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Tourist Captures Rare Black Mamba Fighting Technique On Camera

Are they fighting or...?

by Sarah Emerson
May 25 2016, 6:25pm

GIF: National Geographic

Just like freestyle wrestling, it's hard to tell whether these two black mambas are fighting or trying to get it on.

The amateur video was shot by Kirstie Bowers of Johannesburg while on safari in South Africa's Pilanesberg National Park. What she managed to capture was a rarely seen fighting technique exhibited by male black mambas over what can reasonably be assumed is a nearby female.

"That's a really nice video," Kenneth Krysko, a herpetology collection manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told National Geographic. "It really shows two males in a classic combat behavior, with each trying to make the other one submit."

Black mambas are sleek, olive-colored snakes (their name actually refers to the black tone of the insides of their mouths), and are fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa. They're most often found on the ground in well-wooded savannas, and prefer to steer clear of humans. Due to their shyness, it's proven difficult for herpetologists to observe their behavior in the wild.

According to Krysko, what this video shows is two black mambas engaging in "plaiting combat." The term is derived from the way snakes will wrap or "plait" their bodies around each other while locked in battle. During these interactions, the two males might occasionally bite one another, but they'll rarely ever inject their venom, and will continue to spar until one of them submits.

"You are very fortunate if you get to witness this cool biology," Krysko told National Geographic. "It's certainly not mating, which looks quite different."

The mighty black mamba is considered one of the fastest and deadliest snakes in the world. In South Africa, their bite is often called "the kiss of death," and contains enough neurotoxins to kill 15 adult men. Untreated, a black mamba bite is 100 percent fatal. And although an antivenom exists, the antidote is difficult to come by where it's needed most in parts of southern and eastern Africa.

However, despite its reputation, black mambas don't seek out confrontations with humans, and will generally only attack when feeling threatened. While the species isn't currently threatened, habitat destruction due to human development could pose a risk to these snakes in the future.

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