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Naja sp., African cobras

see also Asiatic cobras, Naja sp.


  • 1. Naja anchietae
  • 2. Naja annulata
  • 3. Naja annulifera
  • 4. Naja arabica
  • 5. Naja ashei
  • 6. Naja christyi
  • 7. Naja guineensis
  • 8. Naja haje
  • 9. Naja katiensis
  • 10. Naja melanoleuca
  • 11. Naja mossambica
  • 12. Naja multifasciata
  • 13. Naja nana
  • 14. Naja nigricincta
  • 15. Naja nigricollis
  • 16. Naja nivea
  • 17. Naja nubiae
  • 18. Naja pallida
  • 19. Naja peroescobari
  • 20. Naja savannula
  • 21. Naja senegalensis
  • 22. Naja subfulva


N. nubiae had previously been assigned to N. pallida.

N. anchietae had previously been assigned to N. haje.

N. annulata had previously been assigned to Boulengerina annulata.

N. christyi had previously been assigned to Boulengerina christyi.

N. annulifera had previously been assigned to N. haje.

N. multifasciata had previously been assigned to Paranaja multifasciata.

N. nigricincta had previously been assigned to N. nigricollis.


Naja (Boulengerina) melanoleuca sensu lato is now splitted into 5 new species (Wüster et al. 2018):

N. guineensis sp. nov.

N. melanoleuca

N. peroescobari

N. savannula sp. nov.

N. subfulva


3 subgenera for African cobras have been proposed:

-Afronaja for the seven African spitting cobras (N. ashei, N. katiensis , N. mossambica, N. nigricincta, N.nigricollis, N. nubiae and N. pallida, Wüster et al. 2007)

-Uraeus for six non spitting cobras (N. anchietae, N. annulifera, N. arabica, N. haje, N. nivea and N. senegalensis, Broadley and Wüster 2004, Trape et al. 2009)

-Boulengerina for the two water cobras (N. annulata and N. christyi), the burrowing cobra (N. multifasciata) and the new species complex of forest cobras (N. guineensis, N. melanoleuca, N. peroescobari, N. savannula and N. subfulva), (Wüster et al. 2018).


Serpentes; Elapidae; Elapinae

Common names

Afrikanische Kobras

N. ashei, N. katiensis , N. mossambica, N. nigricincta, N.nigricollis, N. nubiae and N. pallida: Spitting cobras, Speikobras


  • 1. Anchieta's cobra
  • 2. Ringed water cobra, Wasserkobra
  • 3. Snouted cobra, Banded cobra
  • 5. Ashe's spitting cobra
  • 6. Christy's water cobra
  • 7. Black forest cobra
  • 8. Egyptian cobra, Uräusschlange
  • 9. Mali cobra, Katians spitting cobra
  • 10. Central african forest cobra, old names: Black and white cobra, Black-and-white-lipped cobra, Schwarzweisse Kobra
  • 11. Mozambique spitting cobra
  • 12. Many-banded snake, Burrowing cobra
  • 13. Dwarf Water Cobra, Naja semi-aquatique nain
  • 14. Western barred spitting cobra, Zebra spitting cobra
  • 15. Black-necked spitting cobra
  • 16. Cape cobra, Yellow cobra, Kap-Kobra
  • 17. Nubian spitting cobra
  • 18. African cobra, Red spitting cobra
  • 19. Sao Tomé cobra
  • 20. West african banded cobra
  • 22. Brown forest cobra


Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information.


  Map 28  African Naja sp.



The most distinctive characteristic of the cobras is the flat hood (Fig. 4.57) that is erected by the extension of ribs in the neck while the snake's upper body is raised. This peculiarity is only observed during warning behaviour; at other times cobras resemble ordinary snakes. Some other African elapids also demonstrate this defensive behaviour (Pseudohaje sp., Hemachatus haemachatus).

Relatively sturdy body. Length up to 1.5 or 2 m; some species are even longer (N. melanoleuca up to 2.67 m, N. anchietae up to more than 3 m). N. nana with a maximum length of 1 m.

Head fairly wide and short, but not substantially distinct from the body. Colouring very variable, in shades of olive, brown and grey. N. nivea is found in shades of yellow to fawn; N. nigricollis is a uniform black and sometimes speckled with red. Some N. annulifera have wide bands. N. nigricincta has markings similar to those of a zebra. These snakes do not have neck markings like those seen on some Asian cobras.


Widely distributed, except for sandy desert areas, where they are rarely seen; also found at altitudes of up to 2,500 m above sea level. Particularly prevalent in open habitats such as grasslands and scrub, but also found in plantations and forested areas.

Forest cobras (N. melanoleuca, N.guineensis, N. peroescobari, N. savannula and N. subfulva) live in forests and forest/savanna mosaics, but N. savannula and N. subfulva also found in gallery forests and wetlands in savanna habitats. In deforested areas forest cobras tend to be replaced by N. nigricollis.

N. nigricollis, N. nivea and N. mossambica often seen close to human settlements or on the outskirts of cities, where they sometimes enter houses in search of water or prey.  


Predominantly nocturnal. Very agile snakes that show typical defensive behaviour when threatened (see above), while producing hissing sounds. However, a strike is not always preceded by a threat display! When cobras bite, they usually do not release immediately, but rather use chewing motions for several seconds to inject the venom.


N. ashei, N. nigricollis, N. nigricincta, N. mossambica, N. katiensis, N. nubiae and N. pallida can "spit" venom a distance of over 2 m. Through pressure on the venom glands, the venom is ejected through the fangs. Unlike the fangs of ordinary cobras, these snakes have fangs in which the venom channel is forward-facing in the final section leading to the orifice through which the venom is released. The ejected venom spreads out as a fine spray, and thus has a fairly good chance of reaching the sensitive eyes of the victim.


Dangerous venomous snakes that are often found close to humans. N. melanoleuca, N. haje and in particular N. nivea possess strong neurotoxic venom, while spitting cobras less often cause systemic envenoming, and are more likely to induce extensive local necroses that have a lengthy healing process and sometimes cause lasting damage. In cases where the snake could not be identified, this sort of strong cytotoxic envenoming is often interpreted as being caused by vipers, in particular puff adders. However, studies from Nigeria and South Africa confirm that many such bites can actually be attributed to N. nigricollis or N. mossambica (Warrell et al. 1976, Tilbury 1982). Remarkably, the great majority of victims are bitten at night in their homes while asleep.

If venom from spitting cobras enters the eyes, there is a risk of blindness if the eyes are not treated promptly and appropriately (Warrell and Oremond 1976). Over half of the 40 spitting cobra (N. nigricollis) victims cited by Pugh et al. (1980) in the Malumfashi area of northern Nigeria were injuredt in or near houses. The authors number an incidence of venom ophthalmia of 6-8/100,000 population per year. In their review on ophtalmia caused by spitting cobras and Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) Chu et al. (2010) give an overview on the epidemiology in Africa and Asia.

Literature (biological)

Broadley 1983, Broadley and Cock 1989, Broadley and Wüster 2004, Collet & Trape 2020, Freyvogel and Honegger 1965, Golay 1985, Pitman 1974, Roman 1980, Sweeny 1971, Villiers 1975, Visser and Chapman 1978, O'Shea 2005, Wüster and Broadley 2003 and 2007, Wüster et al. 2007 and 2018, Trape et al. 2009, Wallach et al. 2009