There are dozens of dangerous snakes in Africa. Not only is this the continent where wilderness thrives, it’s where animals must be at their most evolved in order to survive.
Snakes in Africa 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 of them; 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.
1. 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.
2. 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 cytotoxic 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.
3. Puff Adder
- The Puff Adder (Bitis ariens) is responsible for more fatalities (accounts for about 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 it 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.
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.
- 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).
5. 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.
- This African 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.
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.
- 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! 🙂
- 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.
8. 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.
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 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 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 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. This African snakes uses its tail to hang from the low lying branches and unsuspectedly strikes on its chosen meal.
- Usually green but adapts to the environment for survival: olive brown or rusty brown colour not uncommon.
Snakes in Africa & More African Wildlife
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 as lucky, because few people get to witness such majestic hunters.