The Indian cobra (Naja naja) is found in the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal) and is a member of the “big four” species that inflict the most snakebites on humans in India, along with the Common krait, Russell’s viper and Saw-scaled viper. This snake is revered in Indian mythology and culture, and is often seen with snake charmers. It is now protected in India under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
It is a moderately sized, heavy bodied species, easily identified by its relatively large and quite impressive hood, which it expands when threatened. This species has a head which is elliptical, depressed, and very slightly distinct from neck. The snout is short and rounded with large nostrils. The eyes are medium in size and the pupils are round. The majority of adult specimens range from 1 to 1.5 metres in length. Some specimens, particularly those from Sri Lanka, may grow to lengths of 2.1 to 2.2 metres, but this is relatively uncommon, fortunately.
The Indian cobra’s venom mainly contains a powerful post-synaptic neurotoxin and cardiotoxin. The venom acts on the synaptic gaps of the nerves, thereby paralyzing muscles, and in severe bites leading to respiratory failure or cardiac arrest. The venom components include enzymes such as hyaluronidase that cause lysis and increase the spread of the venom. Symptoms may manifest between 15 minutes and 2 hours following the bite.
The snake inhabits a wide range of habitats throughout its geographical range. It can be found in dense or open forests, plains, agricultural lands (rice paddy fields, wheat crops), rocky terrain, wetlands, and it can even be found in heavily populated urban areas such as villages and city outskirts, ranging from sea-level to 2,000 metres in altitude. This species is absent from true desert regions, but is often found in the vicinity of water. Preferred hiding locations are holes in embankments, tree hollows, termite mounds, rock piles and small mammal dens.