Cobra ( pronunciation (help·info)) is any of various species of venomous snakes usually belonging to the family Elapidae, most of which can expand their neck ribs to form a widened hood. Not all snakes commonly referred to as cobras are of the same genus, or even of the same family. The name is short for cobra de capelo or cobra-de-capelo, which is Portuguese for "snake with hood", or "hood-snake". When disturbed, most of these snakes can rear up and spread their necks (or hoods) in a characteristic threat display, making them a favorite of snake charmers because of this stunning appearance. Long ago, snake charming used to be a religious ritual, though nowadays it has become an entertainment. Cobras, which may live up to 20 years, are found from southern Africa, through southern Asia, to some of the islands of Southeast Asia.
Cobra may refer to:
- Naja, also known as typical cobras (with the characteristic ability to raise the front quarters of their bodies off the ground and flatten their necks in a threatening gesture), a group of venomous elapids found in Africa and Asia
- Spitting cobras, a subset of Naja species with the ability to eject venom from their fangs in self-defense
- Any member of the genus Boulengerina, the water cobras, a group of venomous elapids found in Africa
- Any member of the genus Aspidelaps, the shield cobras, a group of venomous elapids found in Africa
- Any member of the genus Pseudohaje, the tree cobras, a group of venomous elapids found in Africa
- Paranaja multifasciata, the burrowing cobra, a venomous elapid species found in Africa
- Ophiophagus hannah, the king cobra, a venomous elapid species found in India and southern Asia
- Hemachatus haemachatus, ringhals, rinkhals or ring-necked spitting cobra, a venomous elapid species found in Africa
- Naja nivea, the cape or yellow cobra, a moderately sized, highly venomous cobra inhabiting a wide variety of biomes across southern Africa
- Micrurus fulvius, the American cobra or eastern coral snake, a venomous elapid species found in the southeastern United States
- Hydrodynastes gigas, the false water cobra, a mildly venomous colubrid species found in South America
- A taxonomic synonym for the genus Bitis, puff adders, a group of venomous vipers found in Africa and in the south of the Arabian Peninsula.
Most cobras belong to the family Elapidae, along with many other famous venomous snakes, including mambas, sea snakes, adders, and coral snakes. The genus Naja contains 20 to 22 species of cobras and is the most widespread and recognized genus of cobras. Members of the genus range from Africa through the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
The king cobra is the world’s largest venomous snake, with an average length of 12 feet (3.7 m) but known to grow up to 18.5 feet (5.6 m). While it preys chiefly on other snakes, the king cobra is extremely fast and agile, and injects a larger amount of venom per bite (as much as 600 mg) than most snakes. The king cobra is unique among snakes as it makes a nest for its eggs and remains until the young hatch. An adult human can die from a single bite in less than 15 minutes, making the king cobra one of the most feared and deadly snakes in the world.
The other cobra of Asia is known as Asian, Indian or Spectacled cobra due to the eyeglass-shaped pattern on its skin. The hood of the Asian cobra is larger than that of the king cobra and is usually yellow or brown with a black and white spectacle pattern on top and two black and white spots on the lower surface.
The Ringhals, a different type of spitting cobra confined to southern Africa, is the smallest, reaching only about 4 feet (1.2 m) in length. It is dark brown or black with ridged, or keeled, scales and light rings on the neck.
The Egyptian cobra is found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The average length of this cobra is between 3.3 feet and 6.6 feet (1 meter and 2 meters), with a maximum length of 8.2 feet (2.5 meters). Its color is highly variable, and it can be either some shade of brown, copper-red, gray-brown, mostly black, or yellow.
Cobras very rarely attack people unprovoked, but when disturbed, they make full use of their deadly bite. Young cobras have the same amount of venom as the adult ones. Before attacking, a cobra always warns its enemy with a threat display: it lifts its head, expands its hood and makes a whistle-like noise.
Cobras prey on other snakes, birds and small mammals, while its main natural predators are other snakes and mongooses.
Although most cobras don't make nests, they protect their eggs until they hatch (which takes around 60 days).
- Oxford. 1991. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-861258-3.
- Broadley, Donald G.; Andrew S. Baldwin (2006). "Taxonomy, natural history and zoogeography of the Southern African shield cobras, genus Aspidelaps (Serpentes: Elapidae)". Herpetological Natural History 9.
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