A ”spitting” cobra is any of several species of cobra that can intentionally, defensively shoot their venom directly from their fangs. This substance has two functions, with the first being as venom that can be absorbed via the victim’s eyes, mouth, or nose (or any mucous membrane or existing wound), and secondly as a toxungen, which can be sprayed on the target surface. Their ability to target and shoot venom is utilised in several different ways, self-defense being the most common instance. Studies have shown that the targets (at which the cobras shoot) are far from random; rather, spitting cobras consciously take aim, directing their spray as close as possible to the eyes and face of an aggressor.
Spitting cobras belong to the Elapidae, which comprises snakes including cobras, mambas, coral snakes, kraits, taipans, death adders and sea snakes. Many snakes use their venom as both a defensive and predatory mechanism, and this includes the spitting cobras. The spitting cobra typically inhabits dry savanna and semi-arid environments, particularly the hotter, open areas of sub-Saharan Africa. It uses its venom primarily as a means of defense. The spitting cobra has the ability to direct venom up to three metres away from its location. The trajectory of the venom that the cobra sprays is not at random. The spitting cobra has evolved to aim the venom that it spits into or as close as possible to the antagonist’s face and eyes. The cobras can measure and adjust the venom dosage being delivered, based on the size and relative distance of their target, in order to ensure the highest envenomation potential possible.
The spat toxungen is generally harmless on intact mammalian skin (although contact can result in delayed blistering of the area), but can cause permanent blindness if introduced to the eye; if left untreated it may cause chemosis and corneal swelling.
The toxungen sprays out in distinctive geometric patterns when muscles squeeze the glands to squirt it out through forward-facing holes near the tips of the fangs. Individuals of some species of spitting cobras make hissing exhalations/lunging movements of their heads when "spitting", and such actions may assist in propelling the venom, but research does not support the hypothesis that they play any major functional part except possibly enhancing the threatening effect of the behavior. When cornered, some species "spit" their toxungen as far as 2 m (6.6 ft). While spitting is typically their primary form of defense, all spitting cobras also can deliver their toxin as a venom by biting.
Most spitting cobras' venom/toxungen is significantly cytotoxic, apart from the neurotoxic and cardiotoxic effects typical of other cobra species. The ability to spit likely evolved in cobras three times independently through convergent evolution. In each of these three events, the venom convergently evolved to be more effective at creating pain in mammals to serve as a better deterrent, with each of the three evolutions roughly correlating with the evolution and/or arrival of early hominins.
The ability to spit likely evolved in cobras three times independently through convergent evolution. In each of these three events, the venom convergently evolved to be more effective at creating pain in mammals to serve as a better deterrent, with each of the three evolutions roughly correlating with the evolution and/or arrival of early hominins. There are many reasons why an organism undergoes evolution. The Spitting cobra predominantly uses its venom for defensive purposes. It has evolved the ability to spit in order to minimize the risk of contact during an altercation. Even though venomous snakes are very dangerous, they often times are not left injury free after a battle with a predator or larger animal. Being able to spit a toxin from afar dramatically decreases the chances of a Spitting cobra getting injured in a squabble.
The Spitting cobra also has the ability to inject venom through a bite. In fact, a Spitting cobra ejects more venom during a bite than spitting venom. Even though the Spitting cobra has the ability to spray venom at potential threats; spitting is not the way they kill their prey. Just like most snakes in the Elapid clade, Spitting cobras inject their venom through a bite in order to kill their prey. Spitting was evolved as a defense mechanism to deter predators, even if a Spitting cobra blinds a threat, that is not enough to kill the attacker; therefore Spitting cobras can also inject venom directly.
‡: Not a “true spitting cobra”, although these species have the ability to “eject” venom, they rarely do so.
- Naja ashei
- Naja katiensis
- Naja mossambica
- Naja nigricincta
- Naja nigricollis
- Naja nubiae
- Naja pallida
- Naja atra ‡
- Naja kaouthia ‡
- Naja sagittifera ‡
- Naja mandalayensis
- Naja philippinensis
- Naja samarensis
- Naja siamensis
- Naja sputatrix
- Naja sumatrana
Spitting snakes in other families:
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