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Dendroaspis viridis, commonly known as the western green mamba, is a highly venomous snake species native to the forests and coastal regions of Western Africa. Renowned for their striking green coloration and arboreal nature, green mambas are fascinating snakes to keep in captivity.
Habitat and Natural Range: Green mambas are primarily found in the rainforests, woodlands, and coastal areas of countries from Senegal to Togo, and possibly even on the Island of Sao Tome(1). They inhabit dense vegetation and are strongly associated with trees. These snakes are excellent climbers and spend a significant amount of time in the trees and bushes where they hunt for prey and seek shelter.
Appearance: Green mambas have slender and elongated bodies, typically reaching lengths between 6 and 8 feet. Their scales exhibit vibrant shades of green, ranging from emerald to olive green, providing effective camouflage in their natural habitat. These snakes possess round pupils and a distinctive long narrow head shape. Their ventral scales are light green or yellowish, creating a striking contrast with the darker dorsal scales.
Venom and Danger: The venom of the green mamba is highly potent and primarily neurotoxic. It consists of a complex mixture of proteins and enzymes that affect the nervous system of their prey. If bitten, humans can experience symptoms such as respiratory distress, paralysis, and death within 30 minutes of envenomation (2). Prompt medical attention is essential in case of a snakebite, as specialized antivenom is required for treatment.
Behavior and Temperament: Green mambas are generally shy and prefer to avoid confrontations. When threatened, they may exhibit defensive behavior, including hissing, possible spreading of their hood (which is less pronounced compared to cobras), and striking if necessary. These snakes possess remarkable agility and can deliver rapid and accurate strikes without warning. Please remember these snakes are some of the fastest and most venomous snakes in the world and can strike faster than lighting. And while captive green mambas that are well-acclimated to their enclosure and properly cared for can become calmer and more tolerant of their keepers, do not be deceived by this tameness.
Housing: Providing an appropriately sized enclosure is crucial for the well-being of green mambas. A spacious terrarium with minimum dimensions of 6 feet in length, 2 feet in width, and 4 feet in height is recommended for an adult snake. Ensure the enclosure has a secure and escape-proof design, with a tight-fitting lid, as these snakes are excellent climbers and can easily escape. Ludwig Trutnau in his book Venomous Snakes: Snakes in the Terrarium states that mambas show signs of intelligence (1:51), so keep this in mind. The terrarium should also provide adequate ventilation to prevent stagnant air.
Temperature and Humidity: Maintaining the proper temperature and humidity levels is essential for the health of green mambas. Provide a thermal gradient within the enclosure, with a cooler side ranging from 80°F (26°C) and a warmer side and basking spot ranging from 85-90°F (29-32°C). Temperatures should not drop below 65-68°F (18-20°C) at night. Monitor temperatures closely with accurate thermometers.
Green Mambas must always have high Humidity. Levels should be maintained between 60% and 80%. This can be achieved by misting the enclosure daily and providing a humid hide or utilizing a reptile fogger on a timer. Good ventilation is essential to prevent excess moisture buildup and to avoid respiratory issues.
Lighting: Green mambas benefit from a regular photoperiod to establish a day and night cycle. Provide 10-12 hours of light per day using a full-spectrum UVB light. UVB lighting aids in the synthesis of vitamin D3, promoting proper calcium metabolism and overall health.
Substrate and Decor: Choose a substrate that retains moisture well, such as coconut coir. This substrate helps maintain humidity levels within the enclosure. Avoid substrates that can cause impaction, such as sand or small particles that can be ingested.
Incorporate various climbing branches, sturdy vines, and foliage to create a naturalistic and enriching environment. Ensure all decor items are securely fixed to prevent accidental falls or injury. Providing hiding spots, such as hollow logs or artificial caves, is important to offer security and privacy for the snake.
Feeding: Green mambas are strict carnivores, primarily feeding on small mammals and birds in the wild. In captivity, offer appropriately sized prey items, such as mice, rats, or chicks, depending on the size of the snake. The prey item should not be wider than the widest part of the snake’s body. Feeding adult green mambas every 10-14 days is a general guideline, but adjust the frequency based on the snake’s individual metabolism and appetite. It is crucial to provide freshly killed or pre-frozen rodents that have been thawed to room temperature. Never leave live prey unattended, as it may cause injury to the snake.
Handling and Safety: Handling green mambas should be undertaken only by advanced and experienced keepers or professionals due to their highly venomous and agile nature. If handling is necessary, it should be done with extreme caution and with the use of appropriate snake handling tools, such as snake hooks or tongs, to minimize the risk of bites.
Medical Concerns: Regularly monitor your green mamba for any signs of illness or health issues. Look out for symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight loss, abnormal shedding, respiratory distress, or any behavioral changes. If you notice any concerning signs, consult a reptile-experienced veterinarian promptly.
In the event of a snakebite, seek immediate medical attention. Do not attempt to treat a venomous snakebite on your own. Ensure you have the contact information for a reptile-experienced veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic familiar with the treatment of snakebites. A thorough and proper bite protocol in place before a bite is almost the certainty between life and death, don’t leave it to chance, especially with this species.
Keeping a green mamba as a pet is a significant responsibility and should only be undertaken by experienced reptile keepers who can provide the proper care, handling, and safety precautions. The information provided in this care sheet is a general guideline, and it is crucial to conduct further research and consult reputable sources to ensure the well-being of your green mamba.
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