Dendroaspis polylepis (Black mamba, Southern brown mamba)

Swart mamba [Afrikaans]; iMamba [Xhosa]; iMamba ennyama [Zulu & Ndebele]; Mokopa [Tswana & North Sotho]; Khangala [Venda]; Hangara [Shona]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Lepidosauromorpha > Lepidosauria > Squamata > Serpentes (snakes) > Family: Elapidae > Genus: Dendroaspis

Dendroaspis polylepis (Black mamba, Southern brown mamba), Mpumalanga [M. Douglas & C. Hobkirk ©, from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Dendroaspis polylepis (Black mamba, Southern brown mamba), Limpopo [G.Tomsett © from SARCA Virtual Museum]


The Black mamba can be identified by the following features, a uniform olive brown or grey body, a coffin shaped head, a black throat lining (which gives it its name), its jaws forming a  "smile" and its ability to move with a third of its body of the ground. It is important to note that snake is only active during the day. This snake usually averages 3 meters but may reach up to 4.5 meters. This snake is strictly diurnal

Distribution and habitat

This snake has a fairly confined distribution in South Africa only occurring  northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, However it is widespread in the following locations Swaziland, southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and a large portion of Namibia. Its preferred habitat includes the following, termite mounds, hollow tree trunks and small hillocks in lowland forest or savanna. It is important to note that it can also climb into trees or shrubs.


Primarily feeds on rodents, squirrels, hyraxes (dassies) and fledgling birds

Black mambas eat fledgling birds and are made to feel unwelcome by adult birds such as this Meves's starling (Lamprotornis mevesii) flying down low over a Black mamba in the Mapungubwe National Park. [photo Johan van Rensburg ©]

Predators, parasites and disease

Has very few animals which feed on it, however it is occasionally eaten  by other snakes and birds of prey ( e.g. Secretary birds and Snake eagles). Juveniles can be eaten by a variety of predators such as Red-billed hornbill - see image.


Red-billed hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) eating juvenile Black mamba. [photo Lorinda Steenkamp ©]



Oviparous (egg laying), laying between 10 and 25 eggs which are laid approximately 55 days after mating ( during which the males will engage in combat) takes place in late spring or early summer.


Has been known to live for up to 20 years.

Medical importance

Produces a powerful neurotoxic venom, which although less powerful than the Cape cobra's is more deadly. This is because of the snake's ability to inject large quantities of venom and because its height enables it to inject venom at chest level. it is for these reasons that the Black mamba has the title of being Africa's most deadly snake, This in spite of an antivenom being available.   



  • Broadley, D.G. 1983. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

  • Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.


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