Egyptian Cobra

Egyptian Cobra

Ouraeus, Egyptian cobra, أورايوس, Ouraeus

2 languages
Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Naja haje
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
20 yrs
Length
1.4-2.6 m

The Egyptian cobra (Naja haje ), also known as "أورايوس" in Egyptian Arabic pronounced: Ouraeus (derived from the Ancient Greek word: οὐραῖος - Greek pronunciation:  (listen)), is one of the most venomous snakes in North Africa, which has caused many snakebite incidents to humans. It averages roughly 1.4 metres (4.6 ft), with the longest recorded specimen measuring 2.59 metres (8.5 ft).

Appearance

The Egyptian cobra is a venomous snake found in Africa. It is one of the largest cobras on the African continent. The head of this snake is large and depressed and slightly distinct from the neck. The neck has long cervical ribs capable of expanding to form a hood, like all other cobras. The snout of the Egyptian cobra is moderately broad and rounded. The body is cylindrical and stout with a long tail. The most recognizable characteristics of this species are its head and hood. The color is highly variable, but most specimens are some shade of brown, often with lighter or darker mottling, and often a "tear-drop" mark below the eye. Some are more copper-red or grey-brown in color. Egyptian cobras from northwestern Africa (Morocco, Western Sahara) are almost entirely black. The ventral side is mostly a creamy white, yellow-brown, grayish, blue-grey, dark brown, or black in coloration, often with dark spots.

Distribution

Geography

Egyptian cobras range across most of North Africa north of the Sahara, across West Africa to the south of the Sahara, south to the Congo basin and east to Kenya and Tanzania. They live in a wide variety of habitats like steppes, dry to moist savannas, arid semi-desert regions with some water and vegetation. These snakes are frequently found near water. They are also found in agricultural fields and scrub vegetation. Egyptian cobras also occur near human settlements where they often enter houses. They are attracted to villages by rodent pests (rats) and domestic chickens. There are also notes of Egyptian cobras swimming in the Mediterranean sea.

Egyptian Cobra habitat map

Climate zones

Egyptian Cobra habitat map
Egyptian Cobra
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Habits and Lifestyle

Egyptian cobras are terrestrial and solitary creatures. These snakes are mainly nocturnal, however, they may be seen basking in the sun in the early morning. They make their shelters in abandoned animal burrows, termite mounds, or rock outcrops. Egyptian cobras are active foragers sometimes entering human habitations, especially when hunting domestic fowl. Like other cobra species, they generally try to escape when approached, at least for a few meters, but if threatened they assume the typical upright posture with the hood expanded, and strike.

Seasonal behavior

Venom

The venom of the Egyptian cobra consists mainly in neurotoxins and cytotoxins. The average venom yield is 175 to 300 mg in a single bite, and the murine subcutaneous LD50 value is 1.15 mg/kg. However, Mohamed et al (1973) recorded LD50 (mice) values of 0.12 mg/kg and 0.25 mg/kg via Intraperitoneal injections of specimens from Egypt. Irwin et al (1970) studied the venom toxicity of a number of elapids, including Naja haje from different geographical locations. Venom potency ranged from 0.08 mg/kg to 1.7 mg/kg via intravenous injections on mice.

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The study also found that Egyptian cobra specimens from northern Africa, particularly those from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, to have significantly more potent venom than N. haje specimens found in the species' more southern and western geographical range, including Sudan and those from West Africa (Senegal, Nigeria, and Mali).

The venom affects the nervous system, stopping the nerve signals from being transmitted to the muscles and at later stages stopping those transmitted to the heart and lungs as well, causing death due to complete respiratory failure. Envenomation causes local pain, severe swelling, bruising, blistering, necrosis and variable non-specific effects which may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, collapse or convulsions along with possible moderate to severe flaccid paralysis.

Unlike some other African cobras (for example the red spitting cobra), this species does not spit venom.

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Diet and Nutrition

Egyptian cobras are carnivores. They prefer to eat toads, but will also prey on small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards, and other snakes.

Mating Habits

FEMALE NAME
female
MALE NAME
male
BABY NAME
snakelet
web.animal_clutch_size
8-33 eggs

Females of this species lay between 8 and 33 eggs.

Population

Population threats

The main threats to the Egyptian cobra include habitat loss, persecution, poisoning through feeding on rodents, and collection for their venom. They are also caught for use in local markets by snake charmers in Egypt.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Egyptian cobra total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Egyptian cobras are important for their ecosystem as they help to maintain the balance of prey species and control agricultural pests such as rats and mice.

Domestication

The Egyptian cobra garnered increased attention in Canada in the fall of 2006 when a pet cobra became loose and forced the evacuation of a house in Toronto for more than three hours when it was believed to have sought refuge in the home's walls. The owner was fined $17,000 and jailed for a year.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Egyptian cobra was first described by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
  • The specific name of the Egyptian cobra "haje" is the translation from the Arabic word hayya (حية) which literally means "snake".
  • Most ancient sources say that Cleopatra and her two attendants committed suicide by being bitten by an aspis, which translates into English as "asp". The snake was reportedly smuggled into her room in a basket of figs. This "aspis" was likely to be the Egyptian cobra.

References

1. Egyptian Cobra on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_cobra

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