Largest cobra in Africa. Long, slender becoming robust and thick-set with size. Adults 1 500 – 1 800 mm, up to 2 700 mm. Head distinct from neck; very broad with bulging temporal muscles in large specimens. Eye and pupil round; iris dark. Front part of body light yellowish-brown to bronze, gradually darkening towards the tail, becoming black. Smooth, shiny dorsal scales in 19 rows at mid-body; those from coastal regions of East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania) have 17 rows; anal entire.
Similar species: Naja melanoleuca has been split up into 4 species, namely N. melanoleuca s. str., N. guineensis, N. savannula, and N. subfulva, all of which are variable and partly sympatric.
Fixed front fangs. Does not spit.
In SA, from uThongati and Umhlanga on the KZN north coast, northward into Mozambique and also eastern parts of Zimbabwe. Recent records from northern Kruger National Park and extreme southern Soutpansberg. Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon, SE Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and south Sudan.
Potently cytotoxic and neurotoxic. Venom yield: 100 – 300 mg, averaging 200 mg. Tissue destruction at the bite-site with permanent scarring reported. Large necrotic areas may require skin grafts. Neurological symptoms may be serious and rapidly fatal (possibly as early as 30 to 120 minutes. Like other cobras, hangs on and chew while biting, requiring forcible removal. A very serious bite requiring immediate medical attention and large volumes of polyvalent anti-venom. Polyvalent anti-venom is available.
Low-lying coastal bush. Where bush becomes drier, replaced by Snouted Cobra, being sympatric near Richards Bay and Mtubatuba.
Diurnal and active mainly towards evening when foraging for frogs, toads, rodents and birds. Often found in trees, mobbed by birds. Known raider of chicken runs. Usually tries to flee, using trees to escape. Slow to strike, but if cornered, will raise front of body as high as 80 cm and spread a narrow hood. Climbs well.
Reproduces by egg-laying.