Snake Profile: Egyptian Cobra, Asp Snake (photos)

You must have seen various snakes “standing up” from the baskets of snake-charmers and dancing according to the flute’s tune.

The awesome-looking and finely spread hood of the snakes make the Egyptian Cobra, or Asp, somewhat of a spectacle.

Egyptian cobras are a highly venomous snake belonging to the Elapidae family and species “haje.”

“Haje” comes from an Arabic term that represents a snake. Egyptian cobras belong to the genus Naja and subgenus Uraeus. The proper taxonomy of the Egyptian cobra is Naja haje. The species is native tovarious parts of the African continent.

These snakes are quite afraid of human beings. So, you will likely not find them slithering in public places.

When they face humans, they get afraid and try to escape. It won’t attack you unless it gets threatened by your presence. Typically when threatened, most species of cobras will perform their famed defense stance we are all so familiar with.

However, once it attacks you, it can turn out to be lethal. 

Interesting Facts About the Egyptian Cobra

Egyptian cobras can be found throughout ancient history, and they are also part of many current day cultures. The serpent of the Naja family had special importance particularly in Egyptian history and folklore.

epyptian cobra being docile

The Egyptian Cobra has fiery looking eyes. Because of this, Ancient Egyptians considered these snakes to be a representation of the “eyes of Re.”

Further, the snake’s fiery eyes were considered a symbol of power in ancient Egyptian times.

Snakes symbolize a lot in our world, and this particular species is well documented especially in ancient Egypt.

Such symbols were also used in the crowns of the Pharaohs. It is from here that they have been named as “Egyptian” cobras.

Why are they Called Asp Snakes?

The Egyptian cobra is also known as Cleopatra’s Asp or Asp snake.

Supposedly, Cleopatra committed suicide using the venom of this famed Asp snake. This particular species of snake was apparently chosen because of the quick action and deadliness of its venom.

The Egyptian Asp can expand their heads in the form of a hood.

Hooding is one of the defensive displays used by various cobras to protect themselves against their prey. This makes them look much more dangerous and attractive to humans at the same time.

This phenomenon unfortunately makes the snakes a spectacle. As a result, they are used for “snake charming” in various parts of the world for entertainment and street performances.

egyptian cobra with hood spread

Unlike many other cobras, the Egyptian cobra cannot spit its venom. So, biting is the only option left for it to harm its prey or predators. After a bite, the venom of an Egyptian cobra can result in the death of an average-sized human within just 15 minutes! After a person has been bitten by one, it is too difficult to hospitalize them in time.

The venom of an Egyptian cobra contains a very strong enzyme called Lecithinase. It is capable of destroying viral capsules. As a result, it is used in many parts of the world for medical and research purposes.

Attributes of the Egyptian Asp: Size, Looks, and Lifespan

To identify a creature, you must know about its physical structure and features in detail. The details of the attributes of an Egyptian cobra have been discussed below:

Size and Weight of the Egyptian Cobra

The average length of a snake of this species is around 1.4 meters or 4.6 feet. Specimens as long as 2.5 meters have also been observed. It can weigh as much as 20 pounds.

The lifespan of Egyptian Cobras 

When it comes to longevity, these snakes tend to survive much longer than other species of snakes. On average, an Egyptian Cobra typically lives between 20-25 years.

Physical Attributes of the Egyptian Cobra

It has a large head, which can be easily distinguished from its neck. Just like other cobras, they are also able to expand their neck to form a hood.

Hooding is a form of defensive display used by a cobra. It includes raising the front part of its body, hooding and hissing, to frighten its predators. It is because of its ability to form hoods that these snakes are widely used for snake charming across the world.

Besides hooding, cobras are also able to raise their body to a great extent. Generally, Egyptian cobras can raise nearly one-third of their body to form the defensive display. 

Their eyes are quite large with round pupils.

They have a fiery look, which appears even more piercing by getting enlightened by lights at night. Though most of them are brown with shades of black or grey, a large variety has been observed in their colors.

While uncommon, completely black Egyptian cobras have also been observed in several parts of Africa.

Egyptian Cobra Habitat and Locality

Egyptian Cobras are most commonly found in various regions ofAfrica.

Further, Egyptian Asp Snakes are found in North of the Sahara Deserts, with sightings extending all the way to the Congo Basin.

