Cobra, Egyptian


Naja haje haje  


The Egyptian cobra can grow to 8 feet (2.4 meters) long. Average length is 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters). The head is small and flat, with a rounded snout. The body is moderately stout, tapering gradually to a pointed tail. The scales are smooth, large, and distinct. Coloration varies from grayish yellow to brown to almost black. In some parts of its range (Ethiopia and southern Africa), specimens have seven to nine broad yellow bands. The underside is yellow. When the snake rears, dark bars are displayed on the throat and the front of the hood. The back of the hood is unmarked. Cobras are recognized by the hoods that they flare when threatened or disturbed. The hoods are created by the extension of the ribs behind the cobras’ heads. 

Family

Elapidae

Order

Squamata

Class

Reptilia

Range

Over much of Africa and eastward to Arabia, it is particularly common around the edge of the Sahara desert.

Habitat

Savanna, woodlands (but not forests), grasslands, and semi-desert

Life Expectancy

possibly 20+ years

Sexual Maturity

2 to 3 years

Diet

In the wild, they eat mainly rodents, but frogs, toads and birds are also eaten. In the Zoo, they are fed rats and mice.

Status

Not listed

Behaviors

Egyptian cobras have hollow, fixed front fangs through which the snake injects venom when it bites. Like all cobras, it can appear more imposing by raising the front part of its body and spreading its neck into a hood. The Egyptian cobra is a nighttime hunter. This snake often makes its home in abandoned rodent burrows. Cobras climb trees to plunder nests. The clutch size can be up to 20 eggs.

Adaptions

The short fangs are always at the front of the mouth and contain a closed groove. In general, the venom they produce contains neurotoxins, which act against the nervous system. Cobra bites are fatal in about 10 percent of human cases, but from certain species, the rate is much higher.

Special Interests

Contrary to folklore, cobras will seldom attack unless provoked. When threatened, however, the cobra will make full use of its deadly force.

Folklore

The asp, also known as the Egyptian cobra, was worshipped in ancient Egypt and was used as the symbol on the crown of the pharaohs. The Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, was believed to have killed herself with an asp. The cobra was almost always portrayed rearing up with its hood dilated. The Greek word uraeus is typically used to describe the cobra in this pose. The word may have its origins from the Egyptian words that meant “she who rears up”. According to the Story of Re, the goddess Isis created the first uraeus. She formed it from the dust of the earth and the spittle of the sun god. The uraeus was the instrument with which Isis gained the throne of Egypt for her husband Osiris. The uraeus was a symbol for various things from early times including the sun, Lower Egypt, the king, and a number of deities. As the sacred creature of the Delta city of Buto, the reptile was known by the same name. She soon became an emblem of all of Lower Egypt. The uraeus was often depicted with the vulture Nekhebet who served the same function for Upper Egypt. Together they symbolized the unification of the two lands. The creatures also appear together in the pharaoh’s nebty or “Two Ladies” name. The cobra was also called the “fiery eye” of Re, and two uraei were sometimes depicted on either side of the solar disk. The cobra was also representative of various deities such as Neith, Ma’at, and Re. A gilded wooden cobra called netjer-ankh (“living god”) was found in the tomb of Tutankhamon. It is representative of the cobra’s associations with the afterlife. In funerary works, the cobra is often depicted spitting fire. Two cobras doing just that were said to guard the gates of every “hour” of the underworld. During the Late Period, uraei were also shown towing the barque of the sun in funerary papyri. In all of these examples, the cobra’s protective nature is clearly demonstrated. In West Africa, the people believe that the shedding of the Egyptian cobra’s skin is connected with the cycles of the moon, perpetual youth and immortality.

Conservation

Man is one of the cobra’s most dangerous enemies. Unlike the ratel and mongoose, whose small numbers and chance at loosing the fight create a natural balance, man captures the cobra with relative impunity. Cobra skins are one of the most highly prized of the exotic leathers, commanding prices as high as two hundred US dollars. It is said, “a cobra hunter always returns victorious” (because if unsuccessful, they do not return). Since cobras naturally maintain high populations in Asian countries, no protective legislation has ever been proposed. The Egyptian asp is revered as a religious symbol, and for that reason, the cobra is protected. Due to their deadly nature, import/export of cobras is closely controlled. Many types of cobras, usually with their venom removed, are available through various black markets around the world.

Jacksonville Zoo History

This subspecies has been in our collection since July 1997.

Exhibit

Seronera Reptile House