Spectacled Cobra, not all fearsome

Among all the animals, snakes fascinate us the most. The very word ‘snake’ causes a rush of emotions, unfortunately mostly negative. This is mostly because we do not know much about them and thus misunderstand and fear them. There are over 270 different species of snakes in India most of which are harmless to humans. However four species are venomous and one of them is the Cobra.

A resting cobra.
Pic: Vikram Nanjappa.

The Cobra has made itself at home in Bengaluru. They are usually found in agricultural fields and fallow areas on the periphery of the city but with the unprecedented growth of our city they are being increasingly assimilated into our urban environment.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – the feeding habits of the cobra are actually a benefit to humans, as it puts a check on disease-carrying rodents, found in sewers and underground drains.

There are five different species of Cobras found in India. They are the Spectacled Cobra Naja naja, Monocled Cobra Naja kaouthia, Andaman Cobra Naja sagittifera , Central Asian Cobra Naja oxiana and the King Cobra Ophiophagus Hannah.

The Spectacled Cobra Naja naja the most common of all, found throughout the Indian mainland excluding the Northeastern States. It is found from sea level up to two thousand meters.

 

Description: It has two circular patterns on the back of its hood which are connected by a curved line, evoking the image of spectacles and hence its name ‘Spectacled Cobra ‘. It is  found in various shades of brown, yellow, gray and black. Their colour is extremely variable they are found in various habitat types from plains, jungles, open fields and also areas heavily populated by man.

Commonly found: It is active both during the day and during the night. It is a good swimmer and is commonly seen in fields, near streams, piles of rocks, trees, granaries, grain shops, sewers and underground drains. It very often lives in rat holes and termite mounds.

Characteristics: It is a shy snake but extremely fast and alert. It has a characteristic threat display, when alarmed it raises its frontal body and spreads its hood. This is a warning to withdraw and leave it alone. If disturbed further it will hiss and strike.

Its food comprises of rodents (rats and mice) toads, frogs, birds and other snakes. Its venom is neurotoxic, that is it affects the nervous system. The venom acts on the synaptic gaps of the nerves causing paralysis of the muscles leading to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. The venom components include certain enzymes that cause the breakdown of cells which increases the spread of the venom. Symptoms can begin from fifteen minutes to two hours after the bite, and can be fatal in less than an hour. Though the Cobra is responsible for a large number of snake bite cases only a small percentage are actually fatal as it does not always inject a fatal dose of venom.

The female lays about 12 to 30 eggs, usually in rat holes or termite mounds and these hatch after sixty days. Eggs are usually laid between March and July. The female will remain with the eggs till they hatch. The young when hatched are exact replicas of the parents and have fully functional venom glands. The newborn cobras are between 10 to 12 inches in length, the average length for adults is 39 inches with the longest recorded at 87 inches.

The Spectacled Cobra has found its way into Hindu mythology, folklore and legends. Lord Shiva is often portrayed with a protective cobra coiled around his neck. Lord Vishnu is usually represented as resting on the coiled body of Sheshnag, a snake deity with a number of cobra heads. Some of the Cobra legends are as follows:

1.  Cobras can change form

This myth is well represented in art and literature. The common Hindu word “Naga” refers to supernatural beings that lived in water and could change into cobras or humans.

2. Killing a Cobra brings bad luck

In Sri Lanka and India, people believe that killing a cobra will bring bad luck. This belief comes from religious influences, as some Hindus believe that the cobra is the god Shiva reincarnated. This belief goes back to ancient times, when Hindus were forbidden to kill cobras as they believed that supernatural beings could take the form of one of these large serpents.

3. Cobras Seek Revenge

In India there is a belief that if someone kills a king cobra, the cobra’s mate will find the person and kill him. There is no evidence that cobras actually seek revenge, but because of thousands of deaths every year due to Cobra bites, some have come to believe this myth.

It is true that more 10,000 deaths occur due to cobra bites every year. But that is much less than the number of people who die in road accidents every year which is about 1,35,000, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

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About Vikram Nanjappa 15 Articles

Vikram Nanjappa is a Bangalore-based freelance naturalist,writer and wildlife photographer..

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