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Cobras are found in Africa and Asia, and they have held a special place in human culture from ancient Egypt to modern India. About 30 species of snakes are commonly called cobras, including the king cobra (the world's largest poisonous snake) and varieties that can "spit" venom.
Cobras belong to the same snake family (Elapidae) as coral snakes and mambas. Not all types of snakes popularly called cobras may be directly related to the same ancestors. Rearing up to display a flattened neck that forms a hood and spraying venom are abilities that apparently evolved more than once in different members of the elapid family of snakes.
The different species of cobra live in habitats ranging from tropical rain forests and swamps to savannas and deserts. Because many cobra species prey on small rodents, the snakes may hunt or live in areas around human settlements or in fields where crops grow-both places where rodents thrive.
Cobras are found in most parts of Africa except for the Sahara Desert. Their range extends through the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and into Southeast Asia as far as Indonesia and the Philippines, and into southern China.
Description and Behavior
The famous hood of a cobra is created by elongated ribs that extend the loose skin of the neck behind the snake's head. Cobras raise up the front part of their bodies and flatten their necks to display the hood when they feel threatened or disturbed, often hissing loudly to add a further warning. The neck ribs can be folded back when the snake moves along the ground.
Like most snakes, cobras use their forked tongues to detect smells or taste objects. The flicking tongue picks up molecules in the air or along the ground. The tongue then passes over a special organ inside the mouth called Jacobson's organ. Although cobras are not sensitive to air-borne sounds, they can detect sounds through the ground. Bones in their jaws carry vibrations to the ear. Most species have relatively poor eyesight and hunt at dusk or at night. An exception is the king cobra, which is active in the daytime and can see objects over 100 m (330 ft) away.
Male cobras are typically larger than females. All cobras lay eggs except for ringhals, which give birth to live young. The females of some species guard their eggs but only female king cobras build nests.
Cobras prey on small rodents or other small mammals. They also eat birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, insects, and even eggs. Water cobras catch fish and king cobras specialize in eating other snakes. Similar to other venomous snakes, cobras use venom to subdue their prey before swallowing it whole, generally head first. The venom may contain substances that also break down the prey for digestion.
Types of Cobras
Species of cobra differ from each other in size, habits, and range. The term "true cobra" is used for species that belong to the genus Naja, notable for proportionately larger hoods with an eye-pattern on the back. Species range from 1 and 1.5 m (40 and 60 in) to 3 m (10 ft) long. True cobras are found in much of Africa, Asia, and parts of the Middle East.
Water cobras are found in Central Africa and grow to 1.8 to 2 m (6 to 7 ft) in length. Burrowing cobras, also called many-banded snakes, live in parts of the Congo region and in Cameroon, and grow to 60 cm (2 ft). Tree cobras are found in tropical forests in central and west Africa and average 2 to 2.7 m (7 to 9 ft) in length.
The king cobra, also known as the hamadryad, is the longest of all poisonous snakes, averaging 3.6 m (12 ft) but sometimes reaching 5.4 m (18 ft) in length. It is found in southern regions of Asia, including India, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Desert black cobras live in deserts in the Middle East, and can reach 1.3 m (4 ft) in length. Shieldnose cobras, also called African coral snakes, are 60 to 76 cm (2 to 2.5 ft) long, and occur in dry, sandy areas in southern Africa. Ringhals (also spelled rinkhals) are found in southern Africa and average about 1 m (40 in) in length, sometimes reaching 1.5 m (5 ft).
The King Cobra's biome is the Southeast Asian rainforest. Its habitat are the clearings, bamboo stands, and edges of the forest and it is also commonly found near rivers and swampy areas. The climate that the King Cobra lives in is rainy and humid. The average temperature is usually 95°F.
The King Cobra can grow up to 12-18 feet. Adults weigh 12-20 pounds. Their fangs can grow a 1/2 inch. Their color is olive, brown, or black. The underbelly is creamy or pale yellow. The King Cobra's generic name means "snake eater."
When the King Cobra is born, its venom is as strong as the adult's venom. The King Cobra mates in January and builds its nest in April. The Cobra starts to mate when it is about four years old. They mate once
a year. They lay 18-50 eggs. When the eggs are laid, it takes 70 to 77 days for the eggs to hatch. When the eggs hatch the young are 12-25 inches in length. Its average life span is about 20 years. Cobras are solitary and the male does not help to raise the young.
The King Cobra forms a hood when it feels threatened. When threatened, it also raises up one third of its length and may sway toward you. It will also sometimes expectorate (spit) in its prey's eyes which stings and will kill rapidly if it gets into the blood stream. The poison is also a special adaptation that paralyzes the nervous system of its prey, which is often larger than itself .The King Cobra is the only snake that builds a nest and guards it until the eggs hatch.
The King Cobra is a carnivore that eats mainly other snakes, but will eat lizards, some frogs, and sometimes small mammals.
Some of the main predators of the King Cobra are humans, the mongoose, and birds of prey. The cobra mainly preys on the other snakes, even venomous ones.
Since the rainforest is being cut down, the King Cobra is put at risk. Wildlife sanctuaries could be created to created to help preserve the habitat.