Spitting Cobra Facts You Need to Know!

Spitting Cobra Facts You Need to Know!

Spitting Cobra Facts You Need to Know!

Indochinese spitting cobra
An Indochinese spitting cobra (Naja siamensis). By DocSean cc4.0

How Spitting Cobras Spit

Naja sputa Javan spitting cobra
A killed juvenile Javan spitting cobra, Naja sputatrix (TL ca 50 cm); head close up, note the fang position. From Banyumas, Central Java, Indonesia. By Wibowo Djatmiko cc3.0

When you spit, you gather saliva inside your mouth, curl your tongue, hold your breath, tilt back your head and then let go, blowing the air and saliva out of your mouth at the same time. When a spitting cobra spits, it simply squeezes its venom glands, which pushes the venom into the fangs and out of the forward-facing holes. All venomous snakes can do this, but the difference is that spitting cobras have larger holes in their fangs, which are placed at a certain angle, so instead of the venom simply oozing out as they bite, it actually squirts out. A spitting cobra can launch its venom a distance of 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) at lightning speed, so you won’t even know what hit you — until it’s too late!




Why Do Spitting Cobras Spit?

bullseye
Smack in the middle by Eran Sandler cc2.0

Just as rattlesnakes only rattle when they sense danger, spitting cobras only spit in order to defend themselves — this self-defense mechanism is a deep-rooted instinct. Spitting cobras are able to spit immediately after hatching, and some say they can even do it after they’re dead!

Now, you might wonder, how does spitting protect the cobra? Sure, it’s disgusting. But is it dangerous?

First, don’t forget that their spit is actually venom. Second, spitting cobras aim for the eyes, an extremely vulnerable part of the body. Third, studies show that spitting cobras hit their target at least eight out of ten times — that’s deadly accuracy!

Once the venom of a spitting cobra gets in your eyes, you will feel pain and be forced to retreat. If left untreated, victims can even go blind. That’s how potent the venom of a spitting cobra is. In this case, an antivenom won’t work. The best thing to do is quickly wash the venom out of your eyes, and then get to a doctor for antibiotic eye drops.


Spitting Cobra Venom

Neural Tissue
Image credit: Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762

What makes spitting cobra venom so scary? Well, it often contains a combination of neurotoxins and cytotoxins — substances that can damage nerve tissue and shut down individual cells. On human skin, spitting cobra venom isn’t harmful, but if it gets in the eyes, inside the nostrils or into a cut in the skin, it can cause serious damage.


Can Spitting Cobras Bite?

Snake Bite
Snake getting a quick snack – think this is a Mozambique Spitting Cobra. By I Love Trees cc2.0

Spitting cobras do have teeth so, yes, they can bite. Besides, they still need to eat, and spitting isn’t a very good hunting technique.


Spitting Cobra Diet

King cobra diet
A royal meal by Lip Kee cc2.0

The diet of a spitting cobra doesn’t differ much from the diet of other snakes. Frogs and toads are on the menu, as well as lizards, birds, bird eggs, chickens, rats, mice, other snakes and even insects.


Where Are Spitting Cobras Found?

Spitting cobras are predominantly found in southern Africa and Southeast Asia. In southern Africa, they are found in dry savanna and semidesert areas. In Southeast Asia, they are found in forests, fields, grasslands and even near human settlements.

Notable African Species:

Red spitting cobra — The red spitting cobra starts out as salmon red or reddish-orange, with a black or dark blue band around its throat, making it an attractive snake. As it grows, however, it becomes a darker shade of red and the throat band disappears. Young red spitting cobras are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, while adults are nocturnal, or active at night. This prevents the adults from eating the young ones.

Red Spitting Cobra
Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida) from Africa. Original uploader was Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff at ru.wikipedia CC-BY-2.5.

Ashe’s spitting cobraThis is the largest spitting cobra, normally growing about 6.5 feet (2 meters) long, and so it is also known as the giant spitting cobra. The largest specimen to date was almost 9 feet (2.7 meters) long!

