Croaking science is a new way for student volunteers and scientist to explore what’s occurring in the world of Science – science facts, new research or old debates which are inspired by or affect amphibians and reptiles, and then communicate this to a wider audience in their own words. The aim of the feature is to provide a platform for those starting their foray into the world of science communications as well as established scientists. We welcome any submissions from students and scientists. Please note that the views expressed in the articles are not those of the Froglife Trust.
Becky Austin our Croaking Science Volunteer, has a close encounter with the Mozambique spitting cobra
On a recent university field trip to South Africa I had my first close encounter with a dangerous wild snake – an unforgettable experience! We were walking through the bush when our guide shouted “everybody stop moving!” The shocked silence that ensued was filled with an angry hissing noise, then no more than two metres in front of us there it was: a Mozambique spitting cobra. Its hood was fanned and its head reared in defence, before the metre long snake shot down its hole to safety.
Mozambique spitting cobras are one of the most dangerous snakes in Africa. As their name suggests, they can spit their venom in defence, at targets as far away as 2-3 metres! Luckily for us the snake we encountered did not spit – a direct hit to the eyes causes excruciating pain and permanent blindness if not treated quickly.
How do spitting cobras spit so far? When their venom glands contract, a small amount is excreted at high pressure down through channels in their fangs and out through a hole. The holes are at the front of the fangs, so the venom is propelled out of the mouth of the cobra at a right angle instead of straight down, for a direct hit to the eyes.
Link through to Arkive for images of Mozambique spitting cobras.
There are only three species of snake in England: the smooth snake, grass snake, and adder. Only the adder is venomous and can inject venom into a victim through its fangs while biting. Luckily adders are shy creatures, who have only bitten people rarely, in self defence and there have been no fatalities for many years. However our three gentle snake species are now unfortunately under threat from continual loss of habitat.
What can you do to help?
Froglife is always keen to know when a snake has been spotted, so if you see one, we want to hear about it! This helps to build a picture of how snakes are faring in the UK. You can also make your garden more snake friendly in a number of easy ways – take a look at our wildlife gardening section to find out more:
Westhoff, G., Tzschatzsch, K. And Bleckmann, H. (2005). The spitting behaviour of two species of spitting cobras. Journal of Comparative Physiology, vol.191, 10: pp.873-881