Venomous African snakes list – 10 most dangerous species

The most venomous snakes in Africa

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.

Although you can encounter these snakes safely as you would with a hippo or a cheetah, they must be treated with the utmost respect.

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

Black mamba portrait in its natural habitat

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

Mozambique spitting cobra hiding under leaf cover

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

Large puff adder portrait, with its head sticking out

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

Gaboon viper head shot portrait, with its tongue sticking out

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

Egyptian cobra sticking its head out of a crevice in the Masai Mara

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)

Portrait of a saw-scaled viper warming itself on a rock

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).

7. Boomslang

Green boomslang in the bush

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

Large Cape cobra in a tree

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

Green mamba swimming in the Nile, Murchison Falls National Park

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

Spectacular African bush viper head shot

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

Think of Africa, and snakes perhaps aren’t the first wildlife that springs to mind. Not with lions, leopards, rhinos, etc. I still think they are a beautiful and under-appreciated piece of the wild.

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.

44 thoughts on “Venomous African snakes list – 10 most dangerous species”

  1. Hi, on re reading some of my comments I would like to apologise for any offence caused by their somewhat caustic nature, and despite my own understanding, I really do value the opinions of others.

    Many thanks and regards.

  2. A word of advice, to any who might read the advice on this page, please take professional advice instead, as the information being supplied is often inaccurate at best.

    If intending to visit South Africa, Australia, or indeed any other country with venomous snakes please instead consult an expert who is properly able to assist you.

    Regards.

  3. @TrevorHe is talking about the 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.

    1. No, lol he can’t stand 6ft tall, perhaps (optometrist, with the letter dr, now could you please explain that) you should seek the advice of someone qualified before you post.

      many thanks.

  4. 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 if 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

  5. 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.

    1. 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. 😉

  6. I’ve got a question,

    The Dutch army has settled in Burundi, and my question is, can someone give me some information about reptiles or venomous animals.

    Sorry for my grammatic mistakes I’m Dutch.

    Thanks allot

    1. 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

      1. Richard Stevens

        Anything by Bill Branch will be an excellent reference – I knew him when he lived in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha…), I was mates with his three sons. Brilliant man who gave so much to Herpetology, some of the critters he brought home to show us I consider myself very lucky to have seen!

  7. 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!

      1. But the advice of your friend seems correct as the markings are accurate and they do on occasion surface, the don’t spend all of their time underground.

        Best to avoid handling this species.

        regards.

  8. 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

  9. 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

    1. Michael, taipans are Australian snakes. There are two species, both of which are lethal. Many people confuse ‘dangerous’ with ‘venomous’.

      I could list many more venomous snakes that are not as ‘dangerous’ because it is so unlikely that you would come into contact with them.

      You might want to look up the death adder (actually an elapid, and not a ‘viper’ at all) yet another truly venomous Australian elapid.

  10. 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

    1. 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

      1. I am very concerned about your post as well, the main proponent of the mozambique spitting cobra’s venom is ‘cytotoxic’ not ‘neurotixic’, I think that you should pull the page before your advice gets somebody seriously injured or killed.

        regards.

        1. Hi Mark!

          I suppose you meant “neurotoxic”?

          It indeed seems the Mozambique spitting cobra’s venom has a predominantly cytotoxic effect (though it also has additional neurotoxic effects). Thanks for pointing that out, I have made the adequate adjustment! 😉

          Cheers!

    2. I do support your post, but it is somewhat inaccurate, remember when we refer to ‘back fanged’ those fangs are actually mid way down the mouth, the snake does not need to chew as is commonly believed.

  11. 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!

    1. 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.

  12. 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! 😉

    1. 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

      1. 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

        1. 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?

        2. marlene, you can easily pick them up with a hook drop them in a basket and give them to someone else, there is no need to kill them.

      2. There are serious factual errors on your page, such as mentioning that the mozambique spitting cobra has ‘neurotoxic’ and not ‘cytotoxic’ venom.

        Among other errors could you please seek someone who has more experience to guide you in writing your posts.

        You should not be giving advice to others.

        Regards.

  13. 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.

    1. 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

      1. 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!

        1. 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.

    1. 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… 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *