The Chinese cobra (Naja atra), sometimes also known as the Taiwan cobra, is a cobra species in the Elapidae family that's predominantly found in southern continental China and the Island province of Hainan.
The species is also found in Hong Kong, northern Laos, northern Vietnam, and Taiwan. Other local names include Chinese spectacled snake, the long-chinned snake.
The medium-sized Chinese cobra is usually between 1.2 and 1.5 metres (3.9 to 4.9 ft) long, but although rare some individuals may grow up to a length of 2 metres (6.6 ft).
Due to their similar appearance they are sometimes confused with the Monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia).
These snakes are terrestrial, diurnal and crepuscular meaning are active during both the day but also at night. They typically hunt during the day. But extend that period up to 3 hours after sunset from March to October when temperatures reach 20 to 32 °C (68–90 °F).
Despite being highly venomous these cobras will usually try to escape and avoid any confrontation with humans.
Being very alert snakes they seldom become cornered, with younger specimens usually being more aggressive than adult snakes.But if cornered they will raise the fore body spreading their hood and will quickly strike if necessary.
Subspecies / Taxonomy / Etymology
There are no subspecies currently recognized by scientists for the Chinese Cobra. Since it belongs to the genus Naja the species is considered a "true" cobra, unlike the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) despite its common name.
The first to describe the Chinese cobra (Naja atra) in 1842, was Theodore Edward Cantor a Danish zoologist, physician, and botanist.
The species generic name naja is a Latinisation of the Sanskrit word naga which means "cobra", while the specific epithet atra comes from the Latin word "ater", which translates as "dark", "black", or "gloomy".
Venom / Bite
The Chinese cobra is a member of the true cobras (genus Naja) and it's highly venomous. The species is responsible for numerous human bites because it's one of the most prevalent venomous snakes found in China and Taiwan.
Taiwan records ranging from 1904 to 1939 show a 15% mortality rate (87 deaths out of 593 bites), which is higher than the mortality rate of the deadly Indian cobra (Naja naja).
Postsynaptic neurotoxins and cardiotoxins make up the majority of their venom. One bite contains 150 to 200 mg (dry weight) of venom. Like other elapids this is a proteroglyphous snake, short fixed fangs near the front of of the upper jaw used to inject the venom.
Despite the fact that this is not a spitting cobra like the Mozambique Spitting Cobra, certain individuals (mainly from Guizhou Province) are in fact capable of spitting venom at a threat within 6.6 ft (2 meters).
The Chinese cobra bite include a variety of local symptoms ranging from pain, wound darkening, insensibility, localized redness and swelling, and invariably blisters and necrosis.
Other systemic symptoms may also occur like general ache, fever, chest discomfort, sore throat and difficulty in swallowing, loss of voice, weakening limbs, walking haltingly, lockjaw, and breathing difficulties.
Today antivenom is much more widely available and fatalities are much rarer than in the past but deaths occasionally still occur.
Diet / Feeding
This snake's diet is extremely diverse. It loves eating vertebrates of all kinds, from fish to mammals, sometimes they even prey on lizards and birds. The Chinese cobra feed mostly on rodents, frogs, toads, fish, and also other snakes.
Adult snakes usually prefer reptiles and mammals, whilst juveniles eat largely amphibians. However during amphibian breeding season, adults will also mostly feed on frogs or toads.
Some of their more common victims are the Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), the common tree frog (Polypedates leucomystax), and the cricket frog (Fejervarya limnocharis).
Chinese cobras like other cobra species are oviparous or egg-laying snakes. The time between mating and egg laying is extremely long.
The mating season takes place in the the spring from March to May. As it was observed in the mountains of Vietnam's western Tonkin region, at altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 6,600 ft (400 to 2,000 m) above sea level.
Between May and the end of July, the females will lay usually between 6 and 23 eggs and then will guard them throughout the incubation period which lasts 2 months.
At birth the hatchlings are about 30 cm in length, and able to hunt almost from the moment they hatch from the eggs.
Conservation / Threats
Although the Chinese cobra is still widespread across its native range, their population is declining owing to habitat degradation, intensive hunting for the food market, and pollution.
The species population size is unknown, according to the IUCN Red List and other sources. The species is presently listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, and their population has been declining. The species was last assessed for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2011.
Did You Know?
Beside the longest fangs the deadly gaboon viper as also the largest venom glands.