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The Black Mamba; Beautiful, Deadly, and Making Medical History

Updated on November 10, 2014
The Black Mamba's eery gaze.
The Black Mamba's eery gaze. | Source

The Black Mamba is named not for it's skin color - which is usually grey or tan - but for it's black colored mouth. The sight of a black mouthed serpent extended almost five feet tall and traveling at a speed faster than most people can run is truly a sight to behold.

The Black Mamba is found primarily in Southern Africa, and lives off of a diet of small mammals and large insects. The Black Mamba can reach lengths of well over 14 feet.

In this Article, we will explore the following topics:

  • When the Black Mamba Attacks
  • The Black Mamba's Highly Toxic Venom
  • How the Black Mamba's Bite Affects it's Victim
  • The Natural Habitat of the Black Mamba
  • The Medicinal Use of the Mamba's Venom


When the Black Mamba Attacks

The Black Mamba's meals consist of various smaller mammals like rats and mice, rabbits, squirrels and any other mammal that is readily available. There may even be the occasional large insect or smaller snakes whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The Mamba will usually strike at it's prey, and hold it in it's jaws until the venom has taken effect. As with other snakes, the Mamba is able to unhinge it's jaw so as to swallow whole it's prey. Once this is done, it makes travel rather difficult for the Black Mamba, so it will usually seek out shelter.

If the Mamba is cornered by a larger animal or people, it's first instinct is to try to get away. However if this is not possible, it will rise up off the ground, flare it's sides so as to appear larger than it really is, and strike the animal and release it. At this point, it is only a matter of minutes before the venom takes effect, and the animal or human is asphyxiated.

Africa's Black Mamba

The Black Mamba's Highly Toxic Venom

The Black Mamba has the reputation of being the world's most deadly snake. It only takes two drops of it's venom to kill a man. The Black Mamba claims over 20,000 deaths each year. Although anti-venom is available, it's not always possible to get immediate medical attention in the remote parts of Southern and Eastern Africa.

The Black Mamba's claim to the world's deadliest snake is largely due to it's 100% death rate unless an anti-venom is administered. The snake's venom is a nuero-toxin, which means that the venom is designed to attack a person's nervous system, resulting in asphyxiation. To put it plainly, the venom paralyses a person's nervous system resulting in a failure to breathe.

Once the venom enters the bloodstream, a person has about 20 minutes to get an anti-venom shot to work against the toxins. Although a person can live up to 4 hours later, the effects of the venom may not be reversible if the venom is given after 20 minutes.


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How the Black Mamba's Bite Affects it's Victim

The Black Mamba would rather stay away from humans all together, however, it will become very, very aggressive if it feels that it is being threatened, or cornered. This happens all too easily in an environment where people are living or working in.

In most events, victims don't see the snake, until it is too late and the snake strikes. But the Black Mamba will give off warnings if given the chance. When threatened, the Mamba will extend itself off the ground to help give it's stature a more larger appearance. It will flare it's hood and move it's coffin-shaped head much like a Cobra snake would.

If the Black Mamba is feeding, it will strike it's pray and hold on, but if it is a larger pray or human, it will strike out several times before turning and scurrying away towards safety.

Most of the Black Mamba's victims never see the viper until it is too late.
Most of the Black Mamba's victims never see the viper until it is too late. | Source

The Natural Habitat of the Black Mamba

The Black Mamba can be found in South and East Africa. They do not prefer one area over another, and can be found in just about all environments of the region; desert, rocks and cliffs, and wooded areas.

Hollow trees, crevices, and other nooks and crannies are perfect homes for the Black Mamba snake. Since the Mamba can bring it's body to stand almost five feet tall, it makes it easier for this snake to reach higher areas. Tree branches are not a problem, it's ability to reach high branches makes it possible for the Mamba to easily maneuver through trees or onto other trees without having to return to the ground again.

Large insects, centipedes, lizards, and small mammals make quick meals for the Mamba. It will swallow it's prey whole, and find shelter or safety until the meal is digested. Although there are few enemies above the Mamba's food-chain like the mongoose, there are none that impacts the Mamba's existence like man's influence over nature.

