The black mamba is just about as imposing as snakes get: long, sleek, speedy and packing a seriously toxic punch, these reptilian superstars have landed leading roles in feature-length films, and even loaned their name to an NBA star (because he strikes with maximum speed and accuracy in rapid succession, of course). But for all their menace and grandeur, mambas, like all snakes, are susceptible to attacks from predators – and Mozambique spitting cobras are particularly accomplished at this task.

A recent two-in-one sighting photographed at South Africa's Marakele National Park illustrates the point in remarkable, grisly fashion. Snapped by field guide student Daniel Hitchings Tar at Marataba Safari Lodge, the images show a Mozambique spitting cobra gobbling down a black mamba as though it were a piece of serpentine spaghetti.

Battles involving two such venomous combatants are rarely seen, or successfully documented. While it's not unusual for snakes to eat other snakes (cobras are known for having a particular penchant for this), the behaviour is not witnessed often, especially when the snake being ingested is one of the world's deadliest.

Black mambas have a fearsome reputation, due in large part to their frightfully fast-acting venom. A bite to the chest or head and you could collapse into paralysis in half the time it takes to watch an episode of Game of Thrones (a terrifying thought indeed, partly because you won't get to finish said episode). Black mambas, however, are not the dark-mouthed harbingers of death they're so often portrayed to be. Like many snake species, they avoid confrontation, attacking only when threatened. "Although often labelled an aggressive snake, the black mamba is very shy and nervous, and quick to escape when it has the choice," Johan Marais of the African Snakebite Institute told Africa Geographic. "But if cornered or hurt, it will not hesitate to strike."

So, with such evasion skills and venomous weaponry on its side, how did this black mamba end up inside of a cobra's belly? The answer may have something to do with size, and a lot to do with the cobra's venom-resistant superpowers. "This particular cobra was older and larger than the mamba," Charlotte Arthun explains over on the Marabata blog. "While the mamba put up a fight, continually striking at the cobra, the cobra won the battle with its superior size and strength, eventually eating the mamba."

Many venomous snakes have immunity to their own particular blend of toxins, which serves as a kind of failsafe in case they accidentally bite themselves in the confusion of a hunt, or receive a dose of venom during a rowdy mating ritual. However, when it comes to a snake's ability to withstand the venom of a different species, results seem to vary from snake to snake. "Most cobras are snake specialists and are highly resistant to snake venom," explains Marais, who believes that the cobra would have won this battle even if the black mamba had matched its size. "Both snouted cobras and Cape cobras readily eat puff adders [a venomous snake found in the African savannah and grasslands]," he added as further evidence.

So it's possible this individual took a few shots of mamba venom, but came off unharmed courtesy of some pretty neat evolutionary immunity. In instances where snakes have shown some resistance to the toxins of their slithery relatives, the tolerance usually applies only to species that share the same habitat (a Mozambique spitting cobra may not be able to shake off the venom of an eastern brown snake quite so easily, for example).

It's not only cobras that have shown powers of venom resistance. The ability to tolerate the effects of chemical weaponry is a trait shared by a fairly exclusive sect of hardy creatures. While opossums may lack good looks (no offence guys, but amiright?), they can boast about the venom-neutralising molecules in their blood. Egyptian mongooses gleefully hunt and eat venomous snakes thanks to cell mutations that block lethal neurotoxins. Skunks, hedgehogs, pigs and ground squirrels, meanwhile, have all shown some resistance to venom. But the poster animal for this toxin-defying guild is of course the internet's favourite (and nastiest) mustelid: the honey badger. The two-toned critters are equipped not only with molecular defences against cobra neurotoxins but also with physical armour: their thick, loose skin is tough for snakes to pierce through.

Interestingly, venom resistance is a lot more common in predators that regularly dine on venomous animals than it is among target prey species. (Aside from the unassuming woodrat – which can take a hit from a western diamondback rattlesnake and still make it home in time for dinner – most prey creatures targeted by toxin-wielding predators are not able to survive envenomation, and must use other defences to stave off an attack instead.)

For predators that can tolerate a dose of toxins, the reward is a more diverse buffet of potential prey: venomous scorpions and snakes are risky quarry for most, but the venom-resistant can tuck right in. And such meals can be very hearty. "Snakes are limbless, small-boned, little bags of meat," evolutionary biologist Danielle Drabeck told Jason Bittel in an article for Smithsonian Magazine back in 2016. "Even venomous snakes only have one pointy-end."

Black Mamba Anatomy _related _2015_09_16