Added 1 April 2002. Last updated 30 December 2009: added links to Cobras, Hemachatus (Rinkhals), Naja (True Cobras) and Paranaja (Burrowing Cobra), and updated Bibliography.

The Elapidae

The Family Elapidae contain some of the best-known, or notorious, venomous snakes, including the cobras, the kraits, the coral snakes and the mambas. They differ from the Viperidae in that their front venom fangs are immovable and cannot be folded back as in the latter family. Most resemble moderately large colubrids, with a few burrowing or arboreal species. Traditionally elapid venom is usually neurotoxic.

Cobras have a fascination of their own for many people. Click here if this group of snakes interests you.

Family Elapidae

Genus Common Name Distribution Size Notes
Subfamily Bungarinae      
Aspidelaps Coral and Shield-Nosed Snakes Southern Africa   2 species: few casualties recorded but potentially dangerous.
Boulengerina Water Cobras W, C & E Africa   2 species. Both live near or on water and live mainly on fish. By nature they are not confrontational. Click here for a picture. DANGEROUS
Bungarus Kraits C & SE Asia, inc. Indian subcontinent & S China   12 species. Most kraits are fairly passive but a large number of bites are occurred either by barefoot locals treading on them as they lay on paths or by careless handling in markets. DANGEROUS
Dendroaspis Mambas Sub-Saharan Africa   4 species, including the Green Mamba (D. angusticeps) and Black Mamba (D. polylepis). The latter is greatly feared not only for its toxicity but also for its aggression if cornered. Mambas tend to dwell in dense undergrowth, making them all the more dangerous: they are also among the swiftest of snakes. DANGEROUS
Elapsoidea Garter Snakes Africa   8 species. Not to be confused with the harmless Garter Snakes (Thamnophis) of N America. Most prey on other reptiles but amphibians and small mammals are also taken. All are venomous, but the southern African species at least do not appear to be dangerously so: nevertheless caution is advised.
Hemachatus Rinkhals Southern Africa   1 species, the Rinkhals or spitting cobra. Apart from the toxicity of its venom, the Rinkhals is dangerous both for its spitting venom (which can lead to temporary or permanent blindness) and its ability to play dead before suddenly striking at a would-be predator or handler. DANGEROUS
Naja Cobras Africa and Asia   19 species. These are the true cobras of legend: note however that the King Cobra is not included in this genus. Some cobras at least have the reputation of being fairly intelligent, which makes them all the more riskier as snakes to keep in captivity. DANGEROUS
Ophiophagus King Cobra India, SE Asia and China 18' 1 species. The Latin name means "snake eater", and the King Cobra does prey entirely on other snakes. It is the largest venomous snake in the world. Although not common, it is widely distributed. DANGEROUS
Paranaja Burrowing Cobra W/C Africa 2' 1 species. This is a burrowing snake which seizes its prey underground: the fangs are proportionately long for the size of the snake. No cases of snakebite have been recorded, at least in writing. (Thanks to the German site for the above information).
Pseudohaje Tree Cobras W, C & E Africa Up to 6' 2 species. DANGEROUS
Walterinnesia Desert Blacksnake/Cobra Middle East from Egypt to Saudi Arabia 3'+ 1 species. This is a rare snake about which little is known, partly due to it being nocturnal and a desert dweller. Although it apparently usually strikes with a closed mouth, ie more as a defensive bluff, envenomation can cause painful effects on humans. (Thanks to the German site for this information).
Subfamily Elapinae      
Calliophis Oriental Coral Snakes India, SE Asia, China, Philippines & Japan Up to 3' 9 species. These are nocturnal forest dwellers that rarely make human contact and are not particularly aggressive: nevertheless the venom is potentially dangerous.
Micruroides Western Coral Snake USA & Mexico 20" 1 species. DANGEROUS
Micrurus Eastern Coral Snake The Americas Up to 3' (some 4½') 63 species. Very widely distributed. Usually show a colour arrangement of red, black and yellow. Despite their small size their venom is very potent. DANGEROUS
Maticora Long-Glanded Coral Snakes SE Asia, Indonesia and Philippines Up to 4½' 2 species, both ophiophagic (snake-eaters). Some authorities consider these to be part of the Calliophis genus. At least potentially dangerous.
Parapistocalumnus Many-Banded Snake Bougainville Island & Solomon Islands 20" 1 species. No other information available.
Subfamily Notechinae      
Acanthophis Death Adders Australia 16-40" 2-3 species. Mattison notes that these snakes resemble vipers rather than the traditional elapid form. All are DANGEROUS
Aspidomorphus Collared Adder Indonesia and Papua New Guinea   3 species
Austrelaps Australian Copperhead Australia 85" 1 species: some of the various forms may yet be classified as full species (Cogger). DANGEROUS
Brachyurophis   ?   2 species, including the Green Mamba (D. viridis) and Black Mamba (D. polylepis). The latter is greatly feared not only for its toxicity but also for its aggression if cornered. Mambas tend to dwell in dense undergrowth.
Cacophis Crowned Snakes Australia (NSW & Queensland) 10-30" 3-4 species. Most if not all considered not dangerous to humans.
Cryptophis   Southern Africa   1 species, the Rinkhals or spitting cobra. Apart from the toxicity of its venom, the Rinkhals is dangerous both for its spitting venom (which can lead to temporary or permanent blindness) and its ability to play dead before suddenly striking at a would-be predator or handler.
Demansia Whip Snakes Australia plus 1 in New Guinea 20-52" 6 species. Small, fast, whip-like diurnal snakes. Only large specimens of some of the species (D. atra and D. psammophis) are potentially dangerous (Cogger). Most if not all feed on small lizards, mainly skinks.
Denisonia Western Coral Snake E Australia 20-24" 2 species. Nocturnal snakes that are not large: D. maculata may be potentially dangerous (Cogger).
Drysdalia Australian Crowned Snakes S Australia 16" 4 species. Small slender snakes, most if not all not dangerous to man.
Echiopis   Sub-Saharan Africa 16-24" 2 species. Despite small size, E. curta at least is dangerous to man.
Elapognathus Little Brown Snake SW Australia 16" 1 species with an extremely small range. A small and rare snake not considered dangerous to man.
Furina Naped Snakes Australia (mainly NE) & New Guinea 16-28" 5 species. Small to moderate size, most if not all not dangerous to humans.
Hemiaspis   E Australia 1-2' 2 species. Small to moderate size, not considered dangerous (although painful) to humans.
Hoplocephalus Broad-Headed Snakes E Australia 1½-3' 3 species: bites painful but not dangerous.
Loveridgelaps Orange-Banded Snake Solomon Islands   1 species
Micropechis Pacific Coral Snake Papua New Guinea and Indonesia   1 species
Neelaps Western Black-Naped and Western Black-Striped Snakes W Australia   2 species, N. bimaculata and N. calonotus (Western Black-Naped Snake and Western Black-Striped Snake). These species were not listed in Cogger nor given any clarification in the EMBL reptile database, and I am grateful to Brian Bush for his identification guide.
Notechis Tiger Snakes S Australia & Tasmania, also New Guinea 3-4½' 2 species. DANGEROUS
Ogmodon Fiji Cobra Fiji   1 species, O. vitianus, present only on the island of Viti Levu. Mattison notes that the presence of this snake in such a remote area is hard to explain.
Oxyuranus Taipans N & E Australia 6-7½' 2 species. DANGEROUS
Pailsus   Australia (N Queensland)   1 species: EMBL database listing suggests it is synonymous with Pseudechis australis (see below).
Pseudechis Black Snakes Australia 4½-6' 5 species. Cogger has pointed out that the common name is somewhat misleading as the most widely spread of these snakes is actually the Mulga or King Brown Snake, P. australis. All are considered DANGEROUS.
Pseudonaja Brown Snakes Australia and New Guinea 20-54" 6-7 species, although Cogger notes that the genus is need of revision. According to Mattison, these snakes also constrict their prey as well as envenomating it. Most of the species are DANGEROUS.
Rhinoplocephalus   Australia (coastal regions) and New Guinea 16-32" 6 species. Considered harmless to man.
Salomonelaps Solomon Island Brown Snake Solomon Islands   A large complex of snakes
Simoselaps Australian Coral Snakes Australia Up to 2' 12 species. These are burrowing snakes only seen on the surface at night (Cogger). All are considered harmless to both man and domestic animals.
Suta Western Coral Snake Australia and New Guinea 16-30" 9 species, of which only Suta suta (the largest in the genus) is considered dangerous.
Toxicocalamus Venomous Island Snakes Indonesia and Papua New Guinea 1-3' 9 species. No other information available.
Tropidechis Rough-Scaled Snake E Australia (coastal regions) 30-40" 1 species, found in two small and separated ranges. DANGEROUS
Unechis Little Whip Snake Bougainville Island & Solomon Islands   2 species (?): considered by many, including apparently Cogger, to be members of the Suta genus.
Vermicella Bandy-Bandys N & E Australia 24-40" 2 species (although only one is recognised by some authorities). Both are banded in black and white.


Snakes of the World, Chris Mattison, Blandford. Very concise and useful guide to the general biology, natural history and classification of snakes, including an overview of virtually all the world's species.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 6th Edition, Harold Cogger. Complete encyclopedia of the herpetofauna of Australia and its outlaying islands, including descriptions of scalation and habitat, etc. Very well illustrated.

Venomous Snakes of the World, Mark O'Shea, New Holland, 2008 edition. Useful overall guide to venomous snakes, few anatomical details but venom is briefly described for each species.

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