The cape cobra (Naja nivea) is a highly venomous snake found in southern Africa, particularly in South Africa and in parts of Botswana and south part of Namibia. The species is also called the yellow cobra or brown cobra and sometimes South Africans call them "koperkapel" meaning copper cobra in the Afrikaans language.
The cape cobra was first described by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758, it has no known subspecies. Their specific epithet nivea deriving from the Latin nix or nivis, meaning "snow" or "snowy" is strange since their color isn't white or whitish. The relation with snow was probably due to the discolouration of the early preserved specimens studied by European taxonomists.
They belong to the non-spitting cobras, other members found in this fearsome group are the Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje) and the Snouted Cobra (Naja annulifera). Cape cobras are sometimes confused with other snakes like the rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) which isn't a true cobra (genus Naja) but is closely related to them.
This is a medium-sized cobra, with adult snakes measuring between 120 cm (47 inches) and the maximum recorded length of 187 cm (73 inches). Males are only slightly larger than females. Their captive lifespan is around 12 to 20 years, in the wild is difficult to determine.
The Cape cobra varies widely in coloration, ranging from yellow through golden brown to dark brown or even black, in addition, individuals show a varying degree of black or pale blotches and stippling. It's thought that color and markings are geographically related, but this remains unconfirmed and is possible to observe all color varieties in one location.
Although the Cape cobra geographical range is smaller than any other African cobras it inhabits a wide variety of ecosystems across its range. These include bushveld, arid savannas, fynbos, desert and semi-desert regions, scrub-lands, forest and high grassland.
They can be found at altitudes as high as 8,200 ft (2,500 m) above sea level. It will often occupy rodent burrows, abandoned termite mounds and rock crevices. They also venture human communities where they may enter houses to escape the heat and seek prey such as rodents, which brings the cape cobra into direct contact with humans frequently.
The Cape cobra is diurnal a snake species and active all year around and it doesn't hibernate. They will actively forage throughout the day, but during very hot weather they may become more crepuscular but are rarely seen during the night. It's very good at climbing trees with some low overhanging branches and uses this ability to raid birds nests.
The cape cobra is not usually aggressive or confrontational when compared to other African venomous snakes. But it will strike if it feels threatened and has no escape route, otherwise, it will quickly make an attempt to escape.
When disturbed the snake raises its fore-body off the ground and spreads its broad hood and may also hiss loudly. They have several predators including raptors, mongoose, meerkat, honey badger and various species of birds of prey.
Venom / Bite
Because of their usual contact with humans, the Cape cobra is regarded as one of the most dangerous venomous snake species in Africa. This is a highly venomous snake, with the most powerful venom of all African cobra species, it has also one of the highest rates of fatalities.
The subcutaneous LD50 value of their venom in mice is 0.72 mg/kg. The average quantity of venom injected in a bite is 100 to 150 mg and composed of deadly cardiotoxins and neurotoxins. The cape cobra venom is thick and with the consistency of syrup.
The snake uses its venom to target the nervous and respiratory system and also the heart. A bite to an adult human has a 60% chance of death if no antivenom is applied.
The envenomation symptoms include mild local pain or Numbness around bite site, excessive salivation, loss of consciousness, convulsions, drowsiness, eyelid drooping, limb paralysis.
Deaths occur anywhere from 1 hour in very severe cases up to 10 hours or more, the bite victims usually die from respiratory failure, due to paralysis caused by the venom. Local tissue necrosis may also occur.
Diet / Feeding
This cobra is a feeding generalist because it feeds on a wide variety of prey that includes other snakes such as the puff adder (see video), rodents, lizards, birds, and also carrion.
The species is also known for raiding Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius) nests. The Cape cobra can be cannibalistic and sometimes eats the juvenile of its own kind.
This snake species is oviparous. The mating season occurs during the months of September and October, in this period the snakes may become more aggressive than usual. The gestation period run for approximately 40 days and the incubation period about 65 to 70 days.
The female lays between 8 and 20 eggs in midsummer from December to January, in some warm and wet location like a hole or an abandoned termite mound. The hatchlings measure between 13 and 16 inches (34 to 40 cm) in length and are completely independent from birth.
Conservation / Threats
Their conservation status is listed as "Least Concern" but further studies are needed to better understand the cape cobra status in the wild.
Did You Know?
The south american green anaconda is, considered the largest snake in the world.