Venomous Snakes In Africa: 9 Dangerous Species To Avoid

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash
Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash
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The World Health Organisation reports that venomous snakes are responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa each year. However, since many snakebite deaths go unreported, the actual number is feared to be much higher than this. 

One reason for these fatalities is the abundance of venomous snakes in Africa. There are around 137 species of dangerous snakes living across the continent. But there is also the problem that in some poor remote regions, people cannot access the emergency medical care required when bites happen. 

For these reasons, we urge you to be cautious when traveling in Africa, and we’ve put together a list of 9 of the most venomous snakes to watch out for. But you should also listen to local advice about snake habitats, and if you are bitten by any snake, seek immediate medical help. 

Black Mamba

The Black Mamba is the most venomous snake in Africa.
Photo by Andrew Liu on Unsplash

One of Africa’s most venomous and most feared snakes is the Black Mamba, named for the black of its mouth rather than its body, which is an olive or greyish brown color. The Black Mamba’s venom is highly potent and contains a mixture of neurotoxins – which attack nerve tissue, and cardiotoxins – which impair the heart’s function. This combination, plus the speed at which the venom takes effect, is extremely dangerous, and before the invention of the antivenom, a Black Mamba bite had a 100% fatality rate. Now, a bite need not be deadly, but the victim must seek medical help immediately because the venom can take effect in as little as 10 minutes, and deaths can occur after only a few hours. 

It’s not just the venom that makes this snake so feared, but also its size, speed, and aggressive nature. The snake can reach up to 14 feet (4.5m) long and is the fastest known land snake, traveling at speeds up to 12mph (20km/h). While it doesn’t actively chase humans, it can cover distances quickly, and it will not hesitate to bite when defending its territory or if feeling threatened. 

Puff Adder

The Puff Adder is responsible for the most fatalities from venomous snakes in Africa
Photo by Julius Rückert on Wikicommons

The Puff Adder might not be quite as venomous as the Black Mamba, but it is responsible for more bites and fatalities. In fact, it is the Puff Adder that causes the most fatal snake bites in Africa each year. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, the Puff Adder is more common and more widely spread throughout Africa. And Secondly, the snake’s nature brings it into more frequent contact with humans. 

The Puff Adder spends most of its time basking in the sun and does not move when it hears a predator approaching. Unfortunately, since the snakes’ sandy coloring does a remarkable job of camouflaging them, people often come upon them by accident, stepping on them and causing the adder to strike in self-defense. 

If a Puff Adder bites you, you’ll feel the effects of its venom immediately. There will be pain and swelling of the area, possible nausea, vomiting, and shock. If left untreated, the cytotoxic venom can spread throughout the body, causing tissue death that can ultimately lead to loss of limbs and death. Again, seek medical help immediately because deaths can occur within 24 hours. 

Saw-Scaled Viper

Saw Scaled Vipers are responsible for high numbers of fatalities in Africa.
Photo by Dfpindia on Wikicommons

Across the whole of Africa, the Puff Adder is responsible for the most snakebite fatalities. However, the Saw-Scaled Viper is often the most dangerous snake in the regions where it lives. This danger comes from its aggressive nature and its tendency to strike multiple times rather than just once. But the other reason is that its chosen habitats tend to be in remote regions across northern Africa, where there is little access to emergency health care or anti-venom. 

The venom of the Saw Scaled Viper is haemotoxic, so it impairs blood clotting, causing bite victims to suffer hemorrhaging, internal bleeding, and sometimes kidney failure. Without access to the correct treatment, this can often be fatal. 

The Saw Scaled Viper is also nocturnal, so bites often happen when people come across them by accident. However, when threatened, the Saw Scaled Viper will rub its coils together, make the rasping noise that gave them their name. If you hear this sound while out at night, stop walking immediately and back away slowly. 

Boomslang

Boomslang snakes are highly venomous but don't come into contact with humans often.
Photo by William Warby on Wikicommons

The Boomslang has the unique position of being one of the most venomous snakes in Africa but nowhere near the most dangerous. Boomslang venom is highly toxic, and the amount needed to kill a human is minuscule. But the chances of you coming across one or receiving a venomous bite is just as small. 

These snakes are tree dwellers and are rarely found on the ground. They are timid by nature, wary of all predators, and will avoid confrontation where possible. In addition, the Boomslang is a rear-fanged snake. This means that its venom-carrying fangs are at the back of its mouth, decreasing the chance of a venomous bite occurring, as the snake will often have to bite its prey several times before it succeeds in injecting it with venom. 

Incidences of humans getting bitten by these snakes are low. On the rare occasions that it does occur, it tends to be people who were intentionally handling the snake when trying to capture or kill it.

Mozambique Spitting Cobra

This snake can spit venom up to 3m away.
Photo by Bernard Dupont on Wikicommons

As the name might suggest, it’s not just the bite of the Mozambique Spitting Cobra that you need to worry about. This dangerous snake can spit its venom at predators with impressive accuracy and a range of up to 3m (10ft). This venom is highly toxic and if it gets into a person’s eyes it can cause impairment or blindness.

