Clinical Toxinology Resources Home
Dendroaspis polylepis
General Details, Taxonomy and Biology, Venom, Clinical Effects, Treatment, First Aid , Antivenoms
Dendroaspis polylepis ( Black Mamba )  [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Family: Elapidae
Subfamily: Elapinae
Genus: Dendroaspis
Species: polylepis
Common Names
Black Mamba , Black-mouthed Mamba
Local Names
Swart Mamba , Imamba , N'zayo , Mama
Sub-Saharan Africa
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire ( Ivory Coast ), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Somalia
Taxonomy and Biology
Adult Length: 1.90 m
General Shape
Very large in length, slightly compressed, very slender bodied snake with a medium length, tapering tail. More heavily built than other mambas. Can grow to a maximum of about 4.27 metres. Head is narrow and elongate, with a sharp, distinct canthus and slightly distinct from neck. Sides of the head are almost vertical. Neck may be flattened when snake is aroused, but there is no real hood. Eyes are medium in size with round pupils. Dorsal scales are oblique, smooth, narrow and glossy.
Most common in well wooded savanna near large trees and rocky areas. Also found in riverine forest and woodland ( but not closed forest ), open coastal bush and thicket and even semi desert. Not found in primary forest or desert regions.
Diurnal, terrestrial and territorial. An excellent climber which is equally at home on the ground and in trees. Alert, nervous and extremely agile snake. If approached, they will either make a hasty escape or stay motionless hoping to remain unseen. If cornered it rears its front third of its body, spreads its narrow hood and gapes its mouth hissing and exposing the blackish lining. If further provoked it will strike. Often make their homes in termite mounds, tree hollows or cracks and rock crevices and occasionally in building roofs.
Actively pursue their prey, striking rapidly and often until prey succumbs to the venom. Diet consists of mainly birds and small mammals, but will eat snakes.
Species Map
Small (Approx 20k) version
General: Venom Neurotoxins
Dendrotoxins & fasciculins
General: Venom Myotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Procoagulants
Not present
General: Venom Anticoagulants
Not present
General: Venom Haemorrhagins
Not present
General: Venom Nephrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Cardiotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Necrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Other
Not present or not significant
Clinical Effects
General: Dangerousness
Severe envenoming likely, high lethality potential
General: Rate of Envenoming: Unknown but likely to be high
General: Untreated Lethality Rate: Unknown but has caused deaths and should be considered as highly dangerous
General: Local Effects
Local pain & swelling
General: Local Necrosis
Does not occur, based on current clinical evidence
General: General Systemic Effects
Variable non-specific effects which may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, dizziness, collapse or convulsions
General: Neurotoxic Paralysis
Common, flaccid paralysis is major clinical effect
General: Myotoxicity
Not likely to occur
General: Coagulopathy & Haemorrhages
Unlikely to occur
General: Renal Damage
Unlikely to occur
General: Cardiotoxicity
Unlikely to occur
General: Other
Increased sweating, salivation, "gooseflesh".
First Aid
Description: First aid for bites by Elapid snakes which do not cause significant injury at the bite site (see Comments for partial listing), but which may have the potential to cause significant general (systemic) effects, such as paralysis, muscle damage, or bleeding.
1. After ensuring the patient and onlookers have moved out of range of further strikes by the snake, the bitten person should be reassured and persuaded to lie down and remain still. Many will be terrified, fearing sudden death and, in this mood, they may behave irrationally or even hysterically. The basis for reassurance is the fact that many venomous bites do not result in envenoming, the relatively slow progression to severe envenoming (hours following elapid bites, days following viper bites) and the effectiveness of modern medical treatment.
2. The bite wound should not be tampered with in any way. Wiping it once with a damp cloth to remove surface venom is unlikely to do much harm (or good) but the wound must not be massaged. For Australian snakes only, do not wash or clean the wound in any way, as this may interfere with later venom detection once in a hospital.
3. All rings or other jewellery on the bitten limb, especially on fingers, should be removed, as they may act as tourniquets if oedema develops.
4. If the bite is on a limb, a broad bandage (even torn strips of clothing or pantyhose) should be applied over the bitten area at moderate pressure (as for a sprain; not so tight circulation is impaired), then extended to cover as much of the bitten limb as possible, including fingers or toes, going over the top of clothing rather than risking excessive limb movement by removing clothing. The bitten limb should then be immobilised as effectively as possible using an extemporised splint or sling.
