What is an Egyptian Cobra?

Debra Durkee

The Egyptian cobra, or naja haje, is a poisonous snake found throughout the Middle East and Africa. It has the distinctive hood in common with other cobras, and while its natural choice of prey includes small mammals, it has been documented as responsible for the deaths of humans. An aggressive snake, the fact that death is relatively painless is of little comfort to those confronted with it. The only snake with more poisonous venom is the Cape Cobra, which is often a meal for the Egyptian cobra.

The Egyptian cobra averages between 5 and 7 feet.
The Egyptian cobra averages between 5 and 7 feet.

The length of the Egyptian cobra averages between 5 and 7 feet (about 1.5 to 2 m), although snakes up to 8 feet (2.5 m) are not uncommon. The body of the snake is thick, narrowing toward the tail end. Like other cobras, the Egyptian cobra has a distinctive hood, or oval sections of skin along the head and neck that expand when it is threatened. Most common through the northern part of Africa, the cobra has a dark brown back and lighter brown underside, and many have a thick, dark brown stripe beneath the large head. For the most part nocturnal, the Egyptian cobra has large eyes that give it an edge when hunting at night.

The Egyptian cobra is commonly found throughout the northern part of Africa.
The Egyptian cobra is commonly found throughout the northern part of Africa.

Extremely venomous, this cobra has adapted to living near human settlements. The cobra is not generally discerning about what prey it consumes to sate its seemingly ever-present appetite and can feed on a number of small mammals. This wide diet has made it extremely adaptable, and the snake lives on farmlands and in cities throughout its native range. The high toxicity of its venom and close proximity to humans have made it one of the most dangerous snakes in the world, and the Egyptian cobra is responsible for a large percentage of snake-related human deaths.

Perhaps because of its dangerous reputation, the Egyptian cobra is one of the most prized of snakes amid the snake charmers of the Middle East. This cobra has long held an air of mystique in Middle Eastern folklore and mythology. Cleopatra was said to have committed suicide by the bite of a snake, thought to be an Egyptian cobra. Egyptian pharaohs have been depicted as wearing the image of the cobra on their headdresses, as mythology depicts these cobras as being protectors of the king. Mummified cobras have been found entombed with Egyptian royalty.

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