The venom of the black mamba is extremely potent.  It consists of proteins that are relatively low in their molecular weight which allows the venom to spread particularly quickly through the infected tissues compared to other snake species.  Black mamba venom is made up of many types of dendrotoxins, many of which are cardotoxins, which affect the heart, neurotoxins, which affect nervous tissue, fasciculins, which affect muscles and their involuntary movements, and calciseptine, which blocks calcium ion channels in human cells (read more about this in a study by clicking here). 

These dendrotoxins mainly function to block potassium and calcium channels which are vital to muscle contraction.  With the ion channels are blocked, muscles become paralyzed.  The lethal dose of black mamba venom is anywhere from 10- 15 mg, while the snake will inject an average of 100- 200 mg in a single bite.  A black mamba has even been caught on camera taking down a 7,500 pound elephant with a single bite.  The venom is incredibly powerful, the death rate of a bite is 100% without anti venom.  Death following injection will occur within 3 hours unless medical assistance is reached. Symptoms that will occur if bitten by a Black Mamba include:
•   Vertigo, or dizziness and the perception of motion
•   Drowsiness
•   Aphasia (inability to speak)
•   Opthalmoplegia (paralysis of the eyes)
•   Muscle twitching
•   Abnormally fast heartbeat
•   Shock
•   Decreased blood pressure
•   Loss of consciousness
•   Respiratory paralysis

Photo Courtesy of kibuyu,

In most cases, suffocation will be the cause of death due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles making it impossible for the the victim to breathe.  Even if treated with anti venom, if it is delayed, paralysis of the limbs can occur.  The black mamba is notorious for its venomous bite and is one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest, snake in the world because of it. The black mamba’s venom is not completely catastrophic however.  In a recent study published in Nature magazine, the venom of the deadly snake was shown to possess pain- relieving capabilities.  The venom does this by blocking acid- sensing ion channels (ASIC’s).  More specifically, it is peptides in the venom called mambalgins that block the ASIC’s.  ASIC’s have been shown to be a major player in the sensation of pain in the human body.  Other snake venoms have been show to activate these ASIC’s which in turn causes pain.  Surprisingly, mambalgins have shown the opposite effect.  These mambalgins have been compared to morphine in their pain relieving power, yet they have more benefits, mainly causing less respiratory complications.  The previously terrifying venom of the black mamba now has potentially very powerful therapeutic applications.  To learn more about another extremely venomous animal, click here.

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