Gaboon adders fangs can be up to 5cm. Unless the Boomslang is the size of a female, fully mature python, there is no way the fangs are going to get that big.
    Yes, its jaw can roughly open 180 degrees, but the magic of its jaw comes from the way it is articulated.

    Please read Johan Marais Snakes of Southern Africa and correct the mistakes please. before every tourist/visitor to Africa becomes so paranoid they gonna go to restaurants with machettes in case they come across a snake.

    Blue Skies and Peace

    • Africafreak February 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi there,

      Thanks for the very informative comment, it sure shows you’re an expert in the domain.

      In fact, we have a contributors‘ section, so if you feel like it it would be awesome to get some of your knowledge passed across to our audience. Karibu! ;)

      Have a miraculous year 2012!

      Mike

  8. Michael January 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    These certainly are 10 of the top dangerous snakes in the world. I would just like know about Coastal Taipan. I was recently reading a post about this and I came to know that Coastal Taipan are among the top 3 most dangerous snakes in Australia. Are they cannot be found in Africa because you didn’t mention anything about these snakes in your post. I am also reading a lot about snakes in these days and I would like a link where you can find great information about most dangerous snakes from all over the world. The link is venomoussnakes.net/mostdangerous.htm

  9. Michael February 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    There is no doubt that these are some of the most venomous snakes not only in Africa but also in the entire world. I am a big fan of the black mamba and I am glad to find some good information on this post. I would also like to share a link for those who want to know more about the black mamba. Visit venomoussnakes.net/blackmambasnake.htm

  10. sonip November 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    I am hoping that someone could help me. I work in a game reserve in South Africa. While doing a shift the one night I noticed a snake not too far from where I was standing at the time. At 1st I could not see it as it was as dark as the night (only saw the movement), but after getting a flash light I noticed that it was deep black at the top with small black eyes, it has a creamy white tummy and this one was not even a meter in lenght. I have asked all the rangers here, but nobody has been able to identify this snake for me. Someone thought it might be a stiletto snake, but I did some research, and they only go underground. Please help me, not knowing is worse than knowing. Because you don’t know what to expect!

    • Africafreak November 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Hi sonip,

      Can’t help you on that one I’m afraid, but perhaps one of our readers can…???

      I hope you get to identify your snake! ;)

  11. Frank November 30, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    I’ve got a quenstion,

    The dutch army has settled in Burundi, and my question is, can someone give me some information about reptiels or venomes animals.

    Sorry for my grammatic mistakes i’m dutch.

    Thanks allot

    • Africafreak December 3, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for your comment! :)

      The “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes” article is a good start, but if you’re looking for even more info on snakes (and other reptiles), then I suggest you buy the following book (you can get it on Amazon):

      “Photographic Guide to Snakes Other Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa” – by Bill Branch

      All the best and enjoy Burundi, it’s a wonderful country! ;)

      Michaël

  12. Trevor February 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi there

    I have a few friends from Botswana and Zimbabwe who have been telling me a story of a snake that stands and uses its tail to sting rather than bite. They cannot remember the name of it and I cannot find any information on this particular snake. Can you shed some light on this for me? I have never heard of anything like this and rather curious as to whether it actually exists or is a legend of sorts. Thank you.

    • Africafreak February 6, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      Hi Trevor,

      Don’t you think it might’ve been a ray instead lol?! :)

      More seriously, I have never heard of such story and though it “may” be true I am not aware of this type of snake!

      Comment, anyone???

