Cape Cobra (Naja nivea) (Photo Sylvain REMY)

19 Surprising Facts About Cape Cobra

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The Cape cobra (Naja nivea) is one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa. This highly venomous snake is characterized by its intimidating hood and potentially deadly bite.

While the Cape cobra has a fearsome reputation, there is much more to this snake than meets the eye. Here are 19 fascinating facts about the Cape cobra that reveal the surprising traits and abilities of this iconic African reptile.


Found across sub-Saharan Africa, the Cape cobra is well-adapted to a range of habitats. This snake can thrive in forests, grasslands, and semi-arid regions, provided there are places to shelter from extreme heat.

The Cape cobra plays an important role as a predator in African ecosystems. At the same time, this snake has a complex relationship with humans. Its potent venom makes cobra bites a medical emergency, yet the snake is also revered in some cultures.

Read on to uncover surprising facts about the Cape cobra’s anatomy, behavior, habitat, conservation status, and more.

Cape Cobra
Cape Cobra

19 Facts About the Cape Cobra

  1. The Cape cobra is highly venomous, with a neurotoxic bite. The snake’s venom contains postsynaptic neurotoxins that attack nerve endings and paralyze muscles. Without rapid treatment, the bite can be fatal.
  2. Cape cobras can spit venom as a defense mechanism. When threatened, the snake may spit venom up to 8-10 feet towards the face of attackers. If the venom makes contact with eyes, it can cause permanent blindness.
  3. These snakes have a distinctive hood. Like other cobras, the Cape cobra can spread a hood of skin behind its head to appear more intimidating to potential predators.
  4. They are fast-moving and can raise up to one-third their body length off the ground. This allows them to strike rapidly when attacking prey or defending themselves.
  5. Cape cobras are not true cobras. While they display cobra-like characteristics, DNA evidence shows Cape cobras belong to a lineage distinct from “true” cobras like the Indian cobra.
  6. Their average length is 4-6 feet. Large specimens can reach lengths over 8 feet, making them one of the biggest cobra species.
  7. Newly hatched Cape cobras are just 8-15 inches long. Baby cobras look virtually identical to adults and have fully functioning venom from birth.
  8. These snakes are generalist predators with a varied diet. Cape cobras eat small mammals, birds, eggs, amphibians, lizards, and other snakes.
  9. They hunt during the day or at twilight. Peak activity periods allow them to ambush prey more effectively.
  10. Cape cobras mate from September to February. Females lay around 10-20 eggs that hatch after 60-80 days. Baby cobras are independent immediately after hatching.
  11. The Cape cobra inhabits a range of habitats in Africa. They thrive in savannas, bushlands, open woodlands, and grasslands, often near sources of water.
  12. They shelter in abandoned burrows, termite mounds, rock crevices, or tree hollows. Access to safe hiding spots helps regulate their temperature and avoid predators.
  13. When threatened, Cape cobras can put on an intimidating display. They flatten their neck into a hood, hiss loudly, and sway their head from side to side.
  14. Their venomous bite can kill an elephant in 3 hours. Humans bitten have a 50-60% chance of surviving without antivenom treatment.
  15. Cape cobras feature in African folklore and legend. In some cultures, locals revere the snakes and even link them to creation stories.
  16. They are not currently considered threatened. But habitat loss and persecution due to fear may put pressure on populations.
  17. Only a handful of antivenoms work against Cape cobra bites. Producing and distributing effective antivenoms remains an issue across the snake’s range.
  18. Experts consider Cape cobras less aggressive than other African species. They often attempt to escape rather than bite when confronted.
  19. The Cape cobra’s scientific name means “snowy snake”.┬áBut it likely refers to the pale belly scales rather than the actual color.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Cape cobra’s conservation status?

The Cape cobra is currently not considered a threatened species, but habitat loss and human persecution due to fear are putting increasing pressure on populations.

How dangerous is a Cape cobra bite?

A Cape cobra bite, if left untreated, has a 50-60% chance of being fatal to humans due to the potent neurotoxic venom that attacks nerve endings and paralyzes muscles.

Where are Cape cobras found?

Cape cobras are found across a wide range of habitats like savannas, bushlands, open woodlands, and grasslands in sub-Saharan Africa, as long as shelter and prey are available.

Why does the Cape Cobra spread a hood?

Like other cobras, the Cape cobra spreads a distinctive hood of skin behind its head to appear more intimidating to potential predators when threatened.

Do Cape cobras make good pets?

No, Cape cobras do not make good pets – their potent venom, size, speed, irascible temperaments, and complex care requirements make them completely unsuitable as pets for people without specialized experience.


With lightning-quick reflexes, potent venom, and an imposing display, the Cape cobra is one of Africa’s most formidable reptiles. Yet this iconic snake also plays a vital ecological role and has surprising abilities that set it apart from other cobras.

Learning more about the Cape cobra can help foster respect and minimize conflict with humans. While a healthy fear of these snakes is warranted, persecution based on misconceptions threatens their future. As apex predators, their presence indicates healthy ecosystems that ultimately benefit all species, including our own.

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