Zebra Spitting Cobra or Barred Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricincta nigricincta)

Description

This is a medium size cobra of 1.2 to 1.5m in length, with smooth scales in 21 rows at midbody. The head is distinct from the neck and the adult colour is light grey to pinkish with about 70 black bands that encircle the body and tail. The common name of zebra spitting cobra is derived from these light and dark bands around the length of the body. The throat has a broad black band which shows prominently when this cobra rears up to face an attacker.

Dentition

This small cobra has fixed front fangs. The hollow cannel that delivers the venom is modified with the discharge orifice facing the front, allowing this snake to spray it venom at an attacker’s eyes. Venom spraying is used as defense and venom in the eyes will cause instant burning pain which gives the snake the opportunity to escape the attacker.

Venom

The venom is cytotoxic causing pain and swelling and superficial skin and subcutaneous damage. Numerous bites from these snakes have been reported with extensive tissue damage the end result. This snake is very similar to the Mozambique spitting cobra in its habits. Victims get bitten while sleeping at night in their inadequate mud huts. The snake will find a person sleeping and bites because the snake thinks it has located food in the form of a warm-blooded prey animal. Namibian doctors claim that the polyvalent antivenom does not neutralize this snake’s venom, but this is not true. The problem is delay in reaching a hospital, and the timeous intravenous injection of antivenom, rather than its efficacy. Tissue destruction starts taking place as soon as the venom is injected, and because of the long distances in Namibia, the victim will probably arrive too late for the antivenom to be of any use.

Distribution

From central Namibia, northwards to southern Angola.

Habitat

Arid savanna bushveld. This is a very common cobra in northern Namibia.

Habits

This spitting cobra is very common in the northern parts of Namibia. As with other cobras its main activity seems to be at night, but they can also found abroad during the day. This snake has the ability to spit its venom, which would be its first line of defense when escape is cut off. This cobra is attracted to human habitations by the presence of rodents and water, and would then come into close contact with people. People get bitten while sleeping on the ground at night and the snake mistakenly biting a person on the ground that it though was prey. This is very serious bite that needs to be treated with polyvalent antivenom ASAP, to limit the tissue destruction. Death is rare in adults but is possible if a child gets bitten. If antivenom is delayed there may be extensive, superficial skin damage that will be removed surgically about a week after the bite. This open wound will then be covered with a skin graph. Unless infection sets in the risk of death is low with this cobra’s bite.