Besides Africa, Egyptian Cobras can also be found in various parts of Asia, Australia, and America too. This is mostly due to trade, and this species is native to Africa.

This cobra generally avoids busy and crowded places. They love to stay in calm and secluded places. In the wild, they are generally found in the dense tropical forests of Africa.

However, they can also enter residential areas to search for food. An Egyptian cobra will do so if its nest or underground hole has been destroyed due to heavy rains or some other reasons.

Where to look if you want to find one

As stated earlier, there are very few chances of finding a cobra on your lawn or in a park. They naturally live in dense forests. If you love adventures, it might be a great idea to go to their “habitat” to visit them.

Asp in the desert with tongue sticking out

You must have all the preparations required for such an adventure. However, if you are not an expert in this field, you must not even consider going to any place which may be home to these species.

If you want to see a live Egyptian cobra but are afraid of going into dense forests, it would be safer for you to visit a zoo.

That is why these snakes nowadays are located in various zoos across the world in their collection. Popular zoos like the Giza Zoo, Virginia Aquarium, and San Diego Zoo, to name a few, have this species of cobra in their collection of reptiles.

Egyptian Cobra Natural Habitat

Egyptian cobras are quite calm. They generally try to escape when they face human beings. Therefore, it is very unlikely to find an Egyptian cobra inside your house or in a park or other public places. 

Most snakes are water-loving creatures.

Like all other reptiles, Egyptian cobras are cold-blooded animals and don’t have the same temperature control biology as mammals. They cannot maintain fixed body temperature, and have to seek warmer areas to regulate temperature.

A lot of snakes tend to gravitate to areas near water.

Similarly, this member of the Naja family also prefers to nest in areas that are relatively close to bodies of fresh water.

Egyptian Cobras can be found in more arid regions too.

Steppes, Savannas, and the semi-arid regions of Africa are a few of those. In hot tropical wild forests, they are mainly found under huge rocky stones or near trees.

This cobra has been reported in various agriculture fields, scrub regions, and water bodies. 

Incidents of these snakes entering domestic properties and harming poultry farms have also been reported. In the rainy season, Cobra dens, which are usually underground, often are flooded and filled with mud.

This makes those holes unfavorable for them to stay. In such a situation, these snakes go in search of some other shelter. They may climb trees or even enter residential buildings in search of shelter.

Temperament and Behavior

Egyptian Cobras are mostly nocturnal animals. These elapids have an excellent sense of night vision and smell.

They can detect their predators or prey much earlier before approaching them. This helps them to defend themselves as well as to attack their prey and feed on them.

Though Egyptian cobras are considered to be nocturnal animals, instances of these snakes taking a sunbath in the early morning are very common in many places of Africa. 

Egyptian cobras are experts in pretending. They pretend to be dead when attacked by other animals like a mongoose. This often causes their predators to leave them alone, and thus, they can save their lives. 

Egyptian cobra – Naja haje in front of a white background

They generally live in the cracks of rocks or holes on the ground created by rodents or some other creatures. Heavy rains during the rainy season make them homeless and force them to search for some new shelter. 

Egyptian cobras tend to “fly away” rather than “fight”. Generally, they try to escape when attacked by humans.

However, if they get frightened, they may spread out their hood and go for a venomous attack. Such attacks may prove to be lethal because of the deadly combination of toxins present in the venom.

Diet and eating habits – What do the Egyptian cobras eat?

This member of the Naja family is an opportunistic hunter. (Opportunistic hunters are those creatures who wait for a suitable situation to come before they jump to attack their prey).

Egyptians cobras can prey on almost anything that comes their way. provided the prey is of a size suitable to hunt. This reptile diet includes toads, lizards, small birds, eggs, snakes, and other small mammals.

Cobras follow their prey very cleverly and silently. They wait for the perfect time to come. When it is the right time, they attack their prey.

Generally, hunting is done by them during the dawn or dusk hours. If they have not received food for a few days, they may go for a hunt during the day.

Cobras have a very slow metabolism. It takes a long time for these cobras to digest their food completely. This allows them to remain alive without eating for a few days and even weeks!

Egyptian Cobra Bite and Venom — Would it Hurt?

So, what would it feel like to get bitten by an Egyptian Cobra?

