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The Indian cobra, Naja naja, shown here with its hood expanded, is often regarded as the archetypal cobra.
The Indian cobra, Naja naja.

Cobra (About this sound pronunciation ) is the Portuguese word for "snake". In English and some other languages it has been adopted as the name for any of various species of venomous snakes. Most of those species are in the family Elapidae, all of which are venomous. Most of them can spread their neck ribs to form a flattened, widened hood.

Not all snakes commonly referred to as cobras are of the same genus, or even in the family Elapidae. The name "cobra" is short for cobra de capelo or cobra-de-capelo, which is Portuguese for "snake with hood", or "hood-snake".[1] In some modern languages, such as Afrikaans, the other part of the Portuguese name was adopted, and the predominant name for a cobra in Afrikaans is "kapel".[2][3] When disturbed, most of these snakes rear up and spread their necks (or hoods) in a characteristic threat display, making them a favorite of snake charmers because of the dramatic effect. Long ago, snake charming used to be a religious ritual, though nowadays it has become an entertainment. Cobras, which may live up to 20 years, are found from southern Africa, through southern Asia, to some of the islands of Southeast Asia.

Cobra may refer to:

Most so-called, and all "true", species of cobras belong to the family Elapidae. So do many other notoriously venomous snake species, including mambas, sea snakes, and coral snakes. The genus Naja contains over twenty species of cobras and is the most widespread and widely recognized genus of cobras, sometimes called the "true" cobras. Members of the genus range from Africa through the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.

Although the king cobra, Ophiophagus hannah, the world’s longest venomous snake, is a member of the Elapidae and can raise a rather narrow hood if disturbed, it is not in the genus Naja and accordingly is not a true cobra.

The other cobra of Asia is known as Asian, Indian or Spectacled cobra due to the eyeglass-shaped pattern on its skin. The hood of the Asian cobra is larger than that of the king cobra and is usually yellow or brown with a black and white spectacle pattern on top and two black and white spots on the lower surface.

The Rinkhals, Hemachatus haemachatus also called a spitting cobra, is endemic to southern Africa. It also is not in the genus Naja

Although the bites of some species are extremely dangerous, cobras of any kind have not been shown to attack people unprovoked, and practically never without a threat display, typically raising the hood and hissing.

Various species of cobras prey mainly on other snakes, birds and small mammals, while its main natural predators in turn are other snakes, birds of prey, and small predatory mammals such as mongooses.

Although most cobras don't make nests, some species protect their eggs until they hatch (incubation typically taking around 60 days).


  1. ^ Oxford. 1991. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-861258-3.
  2. ^ Boshoff, S. P. E.; Nienaber, G. S. (1967). AfrikaanseEtimologieë. Pretoria: Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. 
  3. ^ Bosman, D. B.; Van der Merwe, I. W.; Hiemstra, L. W. (1984). Tweetalige Woordeboek Afrikaans-Engels. Tafelberg-uitgewers. ISBN 0-624-00533-X. 
  4. ^ Broadley, Donald G.; Andrew S. Baldwin (2006). "Taxonomy, natural history and zoogeography of the Southern African shield cobras, genus Aspidelaps (Serpentes: Elapidae)". Herpetological Natural History 9.