      Hope you get the info you’re looking for! ;)

  13. doctor998 December 28, 2013 at 4:50 am #

    http://www.livefyre.com/profile/29023344/ 3 minutes ago
    I am an avid hunter. I have hunted
    in 2012 and again in 2013 in Northern Limpopo Provence of South
    Africa. (Around Dwaalboom) I am going back in 6 months.  
    In the bushveld there is evidence of
    snake tracks everywhere. But I have only seen one live snake, a black mamba. He
    wanted nothing to do with me and I wanted nothing to do with him. When he saw
    me, he turned to go north and I turned to go south. This arrangement worked out
    very well for both of us as neither saw the other again. But don’t be fooled,
    snakes can be a danger but they usually don’t want a fight. 
    Snakes and humans get into a
    confrontation usually by accident. Look before getting into a vehicle passenger
    compartment and entering your tent or cabin! In the USA, rattlesnake’s bites
    often involve a young male who has been drinking alcohol and then messes with a
    rattler. This usually winds up bad for both snake and drunken young man. In Africa
    it is usually because the snake is cornered or a puff adder is too lazy to get
    out of the area. Puff adders may hiss to warn people but don’t count on it.
    I have been told that each termite
    mount in Africa is probably in inhabited by a cobra or mamba. Be careful going
    around them as you might find a snake coming out from one while looking for a
    rat burrowed in the termite mount. Most importantly, don’t stick your hand anywhere
    you have not looked first.
    These snakes do not want a fight
    with you but they are very dangerous if they feel trapped. In colder seasons in
    South Africa, Mozambique Spitting Cobras may wonder into your cabin to get out
    of the cold. Beware< they feel trapped. Their first reaction is to avoid the
    confrontation by spitting at you from a distance. They can spit 6 feet and aim
    for your eyes. Wash eyes with water (15mintes) and probably no permanent damage.
    Bite is serious. Get to doctor quick. In remote hunting camps, I carry
    Prednisone anti inflammatory medication for first aid to snake bite to reduce
    initial inflammation to toxin.
    Many Afrikaners keep Jack Russell
    Terriers around as pets. This is not by accident. They are fearless trackers of
    snakes. Typically, I put the Jack Russell in my cabin once a day to root
    around. If cobra is hiding in your bedding for warmth, the Jack Russell
    will find him within a minute.
    Don’t be unnecessarily afraid. Just
    be cautious. My friend has lived on a game ranch all of his life in the
    bushveld. Don’t think you are immune from snakes but do not be unnecessarily
    afraid of them either. In 30 years of bushveld life, my friend was bitten by a
    poisonous spider only once. Made him sick for a week. Then life goes on. He
    actively kills any poisonous snake he sees and has never been bite. As a
    visitor, I avoid all encounters with snakes and they don’t go out of their way
    to bother me.
    Always know where the first medical
    office is that would have antivenin.  The Afrikaners are very well
    organized and all ranches and vehicles have short wave radios. They organize
    medical efforts very quickly and get doctors to patients very quickly for being
    in remote third world locators.
    Okay, here is my confession of doing
    something stupid that I will not do again. I was hunting for bushbuck antelope
    on the shores of the Crocodile River in Limpopo, South Africa. These elusive
    antelope live in tall grass along the river banks. So do puff adders who hunt
    rodents in the grass. My Swana tribesman tracker walked ahead of me who
    provided some protection with his keep observations and experience. But the
    Puff adder will not move out of the way and if you step to the side of your
    tracker’s footsteps, you could step on an adder that neither of you saw. 
    Fortunately, I was lucky and never
    encountered a snake in the tall grass. I shot a trophy bushbuck and fed the
    local orphanage for two days. They rarely get met in that area until hunters
    provide it. If you hunt, always remember to share the meat with local tribal peoples.
    They appreciate it and will not poach if they know they will share in the
    hunters’ game meat.
    I hope to see you in Africa on
    my upcoming hunts.
    Best wishes to all.
    Dr Paul Michel
    Optometrist, USA

  14. doctor998 December 28, 2013 at 4:54 am #

    @TrevorHe is talking about he Mozambique spitting cobra. He will spit at your eyes to get you to leave him alone. He can stand about 6 feet tall. Venom in the eyes can be washed out with water immediately without permanent damage. A bite is serious with massive tissue damage.

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