5. If there is any impairment of vital functions, such as problems with respiration, airway, circulation, heart function, these must be supported as a priority. In particular, for bites causing flaccid paralysis, including respiratory paralysis, both airway and respiration may be impaired, requiring urgent and prolonged treatment, which may include the mouth to mask (mouth to mouth) technique of expired air transfer. Seek urgent medical attention.
6. Do not use Tourniquets, cut, suck or scarify the wound or apply chemicals or electric shock.
7. Avoid peroral intake, absolutely no alcohol. No sedatives outside hospital. If there will be considerable delay before reaching medical aid, measured in several hours to days, then give clear fluids by mouth to prevent dehydration.
8. If the offending snake has been killed it should be brought with the patient for identification (only relevant in areas where there are more than one naturally occurring venomous snake species), but be careful to avoid touching the head, as even a dead snake can envenom. No attempt should be made to pursue the snake into the undergrowth as this will risk further bites.
9. The snakebite victim should be transported as quickly and as passively as possible to the nearest place where they can be seen by a medically-trained person (health station, dispensary, clinic or hospital). The bitten limb must not be exercised as muscular contraction will promote systemic absorption of venom. If no motor vehicle or boat is available, the patient can be carried on a stretcher or hurdle, on the pillion or crossbar of a bicycle or on someone's back.
10. Most traditional, and many of the more recently fashionable, first aid measures are useless and potentially dangerous. These include local cauterization, incision, excision, amputation, suction by mouth, vacuum pump or syringe, combined incision and suction ("venom-ex" apparatus), injection or instillation of compounds such as potassium permanganate, phenol (carbolic soap) and trypsin, application of electric shocks or ice (cryotherapy), use of traditional herbal, folk and other remedies including the ingestion of emetic plant products and parts of the snake, multiple incisions, tattooing and so on.
Treatment Summary
Mamba bites can cause severe, even lethal systemic (paralytic) effects. They require urgent assessment & treatment. Admit at least overnight. Urgent antivenom therapy is the most important treatment.
Key Diagnostic Features
Local pain, swelling, possibly necrosis, systemic paralysis, neuroexcitatory features
General Approach to Management
All cases should be treated as urgent & potentially lethal. Rapid assessment & commencement of treatment including appropriate antivenom (if indicated & available) is mandatory. Admit all cases.
Antivenom Therapy
Antivenom is the key treatment for systemic envenoming. Multiple doses may be required.
1. Antivenom Code: SAfSAI03
Antivenom Name: SAIMR Polyvalent Antivenom
Manufacturer: South African Vaccine Producers (Pty) Ltd
Phone: +27 11 386-6000; +27 11 386-6078
Address: Postal address
PO Box 28999
Sandringham 2131
Gauteng Province

Physical address
1 Modderfontein Road
Sandringham, Johannesburg
Country: South Africa
2. Antivenom Code: SAfSAIBK
Antivenom Name: SAIMR Snakebite Kit
Manufacturer: South African Vaccine Producers (Pty) Ltd
Phone: +27 11 386-6000; +27 11 386-6078
Address: Postal address
PO Box 28999
Sandringham 2131
Gauteng Province

Physical address
1 Modderfontein Road
Sandringham, Johannesburg
Country: South Africa
3. Antivenom Code: SAfSII03
Antivenom Name: SII Polyvalent Antisnake Venom Serum ( lyophilized ) ( Central Africa )
Manufacturer: Serum Institute of India Ltd.
Phone: +91-20-26993900
Address: 212/2, Hadapsar,
Off Soli Poonawalla Road,
Pune-411042. India
Country: India
4. Antivenom Code: SAfIBM01
Antivenom Name: Antivipmyn Africa
Manufacturer: Instituto Bioclon
Phone: ++56-65-41-11
Address: Calzada de Tlalpan No. 4687
Toriello Guerra
C.P. 14050
Mexico, D.F.,
Country: Mexico
5. Antivenom Code: SAfSPF02
Antivenom Name: FAV-Afrique
Manufacturer: Sanofi-Pasteur
Phone: +33 (0)4 37 37 01 00
Address: 2, Avenue Pont Pasteur, CEDEX 07, Lyon 69367
Country: France
Dendroaspis polylepis ( Black Mamba ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Dendroaspis polylepis ( Black Mamba ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Jurg Meier ]
Larger version
Dendroaspis polylepis ( Black Mamba ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Wolfgang Wuster ]
Larger version
Dendroaspis polylepis ( Black Mamba ) [ Original photo copyright © Dr Julian White ]
Larger version
Find a Reference
Reference Number: