Added 30 December 2009. Last updated 3 January 2010: added details for N. anchietae, N. annulifera, N. atra, N. kaouthia, N. nivea, N. sagittifera and N. siamensis, and updated details for N. melanoleuca and N. mossambica.

A Look at the Family Elapidae


True Cobras


These are the true cobras, and the most widespread of cobra genera, covering all of Africa, Arabia, the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia including China, the Philippines and Indonesia. Naja fossils are also known from as far back as the Upper Miocene period in France.

Naja are distinguished by their relatively generous size (smallest adults about 1m, the largest 2.7m), short broad heads with large eyes and round pupils, and smooth dorsal scalation in 17-25 rows at midbody. The hood is of course also distinctive, although it should be borne in mind that certain other snakes including colubrids can also form a hood when aroused. Daily activity cycles vary from species to species, but within their ranges Naja may be quite common in places. All are oviparous. Diet is other vertebrates, with regards to which the African species at least are overall fairly catholic. Some species have the ability to spit venom, a fact worth remembering as the venom can cause pain and blindness. O'Shea notes that often a spitting and non-spitting species may occur in the same location in Africa and continental SE Asia.

These are undoubtedly fascinating snakes on account of their intelligence, but it is worth reiterating that keeping one is a big and potentially risky - not to say dangerous! - undertaking that will almost certainly involve considerable expense, assuming you can legally keep one in your area. See also John A Klein's experiences with keeping cobras.

This page is still incomplete in terms of full species accounts but will be completed over time.

N. anchietae, Anchieta's Cobra N. annulifera, Snouted Cobra N. atra , Chinese Cobra
N. haje, Egyptian Cobra N. kaouthia, Monocled Cobra N. katiensis, Mali Cobra
N. mandalayensis, Burmese Cobra N. melanoleuca, Forest Cobra N. mossambica, Mozambique Spitting Cobra
N. naja, Indian Cobra N. nigricollis, Black-Necked Cobra N. nivea, Cape Cobra
N. nubiae N. oxiana, Black Cobra N. pallida, Red Spitting Cobra
N. philippensis, Philippines Cobra N. sagittifera, Andaman Cobra N. samarensis, Samar Cobra
N. siamensis, Indochina Cobra N. sputatrix, Javanese Cobra N. sumatrana

Scientific Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
N. anchietae Anchieta's Cobra S Angola, N & C Namibia, N Botswana, NW Zimbabwe, W Zambia Max TL 2.1m Formerly considered a subspeccies of N. annulifera: see latter entry for further details. Branch notes that whereas annulifera is less aggressive, anchietae is "more willing to continue the argument". It is a non-spitter. Scalation details: suboculars present. Dorsal scalation: 17 scale rows at midbody. Other: thick-set body, large head. Coloration: yellow-grey to brown or blue-black, older specimens being darker; ventrally yellowish with dark blotches; dark throat band, more conspicuous in juveniles; banded phase, found in individuals longer than 60cm and more frequently in males, has 7-9 yellowish bands on body and 2 on tail. Reproduction: males slightly larger than females; see annulifera for other details. [SOURCE: Branch]
N. annulifera Snouted Cobra NE RSA, E Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, N Mozambique Max SVL 2.1m (m), 1.9m (f) Nocturnal non-spitting species, but often basks at entramce to retreat in morning sun. Habitat is savannah. Less aggressive than anchietae, although adults are aggressive towards one another. It may sham death. Preys on small vertebrates, including toads, snakes (inc. puff adders, Bitis arietans, by large Snouted Cobras) and bird eggs. Branch notes that it may become a pest in poultry runs. Scalation details: suboculars present. Dorsal scalation: 19 scale rows at midbody. Other: thick-set body, large head. Coloration: yellow-grey to brown or blue-black, older specimens being darker; ventrally yellowish with dark blotches; dark throat band, more conspicuous in juveniles; banded phase, found in individuals longer than 60cm and more frequently in males, has 7-9 yellowish bands on body and 2 on tail. Reproduction: males slightly larger than females; females lay 8-33 eggs in loose soil or disused termite mounds in early summer. [SOURCE: Branch]
N. atra Indochinese Cobra, Chinese Cobra S China (inc. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Hainan), Laos, Vietnam Max SVL 1.65m, avg 90cm Formerly considered subspecies of N. naja. In Hong Kong in 1986, despite having caused fatalities in the territory, it was still being sold in snake shops. Karsen et al made two interesting notes on the species, firstly that in captivity it was known to spit venom, but without the accuracy of true "spitters", and secondly that in addition to the normal live vertebrates it would take carrion. Moderately stout body, blunt head, two short fangs in front of jaw. Coloration: normally dark, often black but may also be grey or brown; monocle or spectacle marking on hood; sometimes thin white lateral bands present on body; ventrally yellowish or whitish [SOURCE: Karsen et al].
N. haje Egyptian Cobra [F Cobra d'Égypte, Cobra Égyptien; D Uräusschlange] North, East and South Africa, Arabia Max TL 2½ m: avg TL 1-2m This is the largest snake in North African between Morocco and Libya. It is also the only species of cobra with a subocular scale. Despite its range, however, it is not found in true deserts but arid regions with at least some access to water and vegetation, as well as steppes and moist and dry savanna land and woodland. In East Africa at least, forest is avoided. Its diet is catholic and may include rodents up to the size of rats and jirds, birds up to the size of chickens, lizards, snakes, frogs and toads, and eggs. It may often be found near villages as the latter offer easy access to such prey, and may occasionally enter houses. It is a clumsy but quick mover and good swimmer, and may also ascend trees. Daily activity seems hard to classify as it may hunt at any time and bask during the day, although SHDA consider it mostly nocturnal and crepuscular, at least in North Africa. Adults remain at the same site for years. Scalation details: rostral usually as broad as deep; internasals narrower than prefrontals and as long; no loreal; 1 preocular, 2-3 postoculars; 2-3 suboculars; temporals 1+2 or 3; 6-8 (usually 7) supralabials, of which 3rd is deeper and wider than the surrounding ones and 6th is large and contacts lower postocular; 4 infralabials in contact with anterior submaxillaries; dorsal scales elongated and smooth, arranged in chevrons which point towards the tail, in 19-21 (usually 20) rows at midbody; 191-220 ventrals; 53-65 paired subcaudals; anal undivided. Other: body cylindrical and stout; head large, depressed, slightly distinct from neck; neck can form hood, 15-18cm wide; snout fairly wide; eyes rather large, with round pupil; tail moderately long; fangs 8-10mm long. Coloration: (North Africa) variable: overall yellowish, yellowish-white, yellowish-green, greyish, copper-red, pale or dark brown, blackish, blackish-brown or bluish-black; may be uniform or have paler or darker spots; neck may have one or several grey or black transverse bands; old individuals may be dorsally completely black; ventrally yellowish-white, yellowish-brown, greyish, blue-greyish or dark brown; may be uniform or spotted. Juveniles from Libya are cream coloured with dark dorsal transverse bands, black heads and necks, and a narrow white vertebral line. (East Africa) usually dorsally brown, red-brown or greyish-brown; ventrally yellow or cream; wide grey or brown gular bar, 8-20 scales deep, often visible when hood is spread; irregular brown blotches and speckles on neck and belly; lips yellow; often dark patch under eye; brown individuals may have dorsal pattern of yellow scales, and cream ventral colour may extend onto sides in irregular blotches, especially specimens from S Kenya and N Tanzania; juveniles may be yellow, grey, orange or reddish, with dark ring on neck; some may have fine dark dorsal bands. Reproduction: males are larger than females. Mating takes place in N Africa in early summer; a clutch of 8-33 eggs is laid in loose soil, abandoned rodent burrows, old termite mounds or beneath rocks. Incubation takes about 7-11 weeks at temperatures of 27-30 deg C. Hatchlings have a dark band around the neck. Sexual maturity is reached after 27 months [SOURCE: KKS, SHDA].
N. h. haje   N Africa (SW Morocco to Egypt), Senegal eastwards to NE and E Africa  
N. h. arabica   SW Arabia eastwards to Oman  
N. h. annulifera   NE RSA, E Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, N Mozambique   Now regarded as a full species by some authorities: see separate entry. "Banded phase" has 7-10 or more yellowish transverse bands alternating with brown zones on body and tail. SHDA cite the observation by one authority that 70% of such individuals are males.
N. kaouthia Monocellate Cobra, Monocled Cobra India (Assam, Darjeeling), Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China (NW Guangxi, W Yunnan, SW Sichuan), N Malaysia SVL 2-2.3m Non-spiitter, formerly a subspecies of N. naja. The common cobra of eastern India and eastwards. Differs from N. naja in having only a single yellow or orange mark on the hood. Zhao and Adler note that Wüster and Thorpe's raising of N. kaouthia to full species status included redefining the species to include other populations, hence the distribution given here is tentative. Inhabits wetter areas of India compared to N. naja, including agricultural fields and plantions as well as forests, and may also enter human areas [Daniel]. In Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, found in a variety of hiding places including termite mounds, and inhabits plains and moutains up to 700m [Cox et al]. Coloration: overall olive, brown or black, medium brown to dark-brown or grey-brown; uniform or slightly banded; distinct yellow or orange mark on hood, variable but often monocle-shaped; throat white with small pair of lateral spots; ventrally variable but usually distinct dark band behind throat, followed by a light band and another dark band, the rest of the venter being dark pigmented. Reproduction: in India, clutches of 15-30 eggs laid Jan-Mar; female guards nest during incubation period (about 50 days). In Thailand, peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, females lay up to 45 eggs. [SOURCES: Cox et al, Daniel]
N. katiensis Mali Cobra Senegal, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Nigeria   Formerly considered a subspecies of N. mossambica.
N. mandalayensis   Myanmar    
N. melanoleuca Forest Cobra Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Dem Rep Congo, Angola, Mozambique, E Zimbabwe, RSA (Zululand), Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan Max 2.7m; avg 1.4-2.2m  Found in forest, woodland, coastal thicket, moist savanna and grassland, from sea level to 2,500m altitude. Schmidt and Noble recorded it as abundant in the rain forest of the Congo. It is a good swimmer, in some areas eating largely fish, and can also climb trees up to 10m. Can be both diurnally active, when it favours uninhabited areas, and nocturnally in urban areas. Apart from the usual hiding places (holes, hollow logs, termite hills, etc) it may also hole up in bird holes or along river banks, and in unused buildings. O'Shea claims to have removed them from under beds and inside washrooms. Has a long striking distance and can rear up to a fair height. A wide range of prey is taken, including small mammals, birds' eggs, lizards up to the size of monitors, amphibians, fish and other snakes. A captive longevity of 28 years has been recorded. Few bites have been recorded, but SHDA note that the intelligence and aggression of this cobra species make it a very daunting captive. O'Shea considers the species to be "tricky and dangerous". Scalation details: rostral wide; 1 preocular, 3 postoculars; 7 supralabials, of which 3rd & 4th contact eye, 8 infralabials; dorsal scales smooth and glossy, in 19 rows at midbody; 197-226 ventrals; 55-74 subcaudals. Other: body fairly thick, cylindrical; head large; large dark eye with round pupil; tail rather long and thin. Coloration: 3 main phases: (i) forest dwellers are overall glossy black; chin, throat and anterior belly are cream or white, with wide black crossbars and blotches; sides of head are marked in black and white, giving impression of black and white vertical bars on lips: (ii) inhabitants of area from East African coastal plain inland to Zambia are dorsally brownish or brownish-black, paler laterally; ventrally yellow or cream, heavily speckled with brown or black; individuals from southern part of this range have black tail: (iii) West African specimens are banded yellow and black. Reproduction: clutch of 15-26 eggs laid, incubation time 2 months [SHDA for East Africa] or 75-91 days [Branch, for southern Africa) [SOURCE: Branch, Schmidt & Noble, O'Shea, SHDA].
N. mossambica Mozambique Spitting Cobra, M'fezi E & SE Tanzania, Pemba, Zanzibar, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, N Botswana, Angola, NE Namibia, E RSA Max 1.5m, avg 80cm-1.3m Found in coastal forest, thicket, moist savanna, cleared areas of former forest, and semi-desert up to 1,800m altitude. At night it may hunt around houses. Despite its smaller size care should be taken with this species as it is a ready spitter and does not necessarily spread its hood before doing so. Bites are quite common in the southern Africa area, and although rarely fatal do cause an unpleasant skin necrosis that often requires grafts. Branch notes that although this species feeds well in captivity it does not tame. Diet consists of amphibians, lizards, other snakes and rodents, and insects in some cases. Scalation details: 2 preoculars; 11-14 scales bordering parietals; dorsal scales smooth, in 23-25 rows at midbody; 177-205 ventrals; 52-69 subcaudals. Coloration: dorsally brown, sometimes pinkish, large adults sometimes grey, juveniles may appear olive-green; ventrally pale brown, pinkish or grey; neck, throat and anterior third of belly have pattern of black bars, half-bars, blotches and spots, varying in density among individuals; interstitial skin is black and visible, giving a reticulate appearance in some specimens; scales on side of head, especially lips, may be black-edged. Reproduction: clutch of 10-22 eggs laid in summer [SOURCE: Branch, O'Shea, SHDA].  
N. naja Indian Cobra, Spectacled Cobra, Binocellate Cobra N to NE India, Nepal, Bangladesh, SVL 2.2m An inhabitant of dry areas. 
N. nigricollis Black-Necked Spitting Cobra      
N. nivea Cape Cobra RSA (not eastern areas), S Namibia, S Botswana Max SVL 1.5m (m), 1.4 m (f) The most toxic venom of the African Naja species [O'Shea]. It is nervous and "confidently disputes the right of way" [Branch]. Diurnal and crepuscular non-spitting species. Found in arid karroid regions, esp. near river courses, and towards the coast in well-drained open areas, and near farms in some areas for hunting rats. It is also a good climber and climbs trees to raid weaver bird colonies. Other prey includes snakes, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, including other snakes. In captivity it is known to live for up to 26 years, although this species would appear to be a poor choice of captive for most keepers and even institutions due to its temperament and toxicity. Scalation details: narrow rostral; 1 preocular. Dorsal scalation: 19-21 scale rows at midbody. Other: small, slender body, broad head. Coloration: Branch records three phases: "yellow cobra" (esp. found in Botswana?) is a shade of yellow, sometimes speckled with brown; "brown or speckled cobra" (common in SW Cape) is bright reddish- to mahogany brown, with darker and paler flecks; "black cobra" (Great and Little Namaqualand) . Reproduction: females lay 8-20 eggs in a burrow. [SOURCES: Branch, O'Shea]
N. nubiae   Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt   Formerly considered part of N. pallida, but distinguished visually from latter by having >1 black gular band.
N. oxiana Black Cobra, Central Asian Cobra Extreme NW India (Jammu and Kashmir), SVL 1½m Coloration: overall brown or black, without markings; young are dorsally light grey or brown, with dark crossbars.
N. pallida Red Spitting Cobra N Tanzania, Kenya,Ethiopia, Eritrea, N Sudan, S Egypt    
N. philippinensis Philippine Cobra Philippines (Luzon and Mindoro)    
N. sagittifera Andaman Cobra India (Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal)  SVL 64cm A little-known but "potentially dangerous" [Das] inhabitant of forested areas and plantations on the island plains. Accepts rodents in captivity. Coloration: overall glossy black; light chevron markings in juveniles disappear with adulthood; monocle marking on hood; throat and belly grey. [SOURCE: Das]
N. samarensis Samar Cobra Philippines (Mindanao, Bohol, Samar and Leyte)    
N. siamensis Indochina Cobra, Indochinese Spitting Cobra Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam SVL 1.6m  This is a spitting cobra, as the common name implies. In Thailand, found in lowlands and hill country. Coloration: variable: hood marking monocle- or U-, V- or H-shaped, but often faint or absent: two basic colour phases: (i) black form: dorsally and ventrally uniform black, or black mottled with white, or predominantly white;  head usually black; hatchlings have slight patterning which develops with age: (ii) green form: overall olive- to greyish-green; usually immaculate but sometimes indistinct crossbands present; head greenish-brown; hood marking may be absent, or binocellate or U-shaped. Reproduction: (Thailand) 13-19 eggs per clutch. [SOURCE: Cox et al]
N. sputatrix Javanese Cobra Indonesia (Bali, Sulawesi)    
N. sumatrana Equatorial Spitting Cobra S Thailand, W Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (inc. Borneo and Sumatra) SVL 1.6m   


