There are dozens of dangerous snakes in Africa. Not only is this the continent where wilderness thrives, but it’s also where animals must be at their most evolved in order to survive.
African snakes are prey to countless predators, including the famous cats, who will happily seek out a nest as a meal. So they know how to fight back.
This article shows you the 10 most venomous snakes in Africa. Interesting facts about each species, how to identify them in the wild, and why they are so feared.
Some can grow to 5 meters in length, while others spit venom at their victims. There are dangerous snakes in Asia and Australia, of course, but it’s those in Africa that have the most feared reputation.
As an example, the saw-scaled viper emits a toxin 16 times more venomous than Asia’s most venomous viper.
So read on for the feared and fabled, the legendary and the loved of Africa’s snakes.
Most Venomous Snake in Africa List
Wondering, “what are the 10 most dangerous snakes in Africa?”
Below are some of the most venomous, poisonous, and deadly snakes found in the African wild.
1. Black mamba
The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is Africa’s largest venomous snake, reaching an average of 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. The black mamba is extremely aggressive and will not hesitate to strike. It is incredibly fast and agile, reaching speeds of up to 20 km/h (12 mph).
Despite its name, the “black” mamba is not black. Instead, it is brown/olive or brownish-gray in color. What might be the reason for this African snake’s name is its “inky black” mouth. The snake displays this when threatened.
But what makes the black mamba one of the most poisonous snakes in Africa? The answer is its extremely potent neuro and cardio-toxic venom, which is 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%.
Fortunately, humans do not make up this snake’s diet. The black mamba feeds on creatures such as moles, rats, mice, birds, squirrels, and other small mammals.
2. Mozambique spitting cobra
The Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica) is perhaps the most widespread cobra of tropical and subtropical Africa.
It is one of the most dangerous African snakes, second only to the black mamba.
As its name entails, the snake can spit (“spray” is perhaps more accurate) its cytotoxic venom with great accuracy and reach (jets up to 3 m).
Its venom is as toxic as that of an American Mojave rattlesnake, which is the most venomous rattlesnake in the world.
Any venom to the eyes can cause impaired vision or even blindness. Its bite can also cause severe tissue damage (it rarely happens though as the snake does not necessarily bite).
When needed, the Mozambique spitting cobra can also elevate to as much as two-thirds of its body length. Conversely, it may simulate death to avoid further molestation.
3. Puff adder
The puff adder (Bitis ariens) is responsible for more fatalities than any other snake in Africa. It accounts for about 60% of all snake bites in southern Africa.
Most common on the African continent, this deadly African snake inhabits the majority of regions (except for some deserts and rainforests).
When disturbed, the puff adder hisses loudly and forms a tight coil. Since it relies on camouflage to hide itself and lies still when approached, people tend to step on it and get bitten.
The puff adder also has very long fangs (12-18 mm), making its bite all the more damaging.
When biting, it injects between 100 and 350 mg of cytotoxic venom in a single go. The lethal dose for a human is 100 mg of its venom.
The puff adder has an average length of 1 m. Despite its size, it is quite agile. It generally moves in a similar fashion to the way caterpillars do. But when ready, it strikes sideways at a notable speed.
And if you thought you’d be safe in the water or in a tree, you’re out of luck, as these snakes are exceptional swimmers and climbers.
4. Gaboon viper
The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) is the ultimate ambush snake in Africa. It perfectly blends in with leaf cover and surrounding vegetation.
The venomous African snake ambushes its prey (large birds and some mammals) by standing still and attacks by surprise.
This is impressive given its heavy-bodied (weighs up to 10 kg) and size (grows to over 2 m in length).
The Gaboon viper also has a large triangular head and develops two nostril horns with age.
The Gaboon viper is one of Africa’s most venomous snakes, possessing one of the highest venom yields. While it has a deadly bite, human fatalities are not too common.
Last but not least, it has the longest fangs of any snake in the world (records at 50 mm).
5. Egyptian cobra
The Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is most commonly found in Egypt but is, in fact, the most widespread of African cobras.
The snake has an average size of 1.5-2 m, though some can exceed 2.5 m in length (8 feet).
This African snake also has the third most toxic venom of any cobra, just after the northern Philippine cobra and Cape cobra.
In fact, the Egyptian cobra’s 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.
6. 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.
It gets its name from the “sizzling” warning sound it makes as its scales rub together.
On average, adult vipers reach a length of less than a meter (20-30 inches).
While this snake is smaller than some of the other poisonous snakes in Africa, it is one of the most deadly. The snake’s venom is hemotoxic and very virulent.
According to some researchers, the carpet viper’s venom is five 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).
The boomslang (Dispholidus typusis) is the most venomous rear-fanged snake in the world.
It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Its name, “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 hemotoxic and results in internal bleeding.
Sexual dimorphism is particularly apparent in boomslangs. Females are brown, whereas males are light green with black highlights.
8. Cape cobra
The Cape cobra (Naja nivea) has a highly neurotoxic venom believed to be the most potent of all African cobras.
In fact, the mortality rate in humans is +/- 60% if not treated immediately. Death normally occurs between 2 and 5 hours after it bites a person and is usually the result of respiratory failure due to paralysis.
Its poison aside, the Cape cobra is a beautiful snake that varies both in color (from yellow to copper/mahogany colored and purplish/black), and size (average is 4 feet but can grow to 6 feet).
9. 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 color (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 in Africa: 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).
10. African bush viper
The African 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, etc.).
The bush viper is highly venomous yet relatively passive. It will defend itself when molested. It is also primarily a nocturnal species.
The bush viper often comes to the ground to feed on small rodents, frogs, and lizards. This African snake uses its tail to hang from the low-lying branches and unsuspectedly strikes on its chosen meal.
The leaf viper is usually green but adapts to the environment for survival. An olive-brown or rusty-brown color is not uncommon.
See the Most Dangerous Snake in Africa
However, I must stress that it is extremely rare to encounter any of these venomous snakes in Africa.
If you do see one on safari, then you should consider yourself lucky because few people get to witness such majestic hunters.
Want to learn more about snakes? Check out this guide on anacondas vs pythons.