Tswalu Blog
The lions of Tswalu, by Dylan Smith
View previous entry
World Pangolin Day: A tribute to pangolin
View next entry

The cobra, by Dylan Smith, Head of Dedeben Research Centre

by Tswalu Kalahari on Sun, February 17, 2019 in News, Wildlife, 

These beautiful snakes (Naja nivea) have a wide distribution in the drier areas of southern Africa and are even found occasionally within the Greater Cape Town area. A cobra that feels threatened raises the classic hood that makes it instantly recognisable.

The Cape cobra (Naja nivea) is one of the non-spitting cobras in South Africa. One of the local names for the Cape cobra is “geelslang” – literally translated as “yellow snake” which obviously refers to its colouring. The colour variation in Cape cobras is incredible - from rich orange-yellow and gold to black.

The black spitting cobra (Naja nigricincta woodi) is a far more difficult species of cobra to see. These shy snakes are very rarely encountered as their preferred habitat is in hilly areas where rock clumps offer protection from raptors. As its name implies, the black spitting cobra is a lovely jet-black colour and is able to spit its venom up to about two metres as a deterrent to would-be attackers.

There are still questions about the reason for all the colour varieties of the cobra – is it age related, geographical variation, camouflage, sexual dimorphism, or simply random genes?

Cobras are adept at raiding bird nests for nestling birds and eggs. Sociable weaver nests are very vulnerable by virtue of their size and the number of birds nesting at any one time in these enormous structures. Research on Tswalu Private Game Reserve by Bryan and Robin Maritz of the University of the Western Cape and Graham Alexander from the University of the Witwatersrand has shown that the social interactions and behaviour of the cobra are far more complex than previously thought and it is not uncommon to find more than one cobra making use of a weaver nest for shelter or feeding.

Cobras are equally as at home underground as they are in trees. The extremely varied diet of a Cape cobra (anything from birds’ eggs and chicks to rodents, frogs and even other snakes – cobras included) requires the species to be very adaptable in the way it makes use of its habitat. Besides being a potential source of food, burrow systems also provide a relatively safe shelter for cobras when they are not out hunting, as well as being an ideal location for thermoregulation in extreme weather conditions.