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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2023



Equatorial Spitting Cobra (Black Spitting Cobra)

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Species : Naja sumatrana
Maximum Size : 1.6 metres

The Equatorial Spitting Cobra, or Sumatran Cobra, Naja sumatrana is commonly encountered in lowland, secondary, disturbed habitats : the species has adapted to heavily disturbed habitats in towns and villages. It appears to be less abundant in intact, primary lowland forests.

In Singapore, where it is called the Black Spitting Cobra, it is often encountered in leafy suburbs and occasionally in high density housing estates. When not active these snakes may retreat to cooler, sheltered places such as behind household clutter in gardens, or in cavities behind open drains and garden walls.

This is a highly venomous species which should be treated with caution. Typically this snake prefers to avoid confrontation and is not considered 'aggressive', however large adults will stand erect, expand their hood and hiss loudly if feeling threatened. If the perceived attacker does not back off from this threat display the snake will then attempt to spray venom into the eyes of its tormentor. Unless such venom is washed away immediately, permanent damage to the tissues surrounding the eye can occur. Envenomation through a bite from this species may result in death.

In most of the Malay Peninsula and Borneo this snake is black to bluish-black in colour, with pale markings in the throat area particularly in juveniles. In other parts of the Malay Peninsula, particularly the northern areas, and Sumatra and adjacent islands the species is brown in colour. Some populations may possess narrow, pale bars on the dorsum.

The body is thick, and the tail short. The head is distinct from the neck, and the snout is rounded.

Das (2010) describes the species as nocturnal, however in Singapore it appears to be almost exclusively diurnal. Prey items include rats, mice and some species of amphibian, in particular the Asian Toad.

This species occurs in Southern Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Riau Archipelago, Borneo and parts of the Southern Philippines.

Fig 1 : This fully-grown example, measuring around 1.5 metres, was cornered under some stairs - it immediately expanded its hood and hissed loudly in an impressive threat display. 

Figs 2 and 3 : A one-metre example trying to warm itself in the sun, on an overcast day..

Figs 4 and 5 : Fully-grown example hunting for prey amongst short grass and leaf litter. It spent some minutes with its head inside a hole, probably having detected a lizard, frog or rodent.

Fig 6 : Example hunting in an area of sandy soil and sparse vegetation.

Fig 7 : A juvenile spreads its hood in alarm as it crosses a rural road. Note the white markings at the margin of the hood.

Fig 8 : Juvenile, with an estimated total length of around 40 cm, at Ulu Sembawang, Singapore.  The throat is white, with black markings. Photo thanks to Ng Bee Choo.

Fig 9 : Mind where you step. This is the typical view of a spitting cobra; a slow-moving snake quietly retreating into long grass after having been disturbed by a walker.

All photos taken in Singapore.

References : H12, H14


Fig 8

ゥ  Ng Bee Choo

Fig 9