This snake averagely grows to around 1m (3.2ft) long. They tend to be dark along their backs with a paler pink or yellowish underside. When threatened, the cobra can rear up almost two-thirds of its body length and display its distinctive cobra hood. It is an unpredictable snake that is not afraid of confrontation and will happily spit its venom or strike at the least provocation. However, it will also sometimes play dead when threatened, so it is wise to avoid it even if it appears immobile. 

Gaboon Viper 

The Gaboon Viper has a unique pattern
Photo by Life As Art / Tamara on Wikicommons

The Gaboon Viper is an unusual snake for several reasons. The first is their unique appearance. Gaboon Vipers can grow quite large, on average between 1 and 1.5m (3-5ft) long. They tend to be very stout and heavy and have a series of alternating rectangular and hourglass-shaped markings in shades of brown to yellow. While this might sound striking, it is actually a very effective camouflage on a forest floor of fallen leaves. The Gaboon Viper uses this skill to hide and ambush their prey. 

These snakes are also known for having the longest fangs, producing the most venom, and having the most painful bite of any venomous snake in the world. A bite can cause immediate swelling and blistering of the limb, intense pain, and shock. In addition, victims may suffer internal bleeding and respiratory problems, lose control of their bowels and bladder, and fall unconscious. Without treatment, the venom can have lasting effects, cause loss of limbs, and death. 

Luckily, it is an extremely docile reptile. It is not aggressive and is generally unwilling to bite. However, like the Puff Adder, its camouflage and tendency to lie still when predators pass nearby means it often gets stepped on by unwitting humans, and will bite in retaliation.

Egyptian Cobra

these snakes are not only venomous but are the largest cobras in Africa.
Photo by Godwin Angeline Benjo on Unsplash

The Egyptian Cobra is the largest cobra found in Africa. It grows to an average length of between 1.5 (5ft) and 2 m (6.5ft) but has been known to reach 2.5m (8ft) long. It is also one of the most venomous snakes in Africa and, according to legend, is the snake Cleopatra used to commit suicide. 

The species is recognizable by its size, dark color, and distinctive cobra-shaped head and hood. Despite its name, it’s not only found in Egypt. It is the most widespread cobra in Africa, with habitats scattered across northern and western Africa and as far south as the Congo. It likes savannah and grasslands, agricultural areas and is most often found near water. Unfortunately, it is also attracted to villages and has been known to enter houses. 

Unlike the Mozambique cobra, this species does not spit venom, but it will bite, and its venom contains both neuro and cytotoxic properties. As a result, it can cause swelling, intense pain, shock, nausea, tissue damage, paralysis, respiratory failure, and death. However, with prompt medical treatment, it need not be fatal

Western Green Mamba

The Green Mamba is less deadly than its larger cousin the Black Mamba but its bite can still be fatal.
Photo by Ukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

There are three species of Green Mamba native to Africa: Eastern, Western, and Jameson’s Green Mamba. Each of the three is highly venomous, but the toxicity varies, as do their behaviors and habitats. The Western Green Mamba made our list because it is the most venomous and most dangerous due to its aggressive and unpredictable nature.

The Green Mamba’s venom contains the same dangerous cocktail of neuro and cardiotoxins and the same fast-acting properties as its cousin’s the Black Mamba, although it is slightly less deadly. Within 15minutes of being bitten, the victim will feel the effects of the bite and may suffer pain, swelling, shock, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and have trouble breathing. If left untreated, the Western Green Mamba’s bite can cause death due to respiratory failure, and deaths can occur after only a few hours. 

Western Green Mambas live throughout western Africa, generally in coastal regions of thick woodland or rainforest. They are tree-dwellers, and their beautiful bright green scales camouflage well with the canopy. Unfortunately, they sometimes also slither into the thatched roofs of houses. 

Cape Cobra

The Cape Cobra is is one of the most dangerous venomous snakes in South Africa.
Photo by Ansie Potgieter on Unsplash

The Cape Cobra is the most venomous cobra in Africa and one of the most dangerous snakes in South Africa. The danger stems from the fact that it often lives near human habitations, so it is encountered regularly. In addition, it is an unpredictable snake and becomes nervous around predators, which inevitably leads to bites.

If you come across one, keep your distance and stay calm. If the snake feels threatened, it will rear back and expand its hood, but if you don’t move or provoke it, it should look for a way out and leave without striking. However, if you continue to threaten the snake or if it feels cornered, it will willingly strike.

If it does bite, its venom is highly toxic and will attack the nervous system, respiratory system, and heart. Bites can be fatal, and deaths can occur between 1-10 hours after the bite, so once again, immediate treatment is essential. 

Keep your distance from any snakes, venomous  or not, that you encounter in Africa.
Photo by Hendrik Schlott on Unsplash

What is the most venomous snake in Africa?

The Black Mamba is the most venomous snake in Africa. Its venom is highly toxic and fast-acting, untreated bites are almost always fatal. 

How many venomous snakes are in Africa?

Over 500 species of snakes live in Africa, and around 137 of them are venomous or dangerous in some way.

What is the largest snake found in Africa?

The African Rock Python is the largest snake in Africa. It is a non-venomous species but can grow to the length of 6m (20 ft). 

What snake kills the most humans in Africa?

The Puff Adder kills the most humans in Africa. Although it is not as venomous as the Black Mamba, it comes into contact with humans more often due to its higher numbers and tendency to lie near footpaths and hiking trails. 

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.