There are four species of mamba, but unfortunately, only one of them gets any recognition. The green mamba is a relatively unheard-of snake that’s nonetheless fascinating. So, what are they like, where do they live, and what makes them so interesting?
The Eastern green mamba (common mamba) is an African snake with a range that spans much of the east coast. They’re bright green, and live in trees. But they’re best known for their venom, which is very toxic indeed. They can bite you with more than enough venom to kill you.
Their venom is both neurotoxic and cardiotoxic, which means it attacks your nervous system and the muscles in your heart. That means if their venom doesn’t paralyze you, it can stop your heart beating. Their venom is just as deadly as other mambas, too. So, read on to learn everything there is to know about green mambas, without coming face to face with one.
Interesting Facts About the Eastern Green Mamba
There’s the Eastern green mamba, which is also called the ‘common mamba’. There’s also the western green mamba, which is quite similar, but has a smaller geographic range.
They are members of the same genus, Dendroaspis. The eastern green mamba’s scientific name is Dendroaspis andusticeps. ‘Dendroaspis’ comes from the Greek, literally meaning ‘tree snake’.
Green Mamba vs. Black Mamba
Green mambas and black mambas are members of the same family and genus, but they’re two different species. This means that they’re similar in terms of things like body shape, type of venom used, fang structure and internal structure. They also share a similar range. However, they’re different in a number of ways.
- The black mamba is a gray or olive color, whereas the green mamba is bright green.
- The black mamba is longer than the green mamba, at between 8 and 10 foot.
- The black mamba’s venom is more toxic than the green mamba’s.
Black mambas are shy and seek to avoid confrontation, just like green mambas.
Eastern green mambas are a bright green color from head to tail. However, if you get up close with one, you can see that they’re not one uniform color.
This is how to identify an Eastern green mamba:
- On each scale, a lighter green-yellow color fades into a darker grass green. But from a distance, they’re a bright green color. Their underside isn’t all that different, although it is a little lighter. They’re green and slender so they can easily blend in with their natural environment.
- The scales themselves are quite narrow and long, and you can occasionally see that they have darker skin underneath. You can see the color poking through, usually dark gray.
- Their heads are not much wider than their necks, unlike many other venomous snakes. They’re noticeably shinier than the rest of their body. In profile, their head is not taller than their neck/body, and their snout is short.
- They are very thin and slender for their length, which is common for venomous snakes. Constrictors need big muscles all the way around their middle, whereas venomous snakes like these don’t. They have long tails that taper very gently to a point.
- Their eyes are quite large, with circular pupils. They primarily hunt based on movement rather than smell, so they need good eyesight! Their snout is a lighter color, verging on yellow. They have a large mouth, too, although they don’t eat large prey.
What’s Their Life Expectancy?
In the wild, they reach about ten years old. But their lifespan is extremely variable because of environmental pressures. Anything from parasites to infections and predators can cut their life short at any point.
In captivity, they can live for longer. One captive specimen lived for almost nineteen years, whereas another lived for fourteen. This is the full length of their natural lifespan, when predators and other pressures are removed from the equation.
Size and Weight
They are medium-sized snakes. Males reach just under 6ft in length, whereas females average 6 1/2ft. Eastern green mambas will continue growing for their whole life. They don’t get to a certain length or weight and then stop growing.
They’ll grow to about three feet in their first year, then reach adult size at about three years. But from there, they’ll keep growing, albeit much more slowly.
In terms of weight, green mambas are very slender. Despite their length, they only weigh about 3lbs. That’s similar to other mambas in the same family, like the black mamba.
Food and Diet
So, what do green mambas eat? It might surprise you to learn that in the wild, they’ll eat a variety of rodents like mice, shrews, and gerbils. That’s hardly what you would expect one of the world’s deadliest snakes to eat, but it’s true.
They’ll also eat birds and bats when the opportunity arises. These are some of the easiest prey items for them to find, since they spend lots of their time in trees. They can also supplement their diet with occasional bird eggs, if they can find them.
Where Does the Green Mamba Live?
The green mamba is primarily arboreal. This means that they live in trees. Across Africa, you can find plenty of tropical rainforests, as well as regular woodland. In total, about 22% of Africa is covered in forests or woodland like these.
This gives arboreal snakes like the green mamba lots of room to spread out, although the woodland isn’t protected, so their habitat isn’t entirely safe. However, they do venture down to the ground. The fact that they live most of their life in trees is why they’ve developed their bright green coloration.
