The Kruger National Park has played host to some truly remarkable predator-vs-prey encounters in the past (remember this one?), yet few visitors to the park have been lucky enough to glimpse its smaller hunters in action. On a recent trip to the reserve, tourist Josephine Williams was fortunate enough to snap some images of a chameleon in the throes of a wrestling match with a deadly snake.

Image: Josephine Williams
Image: Josephine Williams
Image: Josephine Williams

The hunt took place in the northern reaches of the park amidst the sandveld woodlands near Punda Maria rest camp. A female boomslang – a variety of venomous tree snake – launched an attack on a flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis), sinking its fangs into the reptilian prey and injecting a healthy dose of haemotoxic venom.

Chameleons are a popular meal choice for these snakes, however, boomslangs are rarely observed on the hunt, and Williams was delighted to catch this huntress in action. In contrast to the bright-green skin worn the male of the species, female boomslangs are a dull, grey colour, but both are easily identified by their large eyes. They are widely distributed across much of sub-Saharan Africa and typically spend their time navigating through the treetops.

Image: Josephine Williams

Although it was once believed that a bite from a boomslang posed no serious threat to humans – a mistake that famously cost herpetologist Karl Patterson Schmidt his life – we now know that a dose of  venom from one of these snakes can be fatal. A member of the Colubridae family, the boomslang is armed with fangs mounted in the rear of the jaw. While most of its relatives have weak venom and fangs too small to pose a threat to humans, this species (Dispholidus typus) defies colubrid convention.

The deadly snakes can open their mouths to almost 180° when biting, often striking more than once to inject a slow-acting haemotoxic venom. Once injected, the toxins get to work destroying red blood cells. This disrupts blood clotting and can lead to internal and external bleeding and eventually organ failure and death if not treated.

Although boomslang bites are very rare, they can be fatal. Drop for drop, boomslang venom is considered the most potent in Africa, beating even toxic heavyweights like the black mamba.

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