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the web of life in southern Africa

Dispholidus typus (Boomslang)

iNambezelu, iNyushu [Xhosa]; inDlondlo [Ndebele]; Logwere [Tswana]; Legwere [North Sotho]; Khangala [Venda]; Muroxwe[Venda]; Coracunda [Shona]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Lepidosauromorpha > Lepidosauria > Squamata > Serpentes (snakes) > Family: Colubridae > Subfamily: Colubrinae

Left: Boomslang, Western Cape [J.C. Els , from SARCA Virtual Museum]; Right: Boomslang, Western Cape [photo T. Phelps ]

Boomslang, Western Cape. [photo A. Rebelo from SARCA Virtual Museum

Boomslang in small shrub, Kruger National Park. [photo Francois Dreyer ]

Boomslang, Western Cape, with neck inflated in threat posture. [photo C. Dorse & S. van Rooyen , from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Juvenile Boomslang, Mpumalanga [photo CK Willis , from SARCA Virtual Museum]




Can be identified by its large eye (the largest of any snake in Africa), a small head, its ability to inflate its neck when threatened, its keeled (rough) scales, and a two tone colour body (normally), males are often black and yellow while females are brown or olive coloured; there are even some specimens that are red. The Boomslang has the reputation of having more colour variations than any other snake in South Africa. This snake has an average length of 1.3 meters but may reach 2 meters.

Distribution and habitat

The Boomslang has a wide distribution: within southern Africa it is present in almost all provinces except the Northern Cape, it is however absent from the northern part of the Western Cape and part of the Free State. It is also found in Swaziland, southern Mozambique, most of Botswana and northern Namibia. It has a wide habitat range including lowland forest, savanna, grassland, fynbos and Karoo scrub. It is very rarely seen on the ground, being usually found in trees or small shrubs.


Consists primarily of chameleons but also consists of lizards, birds, birds eggs and frogs.

Predators, parasites and disease

This snake is preyed on by birds of prey and other snakes (including its own species).


Oviparous (egg laying) and generally lays between 8 and 14 eggs in late spring or early summer, The Boomslang mates in a tree unlike most other snakes which mate on the ground, It is able to lay its eggs either in disused birds nests or on the ground near a tree. 


Average life span is eight years.

Medical importance

This snake has a lethal haemotoxic venom which although dangerous is very slow acting (it may take 24 hours for the symptoms to become apparent). It requires a unique antivenom which is luckily available from all major provincial capital hospitals in its range. However it is rarely required because the Boomslang is a non-aggressive snake and is seldom seen. Most of its victims are snake handlers who have antagonized it.   



  • Broadley, D.G. 1983. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

  • Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.