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Boomslang Attack


It was in South Africa's Thornybush Game Reserve, while out on a safari drive, that we spotted a Flap-neck Chameleon (Chameleo dilepis) crossing a clearing. These chameleons are the favourite food of one of Africa’s most deadly snakes, the Boomslang (Dispholidas typus). This species of snake contains a potent haematoxic venom which prevents its prey’s blood from clotting, making it a fatal bite to any size of prey! The boomslang depicted in this image, spotted its quarry from a tree and came slithering down in pursuit of the chameleon, whose main defense against these snakes is usually camouflage. Boomslang’s are usually very shy snakes keeping to the trees and avoiding contact with humans. This one however, was preoccupied in its single-minded pursuit and I knew that a unique photographic opportunity was close at hand.

Slipping out of the safari vehicle and lying on the ground, I increased the ISO of my camera to make sure that my shutter speed would be fast enough for the snake’s fatal strike. I then slide along the ground on my own belly until I reached about two meters in distance from my subjects. I lay with my finger poised, hoping to capture the decisive moment of attack. The snake was very calculated in its approach and the chameleon incapable of outrunning the serpentine, gave a series of loud hisses before receiving its final coup de grace. Haemotoxic venom is slow acting and the chameleon stumbled around in a daze for quite some time before finally dying. The boomslang then swallowed its quarry whole before slithering into a nearby tree where it blended in with the foliage.

The snake approaches its prey from a distance smelling with its tongue.

The snake approaches even closer without striking; cold and calculated in its attack.

The brave chameleon tries to fight back and the snake waits patiently.

The snake makes a series of fatal strikes, lunging at the chameleon’s flank.

The boomslang waits patiently for its victim to succumb.


(Boomslangs are shy creatures but their bite requires a unique and rare antivenom, so please don’t try this at home. Also please remember that if you get too close to a snake after it has killed, it will regurgitate its food in order to make a quick escape. For this image I especially stood back after the chameleon had been captured.)

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 200-400mm lens at 350mm, F8 1/2000 and ISO640. Beanbag for support.

Photographed at 400mm lens and from the ground.

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