They can also hide in bushes at ground level, if need be. You won’t normally find them on the ground, unless they need to bask in the warm sun.
Remember, green mambas are cold-blooded, just like other kinds of snake. It’s impossible for them to regulate their own temperature, so they need the sun or a warm rock to warm their body for them. They’re primarily active during the day.
Where Are Green Mambas Found?
The green mamba has a huge geographic range. They cover the majority of eastern Africa. You can find them as far north as Ethiopia and Sudan.
From there, their range stretches all the way down the east coast, including Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
Not only that, but their range seems to be continuous. It hasn’t been confirmed by scientists yet, but there seem to be hardly any gaps in the range described above.
The population in South Africa does seem to be isolated from the rest of the species, but aside from that, you can find them almost anywhere on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
Aside from there, you can also find western green mambas, which live in West Africa. These snakes are just as venomous as the eastern green mamba, and look quite similar too.
These snakes sometimes have black bordering around their scales. According to the IUCN, you can find them in West Africa, in Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other coastal regions.
Are Green Mambas Endangered?
Green mambas aren’t endangered. They haven’t been assessed by the IUCN, which is the body that’s in charge of identifying threatened or endangered species. That’s because their range is so wide, and they seem so common, that we can tell they aren’t endangered even without researching it.
However, that doesn’t mean that they’re immune from environmental pressures. It is possible that their numbers are decreasing, just as numbers are decreasing for many species. This is only a possibility, however, and there is no current research to suggest that this may be the case.
Green Mamba Mating Behavior
During the mating season, males will fight one another for the privilege of mating with certain females. They fight in a way that’s similar to other snakes, and looks quite a lot like mating.
The aggressor will first slither on top of the snake that they want to fight. They’ll move all the way up their body, wrapping themselves around the other snake on the way.
They’ll then use their neck and head to try and push the other snake’s head to the ground. The other snake, meanwhile, will be trying to do the same. Even though it would give them an advantage, the snakes will never bite one another, as this would be a waste of venom and would result in a declining population.
Either way, the snake that wins earns the mating rights. These fights can last several hours. According to a paper published in PLoS One, this behavior dates back millions of years!
The male will follow a trail of pheromones to find a female. If there’s a male there already, then he’ll fight the other male, as described above. If not, ‘courtship’ can begin.
The male will move on top of the female, flicking his tongue all the while. If she doesn’t want to mate, she’ll try and get away. If he persists, she’ll even get aggressive.
If she’s happy to mate, she’ll raise her tail. They’ll wrap their tails around one another, and mating will begin. Green mambas mate in trees, so as to avoid any predators disturbing them.
Mating takes place in the summer, and the female will lay her eggs in either October or November. This is later than many common American snakes. Green mambas can get away with laying their eggs later in the year, because their habitat is warm all year round.
When the female lays her eggs, she’ll usually lay them in a hollow tree. The female will lay about ten eggs per clutch. She doesn’t take care of them—she leaves them to their own devices, hoping they won’t get spotted by any predators.
They take between 10 and 12 weeks to hatch. Hatchlings are between 12 and 16 inches long.
Eastern Green Mamba Venom and Bites
Eastern green mambas are highly venomous. Their venom has two separate, deadly effects—meaning that if it can’t kill you one way, it can kill you the other way.
Eastern green mamba fangs are quite small. It might surprise you to learn that a snake as venomous as the green mamba only has fangs that are a quarter of an inch long.
Their fangs are described as ‘proteroglyphous’, which means that they’re small, hollow, and fixed in place at the front of the mouth.
The reason that people think snakes have such long fangs is due to ‘solenoglyphous’ snakes. These snakes can fold their fangs up against the roof of their mouth, tucking them away when they’re not in use. These snakes can have much longer fangs, up to six inches.
Green mamba fangs don’t need to be very long. They’re hollow so that they can shoot out venom, which comes from the venom gland towards the back of their head.
Since they eat quite small prey, like birds and rodents, they don’t need to sink their teeth that far into them in order to get some venom into their bloodstream, or muscle tissue. So having longer fangs wouldn’t provide them with an advantage.