Mozambique spitting cobra — The Ashe’s spitting cobra is the largest spitting cobra, and the Mozambique spitting cobra is the smallest, growing 3 feet (0.9 meters) long on average. Don’t be fooled by its relatively small size, though. It has a nasty temper and can rear up as much as two-thirds of its body length when threatened. If this threat display doesn’t work, however, it plays dead instead, flopping over with its mouth open.

Mozambique Spitting Cobra
Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) Dysmorodrepanis 01:09, 29 May 2008 (UTC). By Chris Eason cc2.0

Black-necked spitting cobra — The black-necked spitting cobra doesn’t always have a black neck. Sometimes it can be pure copper or olive brown, and sometimes it can have black and white stripes. It is a very adaptable snake that can thrive in different environments. Also, it can be nocturnal or diurnal, depending on the time of year, whichever is more favorable for the snake.

Naja nigricollis Black-necked spitting cobra
Naja nigricollis Black-necked spitting cobra by Luca Boldrini cc2.0

Zebra spitting cobra — Once thought to be a subspecies of the black-necked spitting cobra but now considered a species of its own, the zebra spitting cobra is light brown, pink or yellow, with (of course) black stripes. That’s how it got its name.

Naja nigricincta nigricincta
Zebra snake / zebra spitting cobra by Yathin S Krishnappa cc3.0

Notable Asian Species:

Equatorial spitting cobra — The equatorial spitting cobra comes in two colors, black (in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) and yellow (in Thailand). It is particularly common in Singapore, where it often wanders near humans — not good news for those living there.

Equatorial spitting cobra
Equatorial spitting cobra (Naja sumatrana) with spread hood. By Angusticeps cc4.0

Indonesian spitting cobra — Also known as the Javan spitting cobra, this snake is nocturnal and spends most of its time on the ground. It is a common prey for the Komodo dragon, the largest monitor lizard.

Javan spitting cobra
Javan spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix). By Department of Sustainability & Environment cc2.0

Philippine cobra — The Philippine cobra is considered one of the world’s deadliest snakes. Why? Because its venom is purely neurotoxic and the second-most toxic among all cobra venom. One bite can kill within 30 minutes, without the victim even displaying any symptoms at all!

Naja philippinensis
Philippine Cobra. By Mario Lutz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Indochinese spitting cobra — The Indochinese spitting cobra has white spots or stripes. It is nocturnal and aggressive at night, but during the day, it is timid and quickly runs away. Talk about a snake with dual personality!

Indochinese spitting cobra
An Indochinese spitting cobra (Naja siamensis). By DocSean cc4.0




Other Snakes That Spit:

The Mangshan pit viper, from China, is also known to spit venom, though not as far as spitting cobras can. This snake mostly uses its white-tipped tail to lure prey close, and then delivers a deadly bite.

Rinkhals, also known as ring-necked spitting cobras (though they are not actually true cobras), also spit. Like spitting cobras, though, they aim for the eyes, and are able to spit venom a distance of 8 feet (2.4 meters). They are also notorious for playing dead. Unlike true cobras, rinkhals are ovoviviparous. This means that they have eggs like other snakes, but keep them inside their bodies until they have hatched. After hatching, the baby snakes are released, so it’s similar to giving birth to live young. True cobras, on the other hand, are oviparous, which means they lay eggs and leave them alone as soon as they are hatched.

Mangshan pit viper
Protobothrops mangshanensis, also known as Mangshan pitviper at the Los Angeles Zoo. Image credit: Junkyardsparkle cc0

What do you know?

Think you remember what you’ve read? Try out the Spitting Cobra Facts Quiz!

 


 


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Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spitting_cobra
http://www.livescience.com/43520-cobra-facts.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naja_ashei
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_spitting_cobra

Click here to visit the complete source list.

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