Boomslang3 min read

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The word boomslang derives from boom meaning tree and slang meaning snake in Afrikaans. Being one of the venomous snake species found in Africa, the boomslang is most abundant in Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, but the species has been reported as far north as southern Chad, Nigeria, and as far east as eastern Guinea.

The boomslang’s common habitat is wooded grassland, arid savanna, Karoo scrub, and lowland forest, preferring areas with trees and avoiding dry desert type areas.

Most people expect the boomslang to be a beautiful bright green in colour but this is not always the case depending on several different factors such as age, sex and basic colour phases. The adult females are typically olive-brown in colour, while the adult male snakes can be bright green, brownish black or bluish green. There is also a speckled colour phase in males where the scales of the snake are predominantly bright yellow contrasting dramatically with the black skin.

These colours help camouflage them in their natural habitat. Adult boomslangs will average between 4 and 6,5 feet (1,2 to 2 m) in length and weigh anywhere from 175 g to 510 g.

Female hatchlings are a pale brown and male hatchlings are grey with blue speckles; they only reach their adult colours after several years.

One of its most distinctive features is having very large eyes with excellent eyesight in an egg-shaped head. The average life span in the wild is about 8 years.

Being a rear-fanged snake, it has the ability to open its jaw up to 170 degrees when biting. These 3mm to 5mm rear fangs are located right at the back of the mouth, beneath the eyes.

They are capable of folding their fangs back into their mouth when not in use. Because of their particular anatomy, it was thought they were not very well suited to biting humans and were regarded as non-lethal until September 1957.  When Karl P. Schmidt an eminent herpetologist was found dead 24 hours after a juvenile boomslang bit him on his thumb, and believing the small snake couldn’t inject a lethal dose of venom, he didn’t seek immediate medical treatment. He died the next day from severe brain haemorrhaging and respiratory arrest. Being a dedicated herpetologist, he carefully documented the symptoms from the time he was bitten until he died.

The boomslang is a member of the Colubridae family and most colubrid snakes are non-venomous. However, the boomslang has powerful haemotoxic venom that it injects. Its venom affects the human body’s blood-clotting mechanism, resulting in headaches, nausea, sleepiness. If left untreated, the victim may die as a result of internal and external bleeding, although such cases of human fatalities are rare since they are a very timid species. Most bites occur when people attempt to handle, catch or kill the animal. If confronted and cornered, the snake inflates the neck and assumes an “S” shape pose ready to strike.​

Their diet consists of small vertebrates, predominantly birds and chameleons. They will also take lizards and skinks and occasionally other snakes.

Breeding season occurs from July to early October. Sometimes males become more aggressive, resulting in occasional ritualistic combats with other males for the right to mate females in the area.

The boomslang is oviparous, meaning it lays eggs, and it produces up to 30 eggs per clutch, which are laid in hollow tree trunks or rotting logs. The eggs have an incubation period around 3 months on average. The sex of the boomslang offspring is dependent on incubation temperatures.

The hatchlings are approximately 20 cm in length and pose little or no threat to humans, but become dangerously venomous by the time they reach a length of about 45 cm. They shed their first skin within 10 days of birth.

IUCN Red List has it listed as least concern and the boomslang isn’t at risk of becoming endangered or threatened in the near future. The species isn’t listed in CITES.

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Ann Warner

Photo and Article. Ann Warner.

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