Predator-prey power struggles play out in countless forms across the African bushveld, from mega battles between big cats and buffaloes to less noticeable clashes between reptiles and rodents. In footage recently captured in South Africa's Ngala Private Game Reserve, a colony of southern masked-weavers fought gallantly to defend their nests from a snake on the prowl for an easy meal.

The short clip, captured by Georgie Lawless and recently uploaded to the Latest Sightings YouTube channel, shows an acrobatic snake dangling by its tail from a thin branch on which two masked-weaver nests are suspended. As the snake probes the nests for a way to get at the spoils inside, weavers divebomb from above in an attempt to see off the threat. 

The nest-raiding snake is a boomslang – a rear-fanged member of the Colubridae family found throughout southern Africa. Adults of the species can reach lengths of over two metres (6.5 feet), and are identified by their unusually large eyes. This is a male, distinguished by its green and black markings, which differ from the female's duller, grey appearance. It's not really surprising to find one of these snakes slithering through the treetops, the boomslang (whose name means "tree snake" in Afrikaans) is a highly accomplished climber, and does much of its hunting in the trees. Chameleons, lizards, frogs, eggs and bird nestlings are all on the menu for these arboreal snakes. When stretching between the branches, the boomslang can extend as much as half of its body in the air – a gymnastic feat that was on full display in the Latest Sightings clip.

It's unclear how many chicks or eggs where concealed in the tightly woven weaver nests, but according to Latest Sightings, the boomslang's raid was a successful one. Southern masked-weavers build neat nests which dangle from leafless branches, reeds or even wire fences. They typically breed in large colonies where safety in numbers may be an asset. In this case, however, despite a fierce aerial attack from the birds, the snake came out on top.

Drop for drop, boomslang venom is considered the most potent in Africa, beating even toxic heavyweights like the black mamba. While most of its relatives in the Colubridae family have weak venom and fangs too small to pose a threat to humans, this species (Dispholidus typus) defies colubrid convention. The boomslang is armed with fangs mounted in the rear of the jaw and can stretch their mouths to almost 180° when biting, often striking more than once to inject a slow-acting haemotoxic venom. Thankfully, these snakes are shy and bites to humans are very rare. 


Header image: Maarten/Flickr