Cobra, the common name for a group of poisonous snakes of Africa and southern Asia. The name comes from the Portuguese cobra de capello, meaning "hooded snake." When disturbed, the cobra assumes a position for attack by raising about a third of its body off the ground and inflates the neck into a hood.

Cobras are poisonous, killing their prey with venom that is conducted through two short, hollow teeth called fangs. Most cobras feed at night on small mammals, birds, eggs, and frogs. Predators of the cobra are the kite (a hawklike bird) and the mongoose.

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The king cobraThe king cobra often reaches eighteen feet in length.
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There are 12 species of cobra. The Indian cobra is 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) long. It is yellowish-brown and has blotches on the hood that resemble eyes. The Egyptian cobra, or asp, is 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) long and is olive brown. These two species are used by snake charmers. The king cobra, or hamadryad, is native to southeastern Asia. It is the largest cobra, often reaching 18 feet (5.5 m) in length. It feeds on other species of snakes. The ringhals, a cobra native to Africa, has been known, when startled, to spray its venom to a distance of 6 feet (1.8m). The venom is not lethal, but if it comes into contact with the eyes can cause intense pain and temporary blindness.

Why Do Cobras Look So Frightening?

Cobras (KOH bruhz) puff up and hiss in a frightening way to ward off danger. They flatten their long neck ribs, pushing out the skin around their heads to look like hoods. Cobras can even move forward while doing this.

Puffing and hissing are not all cobras do. Cobras are elapids that use their poison in two different ways. Some cobras bite their prey with their short, immovable fangs. Others spit venom at the eyes of their victims. “Spitting cobras” can spray their venom as far as 8 feet (2.4 meters).

Cobras live in Africa and southern Asia. Most are about 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. King cobras are the largest poisonous snakes in the world. A king cobra can grow to a length of 18 feet (5.5 meters), and its head can be as big as an adult person’s hand.

The Indian cobra is Naja naja; the Egyptian, N. haje; the king cobra, N. hannah. The ringhals is Hemachatus hemachatus. Cobras belong to the family Elapidae.