Roadways are very dangerous for the Mamba and other smaller wildlife. It's not uncommon to see several snakes that have been run-over by cars on the side of the road. The sprawling effects of the encroachment of farms and homes into the bush will continue to bring more Black Mambas and people face to face. Yet as of this writing, snake-bite antidotes are still slow to reach the more remote locations of Africa.


The Medicinal Use of the Black Mamba's Venom

Although the Black Mamba snake's venomous bite has the ability to kill a man in a matter of minutes, the same venom may be used to actually help in saving lives.

Scientists have found a peculiarity in the venom of the Black Mamba. A painkiller similar to morphine was found - though the question of why it is needed stomps scientists. The protein found in the Black Mamba's venom is called Mambalgins. It may have different effects with other animals, but as far as the scientists are concerned, this new development may have the means of a new painkiller that is actually better than morphine, without most of the side effects.

Morphine uses a opioid pathway... this could easily get very complicated, so I will link you to a "Science Alert" bulletin, and give you the lay-man's explanation of this incredibly awesome discovery.

Okay, so Morphine is the drug of choice for post-op recovery - patients are in a lot of pain after surgery, and Morphine is the king of pain. The only problem is that morphine uses an opioid pathway to numb the pain - which is where all the problems occur. The opioid pathway side-effects like addiction, and respiratory distress are just a couple of the side effects associated with morphine and other drugs that operate on the opioid pathway. The new protein from the Black Mamba called "Mambalgins" targets nociceptors (Nerve cells that normally send pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.)which is on a different pathway than the opioid path which morphine travels on.

Although we are still a long way from seeing the Mambalgin drug in hospitals, testing the Mambalgin protein on lab rats have already begun. Hopefully, we'll see results in the not too distant future.

In all you do, have peace.

Mongoose vs Black Mamba


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    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 2 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Arun I understand your dilemma. I'd like to jump right onto the back of a killer white - just to show it who's boss for daring to be seen so far South in the Pacific ocean...sigh, but like you, I dare not. (Killer white sighted in Hawaii in an area where I like to fish and swim)

    • profile image

      Arun Rajaram Cincinnati 3 years ago

      Arun Rajaram from Cincinnati (origally Koimbtoor). I have a brown Mamba. Very frisky. I dare not play with him, although i would like to.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Hi travmaj, thanks for reading and your comment - but yes, I'd rather not meet this one... a foot race sounds appropriate though. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for stopping by AliciaC, and thanks for your comment. We are still a long way off from seeing the final product, although a patent was applied for, and research has been under way in France. Peace. Kawi.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      It is a striking looking snake but think I'd rather not meet it. This is a most informative and fascinating look at the Black Mamba. Thank you

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting and enjoyable hub. It would be wonderful if black mamba venom has medicinal benefits!

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Hey JKenny, thanks for dropping by - there have been survivors, no documentation - but some of the tribes members say that there have been survivors that have survive through the aid of their village doctors - some of which still have an awesome array of healing powers through the use of natural herbs and roots. Medical science are only recently openly tapping into this vein of medicine that has been around since the hills... better late than never I guess. Peace. Kawi.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Awesome article. I remember watching a documentary about the Hadza tribe in Tanzania, and one of their number had actually managed to cure himself from a black mamba bite, and even had scars to prove it. Apparently its known as the 17 step snake, because, normally, once bitten you take 17 steps and then die.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Snakesmum!? I love it. I agree with you on both accounts. I also hope that research progresses on the 'mambalgins'. Thanks for stopping by. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for the good words Alpha - I enjoyed learning about the mamba. Peace. Kawi.

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 3 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      Thanks for stopping by Flourish, always a pleasure to hear from you. Yes, from it's name you would already assume that the snake would be black, but surprise! Peace. Kawi.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Venomous and extremely dangerous as it is, the black mamba is still a beautiful snake!

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      This was an awesome read KawikaChann, as I am an avid Reptile lover and the Black Mamba is one of my favorites. Thumbs up on your hub.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Very interesting and I do hope the mamba's venom provides an end use pain treatment. My first question had to do with the animal's color and you answered that quickly.