Besides, having fangs that are too long can be a major disadvantage. The longer the fang, the more easily it will break. When you live in the wild, it’s best if your only defense mechanism doesn’t constantly break down. Even though snakes can grow fangs back within just a few days, that’s still a problem. That’s why green mambas stick to their small fangs instead.
Are Eastern Green Mamba Bites Dangerous?
Injected intravenously, the LD50 of their venom in mice is 0.45mg/kg. If you didn’t know, that means that if you injected each mouse in a group of 100 with 0.45mg/kg, 50 of them would die.
That’s not quite as venomous as other snakes, such as the black mamba. The IV LD50 of their venom is mice is about 0.25mg/kg.
In terms of the number of deaths, it’s not clear how many people they kill each year—mostly because attacks occur in regional areas, and records aren’t kept. But hundreds of thousands of people are bitten by venomous African snakes each year, and many thousands die.
What Are the Effects of Its Venom?
Green mamba venom is both neurotoxic and cardiotoxic. Let’s get to grips with what that means. First, neurotoxins are toxins that affect the nervous system.
Essentially, the nervous system is like a big group of cables running through your body, taking signals from your brain to your body, or your body to your brain.
To pick up on these signals, each nerve has a corresponding receptor that picks them up, and translates them into action (like moving your fingers or flinching, or basic things like breathing or your heart beating).
According to the British Journal of Pharmacology, green mamba venom coats these receptors so that they can’t pick up signals. This means your brain can’t tell your body what to do.
First, you’ll start slurring your words and finding it hard to balance. But in the end, you’ll be completely paralyzed, unable to move. The receptors that pick up the brain’s signal to your heart or lungs stop working. So, eventually, your heart stops beating and your lungs stop breathing.
That’s just effect #1, though. Cardiotoxic venom directly attacks the heart. Specifically, it attacks the muscle tissue of the heart, causing it to degrade quickly.
Cardiotoxicity is associated with many things, including chemotherapy and anorexia, but cardiotoxic venom can cause those effects in minutes flat. This makes the action of the neurotoxic venom even worse, because now there are two things stopping your heart from beating.
How Fast Can an Eastern Green Mamba Kill You?
It depends on how much venom they use. If they use lots of venom, then the effect that it has is strengthened, and death comes quickly—in just twenty minutes’ time. If they use just about enough to kill you, then you might be ‘touch and go’ for hours.
Bear in mind, too, that their venom causes other complications like:
- Swelling at the site of the bite
- Tissue necrosis
- Infection at the site of the bite
These complications, especially infections, could kill you on their own. This would take several days’ time. Fortunately, there’s an antivenom you can use. If you’re quick enough, the antivenom completely reverses the effects of the venom.
The more venom the snake used, the more antivenom you’ll need. In severe cases, you might need multiple doses—even a dozen or more.
Are They Aggressive?
If they see somebody coming, they’ll do their best to get away, as fast as they can. To them, you’re a big and threatening potential predator. They’d rather not hang around to find out whether you want to eat them for dinner, or film them for a nature documentary.
To get away from you, they’ll make their way up the nearest tree. Failing that—if there are no trees around—it’ll just try and get away as fast as it can. So, in that way, they aren’t ‘aggressive’ at all.
If you corner and threaten them, though, you can be sure that they’ll fight back. A green mamba that’s threatened will rear up to threaten you right back. Just like a cobra, they’ll flatten their neck a little when they’re reared up. This is called their hood.
It’s not as noticeable on a green or black mamba as it is in king cobras, but the point is the same. It makes them look a little bigger, a little more threatening. They may also gape and hiss. If you’re not wise enough to listen, they will then bite.
How Do They Hunt?
Mambas hunt by sight. They don’t chase after prey; they wait for prey to come to them. This is another difference between green mambas and black mambas, which actively seek out prey.
Green mambas, by contrast, will sit still in the branches of a tree or in some brush. They’ll wait for prey to get closer to them—something like a rodent on its way back to its burrow, for example. When it gets close enough, they’ll strike out.
This is one of the most effective ways for an animal to hunt. They don’t have to expend any energy in order to find sustenance. To help them adapt to this sort of lifestyle, ambush hunter snakes can survive for weeks without prey.
If you were to ever encounter a green mamba in the wild, stay calm. Give them lots of room, and keep to a safe distance, allowing them lots of time to escape.
Fortunately, since it’s unlikely that you’ll ever meet one in real life, all you have to worry about are rattlesnakes and coral snakes.