The species is also known as the spectacled cobra, Asian cobra or Binocellate cobra, due to its characteristic markings. These cobras are easily identified by their large and quite impressive hood, that they expand when feeling threatened, showing the famous hood mark.
Indian cobras are found in a wide range of habitats throughout their extensive range. These snakes inhabit plains, dense or open forests, rocky terrain or wetlands, it's only absent from desert regions found in its range. They are often found in near water.
It can also be found in human modified habitats like agricultural lands including wheat crops or rice paddy fields and even in heavily populated urban areas like villages or the outskirts of cities. In terms of altitude they can be found from sea level up to 6600 ft (2000 m) high.
The indian cobra usually hides in holes in embankments, termite mounds, tree hollows, rock piles, caves, cracks and small mammal dens.
The indian cobra is a medium sized, heavy bodied snake, with most adult specimens ranging from 3 to 5 ft (1-1,5 m) in length. Although occasionally some very large individuals, notably those found in Sri Lanka, grow to more than 7 ft (2m).
The indian cobra head is elliptical in shape, somewhat depressed and only slightly distinct from neck. They have a short and rounded snout with large nostrils. The eyes are medium sized with round pupils. Their body is covered with smooth scales.
Throughout its massive range the Indian cobra colour and pattern varies quite a bit. The species dorsal color ranges from creamy white, dark brown to black, with the belly coloration ranging from grey, tan, yellow, brown to reddish or even black.
It usually also features a characteristic wide black band in the throat area just under the neck. Most individuals exhibit the famous hood mark, although not all, located at the rear of the hood.
These markings when present, are formed by 2 circular ocelli connected by a curved line, resembling spectacles. Hence one of the species common names spectacled cobra, contrary to the monocled cobra which has only one circular ocelli.
The indian cobra is a medium sized, heavy bodied snakes, with most adult specimens ranging from 3 to 5 ft (1-1,5 m) in length. Although occasionally some very large individuals, notably those found in Sri Lanka, grow to more than 7 ft (2m).
The indian cobra head is elliptical in shape, somewhat depressed and only slightly distinct from neck. They have a short and rounded snout with large nostrils.The eyes are medium sized with round pupils.
The Indian cobra belongs to the genus Naja of the family Elapidae, which was first described in 1768 by Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti. The species was first described in 1758 by Swedish zoologist, physician and botanist Carl Linnaeus. Both the generic name and the specific epithet of the indian cobra, naja, derive from the Latinisation of "nāgá" the Sanskrit word meaning cobra.
Venom / Bite
The Indian cobra is one of the big four snakes of India, which are the snake species responsible for most of human fatalities by snakebite in India. The Indian cobra venom is highly neurotoxic and contains powerful post-synaptic neurotoxins and cardiotoxins, and other components like enzymes that help the venom to spread into the victim's body.
Local symptoms include swelling in the bite area, other general symptoms include weak limbs, eyelid drooping and extreme salivation accompanied by vomiting and sweating. The venom acts by paralyzing muscles, and in the most severe bites it can lead to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest and ultimately to death.
Their venom is fast acting with envenomation symptoms manifesting in as little as 15 minutes and up to 2 hours after the bite. The subcutaneous LD50 value in mice, ranges from 0.45 mg/kg to 0.75 mg/kg, with an average venom yield per bite ranging between 170 and 250 mg.
Even though indian cobras are responsible for thousands of bites, if prompt medical treatment and anti-venom are available and administered properly, only about 10% of bites prove to be fatal. But even without treatment and depending on the quantity of venom injected by the snake, studies show a mortality rate of approximately 20 to 30% for untreated bite victims.
A polyvalent antivenom serum is used to treat snakebites caused by the indian cobra. Also Zedoary, a local spice, reputed for being effective in treating snake bites, is undergoing testing to see its effectiveness against the indian cobra venom.
Diet / Feeding
The Indian cobra feeds on a variety of animals, but it preys mostly on rodents. This is why they are sometimes found near human dwellings, entering buildings, climbing on roof tops and trees in search of rodents.
They also eat small mammals, birds and bird eggs, frogs, toads lizards and even snakes including other venomous snakes.
The indian cobra bites quickly, injecting their prey with the highly toxic venom and then just wait until it paralyzes or kills the prey. Just like all other snake species, they swallow their prey whole.
The indian cobra is an oviparous snake and reproduces sexually, with males fertilizing the female's eggs. Although most snake species show no parental care for their offspring this isn't the case with the indian cobra females, males on the other hand have nothing to to do with their offspring.
The females protect their eggs and will defend them fearlessly from potential predators only leaving the nest briefly to feed. The eggs are usually laid in termite mounds, hollow trees, rat holes or in the ground, between April and July.
The average clutch size ranges from 8 to 45 eggs. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 50 to 70 days. After getting free from the eggs, the hatchlings are already capable of showing their parents signature threat display, rearing up and spreading the hood.
They measure between 8 and 12 inches (20-30 cm) in length, and are independent from birth, armed with fully functional venom glands.
Conservation / Threats
The indian cobra is not considered an endangered species, but there are some threats to the species. These include killing them out of fear or for human consumption and road kill.
The indian cobra is also the snake used by Indian snake charmers. Its toxic venom is also necessary in the production of antivenom and other research including pain-killers and anti-cancer drugs, some of it harvested illegally in regions of India and other countries within its range.
They are also hunted for their skin bearing the distinctive hood markings which is then used in the leather industry. The indian cobra is one of the many venomous snakes exploited for making traditional chinese medicines and also snake vine.
The species is listed in CITES because it closely resembles other threatened species. The species is also protected in India under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
Did You Know?
The cottonmouth is also commonly known as the water moccasin.