Sunday, 2 August 2009

King Cobra A vicious snake

Cobra is the common name for members of the family of venomous snakes, Elapidae, known for their intimidating looks and deadly bite. Cobras are recognized by the hoods that they flare when angry or disturbed; the hoods are created by the extension of the ribs behind the cobras' heads. These reptiles are found throughout the Philippines, southern Asia, and Africa. The king cobra is the world's longest venomous snake. The king cobra, or hamadryad, holds the record length of 24 ft. for a venomous snake! The king cobra is unique among snakes in that it makes a nest for its eggs, scraping up leaves and other debris in which to deposit them, and remains in the nest until the young hatch. It averages 3.7 m (12 ft) in length but is known to grow to 5.5 m (18 ft). It is a thin snake, olive or brown in color, with bronze eyes. It is found in the Philippines, Malaysia, southern China, Burma, and the Malay Peninsula. The other cobra of Asia is known variously as the common, Asian, Indian, or spectacled cobra (due to the eyeglass-shaped pattern on its skin). It seldom reaches a length of more than 1.8 m (6 ft). The hood of the Asian cobra is, proportionately, much larger than that of the king cobra and is usually yellow to brown, with a black-and-white spectacle pattern on top and two black and white spots on the lower surface. This snake causes thousands of deaths each year in India, where it is regarded with religious awe and are seldom killed. It ranges from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to China and Malaysia. Most cobras are natives of Africa. Among them is the spitting, or black-necked cobra, found from southern Egypt to northern South Africa. This snake can spray its venom from a distance of about 2.4 (about 8 ft) accurately. Varieties of the spitting cobra range in color from dull black to pink, the lighter-colored ones marked by a black band around the neck. The ringhals, a different type of spitting cobra confined to southern Africa, is the smallest of the cobras, reaching only about 1.2 m (about 4 ft) in length. It is dark brown or black with ridged, or keeled, scales and light rings on the neck. The asp, or Egyptian cobra is widely distributed throughout Africa, being the most common. Contrary to folklore, cobras will seldom attack unprovoked. When threatened, however, the Cobra will make full use of its deadly force. Cobras are famous for their use by snake charmers because they respond well to visual cues, and are of spectacular appearance.

Scientific Data: Cobras belong to the family Elapidae (Reptilia: Serpentes). There is much discussion among researchers and taxonomists as to the actual variations of both the African and Asian species. Venom researchers have known of these differences for some time, but did not have a sound systematic framework on which to base this. It was not until recently, with an interest in developing more effective antivenins, that extensive scientific research has been conducted into these differences. Due to the ongoing research in the field, the classifications and taxonomic naming of the varieties of cobras is currently dynamic. I have attempted to use that information herein which is most widely accepted.

In the past, Asian cobras have been generally classified as Naja naja. More recent population systematics research has revealed a number of sub-species as follows: N. naja in northern india and Pakistan, N. kauthia in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam; N. sumatrana in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand; N. oxiana in Pakistan, N. sagittifera in the Andaman Islands, N. atra in China, Taiwan, northern Vietnam, N. Philippinensis in the northern Philippines, N. samarensis in the southern Philippines, and N. sputatrix in southern Indonesia.

The king cobra is classified as Ophiophagus hannah (aka Hamadryad), the spitting cobra as Naja nigricollis, the Egyptian cobra as Naja haje, the water cobras as N. boulengerina, the tree cobras as N. pseudohaje, the "pink" cobra as N. pallida, and the shield-nose cobra as N. aspidelaps.

For further discussion on scientific classifications, systematics, and venom research, check the resources available in the "Cobra Reading Room

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