Male Black Mambas in 'Full Combat Mode' Fight over Female at Top of Tree

Two male black mambas have been observed in "full combat mode" as they battled at the top of a tree over mating rights with a nearby female.

Nick Evans, a South Africa-based snake rescuer, was called to a home in Queensburgh, a suburb of Durban, to look into a case of a pair of black mambas moving into the roof of a house. According to the residents, the snakes would commute to and from their roof using nearby trees, leaving in the morning and returning in the late afternoon.

"Movement caught my eye at the top of the tallest tree," said Evans in a Facebook post. "All of a sudden, two mambas emerged out of the thicket, at the top, in full combat mode! They were intertwined, wrestling, moving in the canopy at speed. I was in disbelief!"

black mamba
Stock image of a black mamba gaping as a threat display. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Black mambas are one of the most venomous snakes in the world, and can be very aggressive when threatened. Its bite, if left untreated, has a fatality rate of 100 percent. The venom contains neurotoxins, with symptoms setting in within 10 minutes of the bite.

Black mambas generally eat small mammals and birds, although some mambas have been found with whole parrots or fully-grown cobras in their stomachs. Considered Africa's longest venomous snake, black mambas can reach up to 14 feet in length, and can travel at speeds of up to 12.5 miles per hour.

According to Evans, it is common for male black mambas to fight during the South African winter, which is when they compete for mating opportunities. Rival males compete for a female by wrestling with their necks and twisting their bodies together to overwhelm the other.

"They don't kill each other, it's just a wrestling match till one gives up and moves off," he said.

"One male was tiny. Around 1.5m [5 ft]. I wouldn't have thought one that size would get involved in such behavior. The other male was about 2.5m [8 ft 2 in]," said Evans.

The two snakes at the Queensburgh house moved downwards, and Evans missed an opportunity to catch the larger male.

"Any other day I would have caught it. I think I was just in shock. I was kicking myself! I saw the smaller male sailing away through the trees. It learnt its lesson," he said.

Later, as Evans was waiting near the roof for the mating pair to come back to their temporary home, he captured the larger male before it went in. "The female hasn't been seen since, nor has the little male. Perhaps the commotion scared them off," he wrote.

When confronted with a perceived threat, like a human, the mamba will perform a threat display, opening its black mouth and flicking its tongue. Any sudden movement by the threat can spook the snake, causing it to rapidly strike several times. Only two drops of venom are enough to kill a fully-grown man.

While black mambas are usually found in the wilderness, as vegetation is slowly cut back, they are thought to be entering Durban more frequently in search of food like mice and rats.