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(cobras), a genus of snakes of the family Elapidae.
When disturbed, most species of Naja rear the anterior third of the body and spread the neck, disklike, by moving the first eight pairs of ribs sideways. Large poison fangs are located toward the front of the upper jaw; in back of each there are usually from one to three small teeth.
There are ten species of cobra, of which three are sometimes considered separate genera. All live in African and southern Asia. The common, or Asiatic, cobra (N. naja or N. tripudians) is found in southern Asia; in the USSR it inhabits southern Turkmenia, Uzbekistan, and southwestern Tadzhikistan. The body length of the common cobra is 160–180 cm. On the back of the broadened part of the body of the Indian cobra there is a light marking that looks like reversed spectacles, and the snake is often called the spectacled cobra. The body length reaches 190 cm. Subspecies of the Indian cobra living in the USSR, in the southern part of Turkmenia, Uzbekistan, and Tadzhikistan (N. naja oxiana), lack this marking. The marking is also absent in the subspecies found in the Zond Islands (N. naja coeca).
The cobras live among rocks and bushes, in termite nests and rodent burrows, and occasionally in deserted buildings. They swim well and are capable of crawling up trees. They are active during late afternoon and at dusk. They feed on amphibians, mammals (for example, rodents), and, more rarely, birds. They lay from eight to 45 eggs.
Cobras are extremely poisonous, and instances of human death from their bite are known. The venom is toxic not only when it enters the bloodstream directly but also through the stomach and the mucous membrane of the eyes. The asp, or Egyptian cobra (N. haje), is found in southern Palestine and eastern Africa. It is highly poisonous. The image of this large snake (to 2.5 m) served in ancient Egypt as a symbol of greatness and power. The largest species of the genus, and the most poisonous of all, is the giant, or king, cobra (N. hannah, or N. bungarus). It grows to as much as 5.5 m. It lives in the jungles of India, Burma, Indochina, southern China, and, occasionally, the Malay peninsula and archipelago. The chief prey of the king cobra is other snakes.
REFERENCEZhizn’ zhivotnykh, vol. 4, part 2. Moscow, 1969.
P. V. TERENT’EV