Asia and Africa


Savannas, open woodlands, plains, and rocky hillsides

Don't hate me because I'm venomous

Cobras are venomous snakes related to taipans, coral snakes, and mambas, all members of the Elapidae family. Snakes in this family cannot fold their fangs down, as vipers can, so the fangs are generally shorter. They kill their prey by injecting venom through their fangs. The venom is a neurotoxin that stops the victim's breathing and heartbeat. A cobra only attacks a human if it feels threatened. As with any venomous snake, a bite from a cobra can be deadly if not treated properly.

Wearing a hood

Cobras come in varying colors from black or dark brown to yellowish white. They have specialized muscles and ribs in the neck that can flare out when the cobra feels threatened. Cobras are able to raise their body up, spread the hood, and hiss loudly to scare off most threats.

The deep loud hiss of a large king cobra alone is enough to make one's hair stand up on end! This works much the same way as the rattle of the rattlesnake works: it is a warning sign that can be heard at a safe distance. The message is, "I am big, bad, and will bite you if you come any closer!"

Some cobra species may pretend they are dead by convulsing and then lying completely still until the threat has passed.
Like all snakes, a cobra's jaws have two independent bones that are loosely attached to its skull. This lets the snake swallow an animal that is wider than its own head.
The sight of a large cobra reared up in a bold warning stance is known to stop elephants in their tracks.

The hatching of Indian cobras in the San Diego Zoo's Reptile House made headlines in 1946, for they and their predecessor, hatched here in 1944, were the first zoo-bred cobras to hatch in the US. Only two of the eight eggs laid in 1944 hatched, but all of the nine eggs in the 1946 clutch yielded perfect and very much alive miniatures of their parents, which were imported from India in 1940. An African cobra, received at the Zoo in 1928, held a record for length of life of captive cobras at that time.

The San Diego Zoo has Sri Lankan spectacled cobras, a red spitting cobra, and a king cobra in our collection. In December 2014, a "rescued" white monocled cobra made her debut at the Reptile House. The cobra is leucistic, meaning she is mostly white rather than the species' typical brown and beige. Leucism is characterized by reduced pigmentation, unlike albinism, which features a lack of pigmentation. Thought to be a released pet, this snake was on the lam in Thousand Oaks for several days eluding capture by Animal Control officers until she was finally caught and taken to the Los Angeles Zoo. San Diego Zoo was asked to take the reptile, as we are only one of two zoos in the United States with the proper anti-venom.

Monocled cobras, when threatened, raise their body, spread their impressive hood, usually hiss, and strike in an attempt to bite and defend themselves, injecting a powerful toxin that can be fatal.

While not a threatened species, cobras are illegal to own in California without a permit.

These snakes and many other reptiles can be seen in the Zoo’s popular Reptile House.

No cobra species are endangered, but their numbers have been reduced by the loss of habitat in some parts of their range.