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Regions > Indomalaya > Spectacled cobra

Spectacled cobra

Location at the Zoo: Indomalaya











Scientific Name:

Naja naja


: Cobra are members of the family of venomous snakes Elapidae and can be recognized by the hood they flare when disturbed. The hood is created by the extension of movable ribs from the third to the thirteenth vertebrae behind the cobra’s head. The spectacled cobra, Naja Naja, has a clearly delineated black and white image on its neck resembling eyeglasses or spectacles. The colouring varies, ranging from olive-grey, dark or light brown to completely black. The latter one may have lighter markings along the body. The throat is usually yellowish-white. A full-grown cobra measures between 1.9 to 2.4 meters.


: Central Asia through India, western Pakistan, southern China to the Sunda Islands and the Philippines.


: This cobra can be found in a wide variety of habitats: grasslands, areas with scattered trees, in the vegetation along watercourses, plantations, rice paddies, near poultry barns and also in dry wasteland where they live in caverns or crevices.


: The cobra’s prey includes rats, mice, birds, lizards, frogs, toads, fish and bird eggs. They may also raid poultry barns consuming eggs and chicks. An unusual feeding trait is that they have long spines in their throat that pierce the egg allowing the contents to be swallowed but preventing the shell from passing through the throat. They spit the shell out. Typically, snakes swallow their prey live; however, venomous snakes wait for the toxin to kill the animal before swallowing it.

Reproduction and Development

: Cobras mate at different times of the year. Copulation can last five hours or even several days (with interruptions). Usually, twelve to twenty eggs are laid after two or three months, often in a hollow tree stump or termite hill. The female stays in the vicinity to defend her clutch of eggs but does not incubate them. The young hatch between 50 to 60 days. As with many snakes an egg tooth helps them to penetrate the eggshell. They are 20 to 30 cm long and weigh fifteen grams. The upright position and outspread hood of a threatening cobra is an innate behavioural pattern; even with their tail still inside the egg, the tiny cobra stands up and spreads the neck skin! Their first moult happens two to eleven days after hatching, before the snake starts feeding. Even the new hatchlings have venom.


: As with all snakes cobras are equipped with a “Jacobson’s Organ” which is an extrasensory organ in the roof of the snake’s mouth that sharpens its sense of smell. It consists of two hollow, highly sensitive sac-like structures. The snake’s acute odour perception allows it to track prey as well as potential mates. The fangs of a cobra are in front of the mouth. These fangs are firm but relatively short having a closed groove but with a deep indentation. As a rule, cobras produce neurotoxin, nerve venom that is incredibly potent affecting the nervous system causing paralysis of the respiratory muscles. The cobra is crepuscular.

Threats to Survival

: Cobras strike in a forward, downward direction, the banded or zebra mongoose, their natural enemy, jumps around the cobra and also attacks from above, biting its head. Other natural enemies are the serpent eagle, large fishing owls, rats, and even wild pigs. In many parts of India the cobra is revered in religious ceremonies and often protected for its rat catching abilities in agricultural areas. At present, there is no protective legislation in place. Cobra skins are one of the most highly prized exotic leathers, cobra meat is a delicacy in Hong Kong and folk medicine in Asia makes questionable use of the gall bladder and other organs for treating various ailments.


: IUCN: Not listed; CITES: Appendix ll

Zoo Diet

: Mice, Vitamin E