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Black necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis) image from angolafieldgroup.com

Black necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis) image from angolafieldgroup.com

Who doesn’t love cobras? These beautiful and dangerous snakes have fascinated humankind since prehistory.  Ferrebeekeeper has already written about a lovely red spitting cobra from East Africa: today we cast our eyes to sub-Saharan Africa to learn about the black-necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis) another spitting cobra which lives across the great continent.

naja_nigricollis

The black-necked spitting cobra lives across a huge swath of Africa—from Northern Namibia to southern Mauritania in the west and from the Somali coast down to Tanzania in the east.  The adaptable snakes can be found everywhere throughout this vast range except for the jungle fastnesses of the Congo rainforest.  Except in dense rainforests, the snakes do well in all sorts of ecoregions and they are famous for thriving in scrublands, forests, grasslands, and deserts (as well as in new habitats like farms and cities). Although the snakes largely prey on small rodents, they are gifted hunters and can also live on virtually any small creatures (including arthropods, birds, reptiles, amphibians) and even on eggs.  Its own predators include a variety of fierce raptors and certain other snakes.  I find it alarming that Africa contains snakes capable of catching and eating a 2.3 meter (seven foot long) cobra which sprays venom!

The black-necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis)

The black-necked spitting cobra (Naja nigricollis)

The black-necked spitting cobra comes in an assortment of colors from yellowish copper to olive to reddish to gray.  Many have distinct bands of red, white or gray on their necks (although some individuals are missing these bandings entirely).  The most dramatic specimens are glossy black with red or white necks—like death metal priests! Female snake usually lay clutches of 10-15 eggs, but they can lay up to 22 eggs at a time.  The snakes can be diurnal or nocturnal to suit circumstances (and their mood). Unlike the genteel red spitting cobra, black-necked spitting cobras love to spit venom and will do so at the slightest provocation (or for no reason at all—like Kid Rock).

In comparison with some of their relatives, the black-necked spitting cobras are not especially poisonous.  Only five to ten percent of untreated human bites prove fatal.  Their venom primarily consists of cytotoxins—compounds which damage cells instead of attacking organs or neuro-connections.  Although fatalities from bites is low, bites can be accompanied with substantial tissue necrosis.

Why is he smiling about that? What a jerk!

Why is he smiling about that? What a jerk!

In conclusion, the black-necked spitting cobra is a very interesting and visually striking snake (not to mention a born survivor) but I feel it would make an extremely poor housepet.

The Red Spitting Cobra (Naja pallida)

If I were forced to choose a favorite spitting cobra, I would enthusiastically choose the red spitting cobra (Naja pallida), a swift-moving hunter which inhabits the dry scrub-land of East Africa.  A small cobra measuring less than 120 centimeters (4 feet), the cobra hunts for small mammals and reptiles. The lovely snake can be found in a range of ruddy hues including deep orange, pale red, pinkish and light brown– but the fanciest and loveliest specimens are a dramatic blood red.  Although the name makes the red spitting cobra sound uncouth, the designation is actually a misnomer. Red spitting cobras do not wander around spitting like rustic bumpkins in a cowpoke bar, instead they carefully and deliberately spray a high velocity jet of toxins into a predator’s eyes (let’s see the bumpkin try that!). The red spitting cobra is not aggressive, but if provoked it will rear up, hiss loudly, and flare its cobra hood.  If, after receiving this warning, the provocateur stupidly continues to antagonize the snake, the cobra is likely to spray venom directly into its antagonist’s face and eyes.  A direct ocular hit can cause permanent blindness (and is certain to cause stupendous searing pain).

As with most cobras, the venom of the spitting cobra contains a mixture of neurotoxic and cytotoxic compounds. The red-spitting cobra rarely bites predators or people (reserving its poison for hunting and spraying).  However if you somehow manage to find one of these rare snakes which live in the arid wastelands of East Africa and then provoke it into biting you, you should seek treatment immediately!

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