It would hurt.

A lot.

And if not treated immediately, death is almost certain.

Unlike other species of cobra, these species are unable to spit venom. This makes it a bit more difficult for them to attack their prey and defend themselves against predators.

The only way they can spread the venom is by biting. This species of the Naja family can release up to 300mg of venom in a single bite. These cobras’ venom mainly consists of cytotoxins and neurotoxins.

When this venom enters the body of its prey, the prey’s nervous system gets deactivated very quickly.

So, no impulse can travel from the brain to other parts of the body through the nerves.

Later on, nerve impulses stop reaching the heart and lungs, causing complete failure of the circulatory and respiratory systems. This results in a very quick death of its prey.

What Makes Egyptian Cobra Venom so Deadly?

The venom of Egyptian cobra has a strong enzyme called Lecithinase.

This enzyme is so strong that it can cause the breakdown of cell walls and other membranes within a few seconds. It can also cause the breakdown of membranes of viruses (which are also known as capsules).

Initial symptoms after receiving venom may include local pain, abdominal pain, headaches, vomiting, etc. It may even cause a person to collapse or to undergo moderate to severe paralysis. Depending on the victim’s size, it may take a few minutes for the venom to spread across the body.

As far as the human body is concerned, it is quite difficult (though not impossible) to save a human being after getting bitten by an Egyptian cobra.

Victims should be rushed to the nearby health center as soon as possible. The sooner antivenom is administered, the better chances of survival.

Reproduction and Mating Habits of Egyptian Cobras

Just like most other cobras, Egyptian cobras are oviparous or egg-laying animals. Their mating period ranges from the end of winter until the beginning or middle of summer.

After mating, the female goes through a gestation period of 90 to 100 days. The laying of eggs follows this event. The number of eggs can range between 8 to 33.

All snakes try their best to protect their eggs from their predators. Such safe places include underground holes created by rodents, holes in stems of trees, or even the unused corners of a residential apartment. Egyptian cobras may attack anyone if he or she approaches the eggs laid by them.

The incubation period of their eggs is around 50 to 70 days, after which the eggs hatch. The hatchlings are initially 8 to 11.5 inches long.

The newborn baby snakes become independent very quickly and are able to search their food by themselves. Thus, after a successful incubation period, you may find a large number of hatchlings slithering around in various places.

Conservation and Threats

Egyptian cobras have a very strong and frightening defense system. This makes other animals afraid of them.

That is why these species have less numbers of predators. It is mostly the mongoose that can attack this species. It is quite difficult for other animals to do so due to the frightening defensive display of this cobra and its highly poisonous venom.

However, mongooses have a special thick fur covering, which helps them to protect themselves during snake bites. They often defend themselves using their speed and tactics. Besides mongooses, Egyptian cobras are also threatened by other snakes and humans.

Although IUCN has placed Egyptian cobras on the list of the “least concerned” animals, their number is decreasing very rapidly. Humans are the largest cause of the rapid reduction in their number.

Egyptian Cobra Skin Fetches a Pretty Penny

These snakes are often hunted for their skin. Its skin is used for the production of exotic snake leather. The snakes’ leather is used extensively to make belts priced as high as 200 US dollars! It is said that a cobra hunter would always return victorious as if they fail they die.

Although the governments in many countries have banned the hunting of this species, their hunting is still illegally going on in many places. This can make Egyptian cobras enter the list of “endangered species” very soon.

This species is often drawn to human dwellings due to the presence of rodents and more often than not humans kill Egyptian cobras out of fear.

Asps In Captivity and As Pets

This species of cobras is quite docile and curious. Moreover, as stated earlier, they generally do not harm humans until they are frightened.

That said, you should probably not try to adopt an Egyptian Cobra as a pet. It’s incredibly dangerous, especially if you plan to keep one in your house.

Even though they are dangerous, many places in the United States allow the ownership of venomous snakes as pets with no permit.

But while choosing it as a pet, you must keep in mind; you won’t get more than 20 minutes to go to the hospital, in case it, unfortunately, bites you or any of your loved ones.

People often pet Egyptian cobras and use them for commercial purposes like snake charming.

Snake-charming is indeed interesting and enjoyable. Despite being banned in many countries, snake-charming is a very popular activity in different places across the globe.

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