Africa is home to some of the most dangerous animals on earth, including some of the world’s deadliest snakes. These range from the legendary black mamba to the enchanting gaboon viper.

One of the most common questions asked when in discussion about the deadliest snakes in Africa is ‘which one is the most poisonous?’. Most snakes are not poisonous but venomous. Poisonous substances take effect through being eaten or making contact, whereas snake venom needs to be envenomated into the blood stream in order for it to carry out its desired effect. This means that, assuming you have no major throat lacerations or open internal wounds, you can safely swallow snake venom with no ill effect.

The continent is home to a wide variety of snake species, the majority of which pose no threat to humans. That being said all snakes encountered in the bush should be treated with respect and observed at a safe distance, as even snake experts can sometimes wrongly identify a venomous snake as one of their harmless cousins.

Here are the 10 deadliest snakes in Africa:

Black Mamba

The black mamba is the most feared serpent in Africa and one of the deadliest snake species in the world.

The fastest of all African snakes, black mambas are notoriously aggressive and can move at 20 kilometres an hour (12 mph). They are known to strike out when cornered and are the only snake species known to have actively chased after humans.

The black mamba has well-developed vision and is active both during the day and at night. Their methods of hunting vary between ambush and pursuit, with repeated strikes releasing a neurotoxic venom directly into their victim’s bloodstream. They are also the largest venomous reptile in Africa, reaching lengths of up to 4.2 metres (14ft).

The 10 Deadliest Snakes In Africa
Black Mamba | The 10 Deadliest Snakes In Africa

Black mambas inject enough venom in a single bite to kill 10 fully-grown men. The venom triggers an almost immediate onset of symptoms including asphyxiation and cardiovascular collapse. When untreated, the human death rate is 100% after a black mamba bite, and usually occurs in less than seven hours.

Contrary to their name, these fearsome serpents are not black. Rather their skin is a grey/brown/olive colour. The name comes from the inside of their mouth, which is inky black and used as a sign of aggression when threatened.

They are usually found in savannahs, woodlands, scrub and tree hollows, and are widespread across East, Central and Southern Africa.

Puff Adder

While not as venomous as the black mamba, the puff adder is one of the most widespread reptiles in Africa and is thought to be responsible for the most human deaths of any species.

Along with their distribution throughout the continent, what makes the puff adder one of the deadliest snakes in Africa is their prevalence in areas of high human density as well as their methods of camouflage.

Puffadder © Image credit: 123rf/ Nico Smit | The 10 Deadliest Snakes In Africa

When threatened, puff adders will rather lie still than flee, in order to avoid detection, and most bites occur when people accidentally step on them. Mortality rates are quite low with the majority of deaths occurring as a result of inadequate medical treatment. However these still add up to nearly 32,000 fatalities per year.

Puff Adders are a short, heavy-bodied species that averages at around 1 metre (3.5ft) in length. They’re equipped with long fangs and a potent cytotoxic venom.

Their skin colour varies based on location, which ranges across the whole of Africa, with the only exceptions being the rainforest and Sahara regions.


Found only in sub-Saharan Africa, the boomslang is widely known as one of the most venomous snakes on the continent.

They are a tree-dwelling species, which is where their name was derived (Boomslang means ‘tree snake’ in Afrikaans – a South African language). These intriguing serpents vary in colour, with males being typically light green with black or blue scale edges and females being most often brown. The boomslang sports large eyes and reaches an average length of 1.5 metres (5ft).

the 10 deadliest snakes in africa
Boomslang © African Snakebite Institute | The 10 Deadliest Snakes In Africa

The boomslang’s venom is haemotoxic, which means it works by shutting down the body’s blood-clotting mechanism while simultaneously triggering uncontrollable internal and external bleeding. The slow-acting venom often lures victims into a false sense of confidence, assuming that they don’t need to seek treatment as the symptoms slowly present themselves over several hours. This can increase the severity of the eventual damage.

Human fatalities are rare despite the potency of the boomslang’s venom, as the timid species prefers to flee into the trees when threatened, rather than attacking.

Gaboon Viper

The Gaboon viper is one of the most enchanting and mesmerising snakes in Africa. They also possess the longest fangs of any snake, reaching 5 centimetres (2 inches) in length.

As if the impressive weaponry wasn’t enough, it is also one of the snakes with the highest venom yield, and packs a strong punch with every bite.

The heaviest snake in the viper family, Gaboon’s appear short and chunky, despite growing to a length of over 1.5 metres (5 ft). They can weigh over 15 kilograms (30 lbs) with a full belly.

Gaboon Viper | The 10 Deadliest Snakes In Africa

They boast a characteristically large, triangle-shaped head similar to those of other viper species, and are most often found in heavily forested areas in west and central Africa as well as certain regions in the east and south of the continent. Mesmerising skin patterns, with detailed diamonds and stripes along the length of the snake’s back help provide incredible camoflauge among the messy leaf litter on the forest floor, where they lie in wait ready to ambush their next prey item.

Although their venom is not particularly toxic in comparison to that of the other deadliest snakes in Africa, a single bite can still be lethal.

Gaboon vipers are slow-moving and sluggish snakes that rarely bite unless provoked or stepped on.