Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Colubridae
Genus: Dispholidus

The Boomslang - Dispholidus typus

The boomslang is a slender arboreal snake found throughout much of Africa. In fact, boomslang is the Afrikaans word for tree snake. While rarely reaching a length of greater than four feet, it can be a very dangerous snake, due to its potent venom. This is even more noteworthy considering that the boomslang is a Colubrid, very few of which are venomous. Most venomous snakes are either vipers or elapids.

Adult boomslangs are quite variable in colour, from a vibrant green to muted browns, but juveniles have a pale, creamy underside. The funtion of this distinction is not fully understood, because the adult colouration is more suited to almost all situations in which a boomslang is likely to find itself. Features of the boomslang that distinguish it from other tree snakes include its heavily keeled scales, and large eyes, with a round pupil, that is adapted to enable keen vision. Boomslangs have a slightly blunter head than other dangerous arboreal species, such as the green mamba.

Being venomous, boomslangs posess fangs with which to deliver this venom, but being a colubrid, these fangs are located at the back of its mouth. Most venomous colubrids do not pose a danger to man because they are incapable of bringing their fangs to bear in any confrontation, but the boomslang is capable of opening its mouth very wide, thus enabling it to bite targets (such as a human) that are larger than its mouth. To inject significant quantities of venom a boomslang may "chew" on its target. This will inject a large quantity of haemotoxic venom, which causes swelling as blood vessels are broken down, and red blood cells burst. This is likely to kill a human, making the boomslang the most dangerous member of its taxonomic family.

Thankfully however the boomslang is a timid snake, and will usually flee when humans approach. It is likely to bite only if handled or surprised, or when hunting its prey, which includes other reptiles and small mammals. Human bites are therefore rare, but cannot be treated easily, because victims require a specific antivenom, produced from horses that have been gradually acclimatised to the venom, which is not widely available.

Totally adapted to their life in the trees, boomslangs mate whilst still arboreal. Boomslangs are ovoviparous, so the female lays around 10-20 eggs shortly afte, one of the few occasions she will descend to the ground. When they hatch the young boomslangs are usually about a foot long, and capable of fending for themselves.

Other notable venomous colubrids include the mangrove snake, the twig snake & the false water cobra
  • Snakes of the World - Chris Mattison
Cartzca reminds me that boomslang skin is an essential part of a Polyjuice potion in the Harry Potter books.