Names of Zambian Snakes in Bemba

Snakes are not a very common sight in Zambian towns. I grew up in Kitwe and was a Boy Scout. We used to regularly go out into the forest on camping trips. We heard a lot of stories about snakes but saw relatively few.

Your location and the type of activity you are involved in also determines how likely you are to see a snake. In the sixties, there were new schools built around Kitwe, as in other towns. Demolishing anthills to make way for sports grounds was a common activity for students. Once in a while, we would come across a snake as we worked on these anthills with hoes, picks and shovels. My mother spent a lot of time working in fields growing maize, ground nuts and other crops. She came across more snakes than anyone I know. In the eighties, we lived in Chililabombwe. Every rain season we saw a few baby snakes crawling from the rocky hills to lower ground.

Snakes generally tend to shy away from people. Most of them do not make any animal sounds and they usually quietly blend in with the surroundings due to their highly effective camouflage. This is part of why they are not very commonly seen.

Some snakes are poisonous while others are not. Even the poisonous ones tend to strike only when they are cornered or threatened. Most of the time, snakes do not pose a risk to people.

A knowledge of which snakes are poisonous is useful in case of a snake bite as this will determine the type of anti-venom treatment at the hospital where necessary.

The following are some of the common snakes around Zambia with their Bemba names. If you know the names in other Zambian languages, please feel free to leave your comments below so that we can add your knowledge to ours for the benefit of other readers.

Have you had any experiences with snakes or do you know any traditional myths about snakes? We would like to hear from you too.


Python_sebae - Lusato

Common Name: Python

Bemba Name: Lusato

Scientific Name: Python sebae

Poison status: Non-poisonous (Constricts its prey to death)


Blind (Two-headed) Snake:

Typhlops_gracilis - Luminuminu

Typhlops_gracilis – Luminuminu

Common Name: Blind Snake

Bemba Name:  Luminuminu

Scientific Name: Typhlops_gracilis

Poison status: Non-poisonous


Twig Snake: Thelotornis_capensis_mossambicanus - Nalukunilumo

Common Name: Twig Snake

Bemba Name: Nalukunilumo

Scientific Name: Thelotornis capensis mossambicanus

Poison status: Highly venomous and can kill.


Blind Snake:Rhinotyphlops_schlegelii - Mbulushi

Common Name: Blind snake

Bemba Name: Mbulushi

Scientific Name: Rhinotyphlops schlegelii

Notes: Non-poisonous. Image shows the belly of the snake.


Spitting Cobra:

Naja_nigricollis - Kafi

Common Name: Spitting Cobra

Bemba Name: Kafi

Scientific Name: Naja nigricollis

Notes: Poisonous


Forest Cobra:

Naja_melanoleuca -Maamba

Common Name: Forest Cobra

Bemba Name: Maamba

Scientific Name: Naja melanoleuca

Poison status: Poisonous


File Snake:

Mehelya_capensis - Mwendalwali

Common Name: File Snake

Bemba Name: Mwendalwali

Scientific Name: Mehelya capensis

Poison status: Not poisonous



Dispholidus_typus - Ibalabala

Common Name: Boomslang

Bemba Name: Ibalabala

Scientific Name: Dispholidus typus

Poison status: Poisonous


Black Mamba / “Common Cobra”:

Dendroaspis_polylepis - Ngoshe

Common Name: Black Mamba / “Common Cobra”

Bemba Name: Ngoshe

Scientific Name: Dendroaspis polylepsis

Poison status: Poisonous

Notes: The inside of the mouth is black, hence the name “Black Mamba.”


Egg-eating Snake:

Dasypeltis_scabra - Namutukuta

Common Name: Egg-eating Snake 

Bemba Name: Namutukuta

Scientific Name: Dasypeltis scabra

Poison status: Non-venomous


Night Adder:


Common Name: Night Adder

Bemba Name: Cilambanshila

Scientific Name: Causus rhombeatus

Poison status: Poisonous


House Snake:

Bosedon_fuliginosus - Ndele

Common Name: House Snake

Bemba Name: Ndele

Scientific Name: Boaedon fuliginosus

Poison status: Not poisonous


Puff Adder:

Puff Adder (Bitis_arietans) - Ifwafwa

Puff Adder (Bitis_arietans) – Ifwafwa

Common Name: Puff Adder

Bemba Name: Ifwafwa

Scientific Name: Bitis arietans

Poison status: Very poisonous


 Gaboon Viper:

Gaboon Viper (Bitis_gabonica) - Mbooma

Gaboon Viper (Bitis_gabonica) – Mbooma

Common Name: Gaboon Viper

Bemba Name: Mbooma

Scientific Name: Bitis gabonica

Poison status: Poisonous


Hissing Sand Snake:

Hissing Sand Snake (Psammophis sibilans) - Mulalu

Hissing Sand Snake (Psammophis sibilans) – Mulalu

Common Name: Hissing Sand Snake

Bemba Name:  Mulalu

Scientific Name:  Psammophis sibilans

Poison status: Can be poisonous


(All images are from Wikipedia, except that of the House Snake – from


  5 comments for “Names of Zambian Snakes in Bemba

  1. peter M Chisela
    June 4, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Man am so proud of you. Whoever is the protagonist of this File deserves kudos. This is our zambian Heritage. Keep the fire burning.

    • JS
      June 7, 2016 at 5:43 am

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your encouragement. We do have a very rich heritage.

  2. David
    February 17, 2016 at 4:47 am

    You should double check the placement of your pictures. You have a picture of a blind snake in the place of a spitting cobra, a twig snake in the place of a blind snake, and a cobra in the place of a twig snake. These are some snakes you really wouldn’t want to mis-identify. Also a mamba is in no way a cobra. The “common cobra” should be removed from the description.

    • JS
      February 17, 2016 at 3:41 pm

      Hi David.
      Thank you for your feedback.
      We have checked the placement of the photos. They are correct. The name of each snake, punctuated by a colon, comes before each photo and description, rather than the other way round.
      The Black Mamba is certainly not a cobra, but they are related. They both belong to the Elapidae family of snakes (Venomous snakes with upright hollow front teeth – fangs – that can inject venom into their prey). When threatened, the Mamba can also raise its front end and flatten its neck to form a smaller hood than the cobra.
      We see your point, however, and have decided to put the words “Common Cobra” in inverted commas to emphasize that they have been referred to that way in some descriptions.
      Once again, thank you for your contribution.

  3. Ernest
    August 29, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Which snake is referred to as itiya? It is believed to be mythical snake that is very sensitive and poisonous. it makes webs like those of spiders & that is sensor for its prey. It is rarely seen

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