The Forest Cobra, also called Black Cobra or Black and White-Lipped Cobra, is a venomous snake belonging to the family Elapidae. This species is the largest of all Cobras.
Its scientific name is Naja Melanoleuca. On the one hand, its genus “Naja” means “Cobra” in Sanskrit. On the other hand, its species “Melanoleuca” is divided into two parts: “Melano” which means Black in Greek and “Leuca” which means “White”.
Among the subgenera of “Naja”, the Forest Cobra belongs to the Boulengerina.
The body of the Forest Cobra is cylindrical with a slight dorso-ventral compression. Its tail of medium size is tapered. Its dorsal scales are smooth and oblique, which gives it a shiny appearance.
Depending on the distribution area of the specimens, their color can vary. In Kenya, Angola and Sierra Leone, the Forest Cobra is black with a white belly and throat. It also has black and white stripes on the sides of its head that crosses its jaws. This characteristic has earned it the name Black and White-Lipped Cobra.
In the West African savannah, the back of this Cobra is crossed by black and yellow stripes. Its belly and throat are yellow and its tail is black.
For the population that lives in the eastern coastal plain, their color varies between brown and black, with a yellow or cream belly.
Its head is flattened but hardly distinguishable from the body. Its medium-sized eyes have round pupils. The tip of its head ends in a rounded snout. On the sides of its head are black and white stripes that run across its jaws.
Like all Cobras, Naja Melanoleuca has large cervical vertebrae that make up its mythical hood and allow it to deploy it when it is in a defensive position.
Forest Cobra Size
The Forest Cobra is the largest of all Cobras. Its average size varies between 5ft and 8.2ft (1.5m and 2.5m). Currently, the largest recorded specimen was 10.2ft (3.1m). Females and males are often the same length in this reptile.
Its lifespan is very long. On average, this species lives 20 years in its natural environment. In optimal conditions, it is capable of reaching 30 years. The longest living specimen was a specimen located in the zoo in Australia that lasted more than 35 years.
Depending on its geographical area, the Forest Cobra is either diurnal or nocturnal. When it is close to places inhabited by humans, it will tend to be rather active at night. During the day, it usually hides in abandoned houses or under garbage.
On the other hand, in uninhabited places, it will be mostly active during the day. At night, it will remain inactive and will hide under rocks or in the hollows of the ground.
The Forest Cobra is known to be quite aggressive. Therefore, it is one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa.
It is always on the lookout and very nervous. When it feels threatened, it raises the front of its body and deploys its hood. This attack position is sometimes accompanied by a hissing sound as a warning. If the threat persists, it does not hesitate to attack and bite its victim. Its speed of attack makes it a formidable opponent.
This snake is an excellent climber. It can climb trees up to 33ft (10m) high. Despite this, it is considered a mainly terrestrial animal.
➤ To learn more about this phenomenon, we have written an article on hearing in snakes that we invite you to read.
The Forest Cobra is considered the most intelligent of all the African members of the Elapidae family.
The venom of the Forest Cobra is very powerful and can be deadly to humans. It is mainly composed of neurotoxins that attack the nervous system. Its poison also has anticoagulant effects that prevent platelet aggregation.
In addition to having a very toxic poison, this species can deliver in large quantities. On average, it injects up to 570mg, but the quantity can exceed 1100mg. A single bite is therefore almost inevitably fatal.
Fortunately, Naja Melanoleuca bites are quite rare. It is the African Cobra with the fewest recorded bites, certainly because the majority of its population lives far from humans. The people most vulnerable to this reptile are farmers or those engaged in rural activities.
Local symptoms associated with a Forest Cobra bite include severe swelling, severe pain, blistering, bruising and necrosis of the affected limb.
Systemic symptoms are extensive and include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, severe headache, dizziness, drowsiness, hearing loss, ataxia, paralysis, hypotension, tachycardia, convulsions, and breathing difficulties.
If the bite is not treated within 30 minutes to 2 hours after envenomation, death usually occurs from respiratory failure.
The mortality rate of a Forest Cobra bite is still unknown, but it is believed to be very high.
Forest Cobra Bite Treatment
If you are bitten by a Forest Cobra, it is imperative that you get to a hospital as soon as possible. While waiting for an antidote to be given, try to stay calm to prevent the heart from speeding up and spreading the poison faster.
- Use a bandage to immobilize the affected limb.
- Do not cut the wound or try to suck out the venom with your mouth.
- Do not apply cream or ointment to the wound.
- Do not take painkillers.
Currently, there are 6 antivenoms available for Forest Cobra poison. As explained earlier, they must be administered quickly to the victim to have a chance to recover.
The Forest Cobra lives mostly in west-central Africa, although some of the population lives in the south. It can be found in Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Guinea, northern Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Western Kenya, Southeastern Mali, Malawi, Southern Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Eastern Zimbabwe, Zambia, Somalia and Cabinda.
The Forest Cobra lives in many different habitats. It prefers tropical and subtropical forests, although it can also be seen in savannahs, woods or grasslands. In the driest areas, it will always seek out waterways such as streams or rivers.
In view of the shrinking of its habitat, the Forest Cobra has adapted to new environments. As a result, it is possible to see it roaming near urban areas, especially near fruit trees.
It is possible to see this snake up to 9185ft (2800m) of altitude. In fact, it is the only African Cobra that can survive up to such an altitude.
What do Forest Cobras eat ?
The diet of the Forest Cobra is very varied. It can feed on lizards, amphibians, small mammals (rodents …), bird eggs, fish and even other snakes.
The Forest Cobra is an oviparous snake, which means that the female lays eggs.
The breeding season occurs once a year, often between October and February. As with many other species, male Cobras engage in a ritual battle to decide who will mate with the female.
During courtship (which lasts several hours), the male approaches by swinging his head and moving his tongue. Then, he tangles with the female until she decides to fertilize him. When she raises her tail, the male mates. This phenomenon can last nearly an hour.
In one clutch, the female lays between 15 and 25 eggs. Generally, she makes her nest in the hollows of trees or in holes in the ground. During this period, the female protects her eggs and becomes very aggressive.
The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 55 to 80 days. At birth, the baby Forest Cobras measure between 8in and 10in (20cm and 25cm) and are already venomous. They are also very quickly autonomous and are able to hunt alone.
In this species, the sexual maturity is reached at 4 years for a female, half for the male.
The Forest Cobra is not yet included in the IUCN Red List. However, it is not believed to be endangered.
Its main predators are mongooses which are invulnerable to its venom. It is also the prey of the Black Mamba, wild pigs and crocodiles. The young are also hunted by raptors and large lizards.
The shrinking of its natural habitat and humans are also two threats that may cause its extinction in the long run.