Forest cobra (Naja melanoleuca)

Description

This cobra is of medium build, but becomes robust and thick set in specimens over 1,5m. Rears up high and spreads a long narrow hood. The head is distinct from the neck. Large specimens have very broad heads with bulging temporal muscles. This cobra can reach lengths of 2,7 m. Normal length is 1,5 to 1,8m. Any specimen over 1,8 m is an impressive sight. The front part of the body is a light yellowish-brown, to bronze, gradually darkening towards the tail, which is black. The scales are smooth and shiny, in 19 rows at midbody.

Dentition

This large cobra has fixed front fangs. This snake does not spit its venom.

Venom

The venom is a potent neurotoxic/cytotoxic mix with local tissue destruction around the bite area. Venom yield 100 – 300 mg, average 250 mg. Because of this cobra’s size it is a very serious bite that needs immediate medical attention and large amounts of antivenom to neutralize the venom. However these cobras do NOT feature in bites to people even though they are very common in KZN.

Distribution

This is a snake that prefers coastal bush, from Tongaat on the KZN north coast, northwards into Mozambique and also eastern parts of Zimbabwe with a distribution further northwards through Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, the DRC, and into West Africa.

Habitat

This large cobra prefers low laying coastal bush. As the bush gets drier the snouted cobra replaces it, although the two snakes could be found in the same areas in places like Richard’s Bay and Mtubatuba in KZN Province of South Africa.

Habits

This large cobra normally tries to flee and will also use trees to make good its escape. It climbs well and fast to avoid contact with any potential enemy. It is slow to strike, but if cornered it will rear as high as 80 cm and spread a narrow hood. It can be very common locally. Sometimes active during the day, or on overcast days but main activity is towards the evening, when it forages for suitable prey such as frogs, toads, rodents, snakes and birds and is a raider of chicken runs. Until recently no bites have been recorded by this snake that could positively be ascribed to this cobra. A snake park worker was however bitten in early 2001 and suffered serious neurological symptoms as well as tissue destruction at the bite site, with permanent scarring. Large amounts of antivenom will be required to neutralize the massive amount of venom these snakes are capable of injecting. As with all cobras, these snakes hang on and chew when they bite, and the snake must be forcibly removed. This is a non-spitting cobra.