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Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)



Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
Order: Squamata, Family: Elapidae

Despite its name, the black mamba is rarely black, but uniformly dark olive to brown or steel gray above and grayish-white below. It often has black speckling along the back half of its body. Although the black mamba's scales are deep olive or gray, the skin between the scales and the inside of the mamba's mouth are black. The black mamba averages 8 to 9 feet long, although 10- to 12-foot specimens are not uncommon. Some mambas grow to as long at 14 feet. It has a long, slender coffin-shaped head.



I. DESCRIPTION:
  • Despite its name, the black mamba is rarely black, but uniformly dark olive to brown or steel gray above and grayish-white below. It often has black speckling along the back half of its body.
  • Although the black mamba's scales are deep olive or gray, the skin between the scales and the inside of the mamba's mouth are black.
  • The black mamba averages 8 to 9 feet long, although 10- to 12-foot specimens are not uncommon. Some mambas grow to as long at 14 feet.
  • It has a long, slender coffin-shaped head.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
  • The black mamba's range encompasses South Africa (Pondoland, Natal and Transvaal), Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, Zaire and eastern Africa.
  • It inhabits lower-altitude areas in savannas, semi-arid bush country, open woodlands and rocky outcrops.
  • Of the four species of mambas, the black mamba is the most terrestrial; however, it will sometimes ascend trees to search for prey, bask or escape predators.
  • Black mambas usually live in unused termite grounds, tree hollows, rock crevices or mammal burrows.
III. DIET:
  • The black mamba's diet consists mainly of small warm-blooded prey, including rats, mice, squirrels, bushbabies, voles and birds.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
  • Black mambas are shy and extremely nervous, usually fleeing at the first sign of human encroachment. They rarely let people get closer than 75 feet to them.
  • Black mambas are diurnal, usually emerging in the early morning to bask and then forage for prey.
  • They mate in the spring, and copulation can last for hours or days.
  • The male black mamba locates the female via her scent trail. There is much foreplay, in which the male checks out the female by "looking" her over with his tongue.
  • The female black mamba lays up to 14 eggs at once. The eggs are long and thin, averaging 1 1/2 to 2 inches long and 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide.
  • Young hatch after 90 to 96 days, and measure 18 to 24 inches.
  • Captive black mambas have been known to live for up to 12 years; however, mambas in the wild probably live for much less time.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
  • When agitated, the black mamba raises the front of its body and head off the ground (up to 3 to 4 feet), then spreads a flat hood. It will then shake its head and open its mouth wide to show the black interior.
  • When striking, the black mamba delivers quick multiple bites, then dashes for freedom.
  • The black mamba's venom is a highly potent neurotoxin and cardiotoxin with an average adult yield of 100 to 120 mg. The approximate lethal dose for a human is 10 to 15 mg.
  • Mambas (along with taipans and death adders) have the longest fangs of all elapids. These snakes most likely evolved such long fangs in order to penetrate the feathers of birds.
VI. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT:
  • The black mamba like many snakes plays a crucial role in controlling the populations of rodents and other prey.
  • Scientists are also studying the black mamba's venom for use as a pain killer. It has also been used to promote blood coagulation.
  • Human ignorance is the only truly bad thing about the black mamba. Black mambas can indeed be aggressive, and their bite potentially lethal, so people should treat them with respect and keep their distance. However, the black mamba does not naturally prey on man and humans shouldn't prey on the black mamba either.
VII. MORE FACTS ABOUT THE BLACK MAMBA:
  • The black mamba is the world's second-longest venomous snake next to the king cobra.
  • Known as the world's fastest snake, the black mamba can reach speeds of between 7 and 12 mph and possibly as fast as 15 mph for short distances while chasing prey.
  • Death from a black mamba bite can occur in less than 15 minutes. However, the average time from bite to death is four hours.
  • Before the advent of mamba antivenins in the mid-1960s, black mamba bites were 100 percent fatal.



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