When you hear the word cobra, an image which probably floats through your mind is of an Indian snake charmer playing his musical instrument called the Pungi or Been, and a snake dancing to the tunes. This hypnotic swaying motion of the snake to the tunes surely mesmerizes the audience. Or you may imagine the idol of Lord Shiva and a snake wrapped around his neck. Indians regard cobras very highly and worship them as gods. Cobras are venomous snakes that belong to the family Elapidae. The name cobra is short for the Portuguese word cobra de capelo (snake with hood or hood snake). When these snakes are threatened or disturbed, they tend to raise their heads and spread their hood (neck) that gives them a characteristic fearsome look. There are many different types that may or may not belong to the same family or genus. Let us have a look at some different types of cobra snakes in the following paragraphs.
How Many Types are There
One of the most poisonous snake species in the world, cobras belong to the Elapidae family that includes Kraits and Sea snakes. If you are wondering how many types there are, then there over 270 species of cobras. These different types are spread all over the Asian as well as African continents. These cobras are capable of delivering powerful neurotoxins that lead to necrosis and respiratory collapse. If anti-venom is not administered within 30 to 60 minutes, it could lead to death, especially in young children. Of these 270 cobra species, some of the most dreaded types are found in Asia as well as Africa. Some of these are listed below.
Cape Cobra (Naja nivea)
The Cape cobra is a medium-sized cobra that reaches a length of about 4 feet and can grow up to 6 feet. It is found in South Africa and its color changes according to the region it inhabits. This diurnal snake feeds on other snakes, birds, rodents, and many other small animals. It is an excellent climber and therefore can reach a bird's nest for its eggs and chicks. It produces a powerful neurotoxin venom. On envenomation, the venom affects the respiratory system and leads to death after 2 to 5 hours due to respiratory failure, thus making it one of the most potent, venomous cobras in all of Africa. The female cape cobra lays around 8 to 20 large eggs in a burrow.
Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje)
The Egyptian cobra is found in the Arabian peninsula as well as in Africa. It can grow 5 to 8 feet in length, and is therefore one of the largest species of Naja. It has a characteristic head and hood. The head is very large, with a broad snout. The eyes are large and it has round pupils with a 'tear drop' mark below the eye. This terrestrial snake is nocturnal in nature. It generally prefers to escape when approached by humans. However, when threatened, it will resume its upright posture and spread its hood. This cobra feeds on small mammals, lizards, toads, other snakes, birds, etc. In a single bite, the Egyptian cobra is capable of delivering 175 to 200 mg of neurotoxin. This neurotoxin affects the nervous system, that causes termination of nerve signals to muscles. As the venom spreads, the heart and lungs are affected, resulting in death due to respiratory paralysis.
Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica)
The Mozambique spitting cobra is one of the several spitting cobra species found in Africa. This is one of the small types that reaches a maximum length of 2½ to 3 feet. This cobra tends to spit its venom into the eyes of its enemies. The venom causes intense pain and can lead to temporary or permanent blindness. Its body color is olive, olive-gray, or tawny-brown. The Mozambique spitting cobra is an active snake and is rather fast. It tends to raise its hood and hiss loudly when threatened. If the enemy does not back off, it will spit the venom in the eyes or face. This causes temporary or permanent blindness and allows the snake to escape. If it does bite, it leads to tissue destruction.
Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca)
The forest cobra is the second largest species of cobra. It can reach a length of 6 to 9 feet and sometimes reach over 9 feet in length. It is found in the heavily-forested areas of west Africa. This snake is capable of delivering neurotoxins that can lead to death if not treated soon.
King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
The King cobra is the most-feared of all cobras. This fierce snake is the longest venomous snake in the world. It can reach a length of 12 to 13 feet and weighs about 13 pounds. It is the only member of the genus Ophiophagus and is identified by its large size and hood marks. It has the symbol "^" on its neck instead of the single eye shape seen in other cobras. It is found in south and southeast Asia, etc. This snake uses its fork tongue to pick up scents and detect a meal. It can detect a moving prey that is almost 100 meters away. This highly-aggressive snake tends to raise its hood and display its fangs to the enemy. It hisses loudly and can deliver multiple bites in a single attack. However, in most cases, the king cobra prefers to escape and not bite. Its venom contains neurotoxins as well as cardiotoxic compounds. This snake can inject about 380 to 600 mg of venom in a single bite. This can lead to the death of a healthy adult within 15 minutes. The amount of venom injected can kill 20 to 40 grown men or an adult elephant.
Indian Spectacled Cobra (Naja naja)
One of the four big species of cobra, the Indian cobra is a found in the Indian subcontinent. As mentioned in the first paragraph, the spectacled cobra or the Indian cobra is a revered snake in the Indian culture. When the snake raises its hood, you can see two circular ocelli patters that are connected with a curved line. This gives it an appearance of spectacles. This snake reaches a length of about 6 to 8 feet. Its venom contains post synaptic neurotoxins that affect the synaptic nerves, thus leading to muscle paralysis, respiratory failure, and cardiac arrest. The venom can turn fatal in less than one hour if not treated with an anti-venom.
These are some of the different types of cobras found in the world. Cobras are one of the most venomous snakes. They will never strike till they are cornered or threatened. If you happen to come across a cobra, quietly back off. There is no need to poke the snake with a stick or throw stones at it. If a cobra visits your garden, then call the authorities who will catch it and release it back into the wild. Do not kill a snake unless absolutely necessary. Snakes as well as most of the cobra species are on the endangered species list. The biggest predator of cobras and all other snakes is man. These beautiful creatures of the wild mind their business, if left alone. If at all someone is bitten by a snake, call medical emergency services immediately and make sure that the victim is given a timely anti-venom. This will help save the life of the person who is bitten.