Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
responses to predators. Although these secretive creatures have poor vision, step within
their tactile realm and things quickly become chaotic. A restrained coralsnake writhes
its curled, elevated tail back and forth, then the real head emerges from a confusion of
red, black, and yellow coils, snapping at everything in reach. Within seconds, all hell
breaks loose, a would-be captor is bitten, and the gaudy serpent escapes into leaf lit-
ter. 18
Curious primates and deadly serpents: young savanna baboons watching an emaciated black
mamba during a severe drought in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, October 13, 2009. The snake's
small hood is displayed defensively, and it crawls fast but not frantically. (Photo: C. L. Fitzpatrick)
Some thirty species of cobras are generally larger than coralsnakes, with prominent
eyes and quick responses; most are terrestrial, although Africa hosts a few arboreal,
aquatic, and burrowing species. They generally reach at least four feet in length, some-
times twice that; most lay eggs and prey on fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, birds, and mam-
mals, though the rinkhals, which averages about three feet and eats mainly toads, deliv-
ers live young. Trademark hoods vary from long and narrow in African forest cobras to
short and wide in Asian species, and whereas some African cobras have a dark bar on
the underside, Asian spectacled and monocled cobras are named for their hood mark-
ings. Frightened cobras generally attempt to flee, but if cornered, perhaps due to such
iconic visual displays, they seem more ready to engage us than vipers. And of course
there's that bone chilling word, neurotoxic: a cobra charges, toxins flow, and we suffoc-
ate—possibilities one dwells upon, even if subconsciously, when faced with that telltale
flattened neck.
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