The Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is a venomous snake also known as the Asp is one of the largest cobra species found in the African continent second only to the forest cobra (Naja melanoleuca). The species is also known by other common names like African banded cobra, banded cobra, brown cobra or Arabian cobra.
Its other common name is Cleopatra's asp. Due to the legend that states that Cleopatra committed suicide by being bitten by an Egyptian cobra. She probably chose this snake for its quick-acting venom.
The ancient Egyptians worshiped the Egyptian Cobra or Asp and it represented the "fiery eye of Re", so it was used as a symbol on the crown of the pharaohs.
The Egyptian Cobra is found throughout most of North Africa north of the Sahara desert, and also south of the Sahara through West Africa, in the Congo Basin, Kenya and Tanzania and the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.
They typically inhabit both dry and moist steppes, savannas, grasslands and semi-desertic regions with some vegetation and water, abandoned animal burrows and rock outcroppings often make suitable homes. The Egyptian cobra is mainly nocturnal but can be seen occasionally sunning itself in the early morning.
The head is somewhat small and also flat with a rounded snout. They have smooth large and distinct scales, and the colors vary from grayish, yellow, to brown to almost black. The Egyptian cobra ventral region can be yellow-white, yellow-brown, gray, blue-gray, dark brown or black and the neck often presents black bands.
The Egyptian cobra size is dependent both on the population and geography, they can grow between 3 and 7 feet up to a maximum of 10 feet and weigh up to 20 pounds. In the wild, they live about 20 to 30 years. When it feels threatened and it can't get away, the snake will raise the frontal part of its body and spread its neck into a characteristic hood shape as a warning.
The species is one of the most frequently used in the "Snake Charming" shows it's wide hood and impressive build make the Egyptian cobra species a good choice for the charmers. Unlike other cobra species, the Egyptian cobra doesn't display the noticeable dorsal marking or “eyespots” of other famous cobras including the Indian cobra or the monocellate cobra.
Some people will take them as a pet, the species can be curious and is relatively docile. The Egyptian cobra has grown in popularity among herpetoculturists in the West and is now frequently bred in captivity and readily available in the exotic pet trade.
In some occasions, the snake will pretend to convulse and die in the hope that predators like the Mongoose will leave it alone. The Egyptian cobra is, however, unable to spit venom as some other cobras such as the Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica) or the Red spitting cobra (Naja pallida).
Subspecies / Taxonomy
This naja species was first described by Swedish zoologist Carolus Linnaeus in the year 1758. The name naja is a Latinisation of the Sanskrit word "nagá", which means literally "cobra" and the epithet haje is derived from the Arabic word hayya meaning small "snake" or "viper".
Since they belong to the genus naja the species is considered a "true" cobra, unlike for instance the King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) in spite of its common name.
Today the Egyptian cobra has no subspecies recognized, but in the past, both the blackish populations found in Morocco (N. h. legionis) and the Arabian populations (N. h. arabica) were considered subspecies.
Other snake species were also regarded as their subspecies including the Anchieta's cobra (Naja anchietae) or the snouted cobra (Naja annulifera), but now are considered separate species.
Venom / Bite
The highly venomous Egyptian cobra is extremely dangerous, their venom contains primarily neurotoxins as well as cytotoxins. In a single bite, these cobra snakes can inject anywhere from 175 to 300 mg, with a subcutaneous LD50 value in mice of 1.15 mg/kg.
This is why Egyptian cobras are considered one of the most venomous snakes in Africa and responsible for many human fatalities, it can even kill an adult elephant in 3 hours. Its neurotoxic venom destroys nerves and tissue, and causes paralysis and will result in death due to respiratory failure within a short period of time.
Their bite also induces local pain, blistering, bruising, swelling, necrosis and, other general effects like nausea, dizziness, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and even collapse or convulsions. However, with the increasing availability of antivenom serum, the high death rate has decreased.
Diet / Feeding
The Egyptian cobra feeds on eggs, chicks, lizards, birds, small mammals, toads and even on other snakes including other venomous species such as the puff adder (Bitis arietans).
Egyptian cobras are oviparous, meaning females lay eggs. The mating season in the wild occurs from the end winter until the beginning of summer. After a gestation period of about 90 to 100 days, the female Egyptian cobra will lay between 8 to 33 eggs in a single clutch.
The incubation period ranges anywhere from 48 to 70 days, the hatchlings emerge from the eggs in April or May. The hatchlings are about 8 to 11.5 inches long (20 to 30 cm) and are also able to fend for themselves shortly after being hatched.
Conservation / Threats
The species is listed as "Least concern" by the IUCN, but this species is rapidly disappearing in the majority of its former range due primarily to over collection and loss of habitat. This species is very often drawn towards human dwellings where rodents are common, with this proximity to humans the Egyptian cobra is often killed on sight.
Humans are the largest predator of this snake its skin are one of the most highly prized of the exotic reptile leathers with prices as high as 200 US dollars for a large snake skin. It's often said that "a cobra hunter will always return victorious" because if they are unsuccessful, they do not return.
Did You Know?
The Australian inland taipan bite contains venom enough to kill up to 100 full grown men.