mamba, name for African snakes of the genus Dendroaspis, in the cobra family. Widely distributed throughout Africa except in the deserts, mambas have extremely toxic venom. When attacking they raise the front of the body high off the ground and aim at the head or trunk of the victim. They do not have hoods (as do the Asian cobras), but some can inflate their necks in a threatening gesture. Members of some species are very aggressive, displaying a greater tendency to attack than do most snakes; nevertheless, their reaction to danger is often flight. The so-called black mamba ( Dendroaspis polylepis ), actually dark brown to gray, may grow up to 14 ft (4.3 m) long and is the most feared of the mambas. It lives mostly in open country and preys on small mammals and birds. The green mamba ( D. angusticeps ) is a more arboreal snake, found in forest and bush country. Both are distributed throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. Mambas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Squamata, family Elapidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.