Guide to Philippine Flora and Fauna. Volume X, Amphibians and Reptiles, Prof. Angel C Alcala, Natural Resources Management Centre, Ministry of Natural Resources and University of the Philippines, 1986.

The Book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians, J C Daniel, Bombay Natural History Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.

Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa, W Kästle, H H Schleich and K Kabisch, Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany 1996.

A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Peninsular Malysia, Singapore and Thailand, Merel J Cox, Peter Paul van Dijk, Jarujin Nabhitabhata, Kumthorn Thirakhupt, New Holland, 2006.

Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa by Stephen Spawls, Kim Howell, Robert Drewes and James Ashe, Academic Press London 2002.

Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa, Bill Branch, Struik, Capetown 1998.

Hong Kong Amphibians and Reptiles, Stephen J Karsen, Michael Wai-Neng Lau, Anthony Bogdanek, Urban Council, Hong Kong 1986. Taxonomy now somewhat old but still a handy guide.

Herpetology of China, Er-mi Zhao and Kraig Adler, SSAR, 1993. Catalogue of practically every reptile and amphibian species found in mainland China, Hongkong, Macao, Tibet and Taiwan. Helpful here in giving range details for China.

"Captive Care and Reproduction of the Red Spitting Cobra", Erik Attmarson, Reptilia 33.

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.

"Introducing Cobras", Scott Pearson, Reptile Hobbyist 2:2, October 1996. Thought-provoking article that advocates private hobbyists not keep any of the Hemachatus, Naja or Ophiophagus species. Even if you disagree in principle, the author's arguments should still be read.


Wolfgang Wuster's Asiatic Cobra Systematics Page is extremely detailed and helpful, covering not only species descriptions but also some of the problems in identifying Asian Naja species.