Largest Spitting Cobra Found -- New Species

Nicholas Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
December 7, 2007

A new species of spitting cobra—now the largest in the world—has been named by researchers in Kenya and the United Kingdom.

The newly anointed Ashe's spitting cobra, or large brown spitting cobra (Naja ashei), can reach lengths of more than 9 feet (274 centimeters) and is believed to deliver more venom with a single bite than any other cobra on the planet.

(See more pictures of the new snake.)

The aggressive reptile was previously identified as a brown-colored variant of the black-necked spitting cobra, though researchers had long suspected that it merited its own species. Now blood and tissue analysis have confirmed this theory to be true.

The snake dwells in the dry lowlands of north and east Kenya, as well as in Uganda and Ethiopia.

It is named after James "Jimmy" Ashe, a prominent herpetologist who founded the Bio-Ken snake farm and research center in Watamu, Kenya, where the snake is commonly found. Bio-Ken milks snakes for their venom and sends it to labs to develop antivenin.

The findings were first published earlier this year in the animal taxonomy magazine Zootaxa by researchers at the University of Wales and the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa in Buluwayo, Zimbabwe.

But they gained wider notice on Friday when the researchers announced the new species through the nonprofit conservation group WildlifeDirect.

Royjan Taylor, the director of Bio-Ken, said the paper's authors had asked him to wait several months to give time for other herpetologists to challenge their findings. None did.

Spitting cobras eat eggs, carrion, snakes, lizards, and birds. Their venom has two uses: to kill prey and for defense. The reptiles can spray venom several yards and usually aim for the attacker's eyes, giving the snake the best chance for escape.

A Healthy Appetite

Snake experts had long believed that the brown spitting cobra was fundamentally different from the black-necked spitting cobra.

Continued on Next Page >>


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