Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph of the grooved fangs of a Boomslang (Dispholidus typus), by Martin Oeggerli.
Boomslangs are native to sub-saharan Africa. They are diurnal and almost exclusively arboreal. Despite Boomslangs are highly venemous, these agile snakes flee from anything too large to eat. Their diet includes chameleons, arboreal lizards, frogs, and occasionally small mammals, birds, and eggs from nesting birds.
Many venomous members of the family Colubridae are harmless to humans because of small venom glands and inefficient fangs. However, the boomslang is a notable exception in that it has a highly potent venom, which it delivers through large fangs located in the back of the jaw, equipped with deep grooves to efficientily inject venom. Because boomslang venom is slow-acting, symptoms may not become apparent until many hours after the bite. The maxillary teeth are small anteriorly, seven or eight in number, followed by three very large, grooved fangs situated below each eye.
The venom is injected through a deep groove located on the frontside of the large fangs. It is primarily a hemotoxin and disables the coagulation process, causing hemorrhage into tissues such as muslce and brain. The victim may die as a result of internal and external bleeding. Treatment of Boomslang bites involve antivenom, developped during the 40s, and may also require complete blood transfusions, especially after 24 to 48 hours without antivenom. In 1957, the well-known herpetologist Karl Schmidt died after being bitten by a juvenile boomslang which he doubted could produce a fatal dose. Unfortunately, he was wrong. Nevertheless, he made notes on the symptoms he experienced almost to the end.