Naja nigricincta - Info & care

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Specification Description
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Scientific name: Naja nigricincta
Dutch name: Zebra spugende cobra
English name: Westerns barred spitting cobra
Average age: 12+ years
Distribution: Africa
Reproduction: oviparous / egglaying
Status: Least concern
Cites: non

Naja nigricincta, (Bogert, 1940)

The Naja nigricincta, also known as the Zebra-Spitting-Cobra or western-Barred-Cobra is an attractive looking ‘mid-sized’ Elapid. In captivity they turn out to be one of the most active, least nervous and inquisitive cobras to keep. They do not get as big as some of the other African species like Naja haje and Naja annulifera and their temperament IN GENERAL is not as bad behaved as some of the Asian species. But, before we let you get all enthusiastic about this species. It is still a cobra, which means a fast moving, highly venomous, food responsive and sometimes nervous potentially deadly snake that can, as the common name implies, spit venom into the eyes of its attacker.

There is some debate if the Naja woodi is still considered a subspecies of Naja nigricincta. If this is the case there are two subspecies of the Zebra spitting cobra, the Naja nigricincta nigricincta and N. n. woodi. Before Naja nigricincta became a species it was considered a subspecies of the Naja nigricollis (Black Necked Cobra) which get significantly larger, has an all-black colour with a red colour underneath the clear black throat. One of the reasons we do not like to use common is the fact that for instance the Naja nigricollis is also called ‘Black Banded Spitting’ cobra. Then again the Naja (nigricollis) woodi is often called ‘Black Spitting cobra’. Which obviously can cause much confusion between these three similar species.

 

General appearance:  Let us start with the size of this cobra, in most articles about wild animals the general consent is they are a mid-sized Naja that reaches an average length of 120-140cm, sometimes 150cm.  But in captivity larger specimens measuring 160-180 or even longer are not uncommon. At an age of 3.5 years some can already measure 160cm, baby’s hatch at 30cm-40cm long.

The common name does not only tell you that it is a spitting cobra (which we will reflect on later in this article) but also a bit about the appearance. These Naja have an obvious banded pattern of dark and light bands  across the whole body (also on the belly) until the tip of the tail. The amount of bands and base colour can differ a bit between locals, but in general the bands are a light grey/white and very dark grey till black. Some forms can be more brownish, while others have a very clear dark/light pattern (like a Zebra). The head and first part of the neck (where the ‘hood’ spreads) is a uniform brow, grey till deep black colour. The throat which they can spread like all cobras is a clear deep black. When the Naja nigricincta does not spread its hood this black colouration can be seen on the lower sides of the throat. The head is relatively broad and can clearly be distinguished from the neck. In ‘body shape’ they look similar to Naja nigricollis and Naja mossambica.

Naja (nigricincta) woodi can be distinguished be the all black uniform body colour, but lack of red colour underneath the black throat, which can be seen with Naja nigricollis.

 

Natural range and habitat:  The N. nigricincta can be found in Angola and Central and Northern Namibia, N. woodi can be found a bit more Southern, in Southern Namibia, Southern Botswana and South Africa.

They are predominantly found in dry, arid habitats like Savannas and dry grasslands with lots of sand, rocks and minimal vegetation. In areas where trees are present they actually seem to be very good climbers and agile snakes. Depending on the season they can be active during the night or day. When temperatures rise to extremes they will hide between rocks crevices or in burrows.

 

Behaviour:  In their natural range this species can be very defensive. When they feel threathend they will raise the first portion till third of their body, spread their hood, hiss and open their mouth. When an attacker does not respond to these clear warning signs the  cobra will spit venom, very accurately, towards and in the face/eyes of the attacker. When the attacker gets confused the cobra will quickly try to get away. This behaviour will almost always be the first line of defence. BUT, if the cobra feels cornered, gets attacked and held/fixated they will bite. This bite can be lethal to many animals, including humans.

In the terrarium the nervous behaviour of this species, even of hatchlings, will often (not always) soon disappear and most N. nigricincta in captivity are relatively calm and curious toward their caretaker. Still a spooked, stressed, egg carrying or shedding cobra can respond defensive very fast. Some will not show any warning signs before they spit and they can spit in a normal position (meaning not standing up with an hood spread). Another thing you have to keep in account is the very, very strong and blunt feeding response of cobras. When they smell food and (think they) see something moving they will react fast and strong without warning. They will bite in anything, rodent, hook, waterbowl, decoration etc. Use Tools at all times.

An experienced keeper will be able to handle this snake with the snakehook and tailing method. Keep the time of handling to a bar minimum and do not walk around while handling these kind of snakes. Do you need to transfer it to another room? Use a transportbox or via a Closed hidebox that can be locked and taken out of the terrarium. Always use full face protection to prevent spat venom to come in contact with your face or eyes. Some people do not agree with using hideboxes all the time but they are a very good tool to use while taking care of these snakes. When they use this box and it can be closed easily, this takes away the need to handle a potentially deadly snake every time we need to clean the water bowl or do small maintenance of the enclosure.

 

Venom:  Cobras, including the N. nigricincta are highly venomous, potentially deadly snakes. They do not cause as many deaths as some of the other venomous snakes in the region they live, like the Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) and Puffadder (Bitis arietans). Still risks should not be taken and even if you may survive the bite permanent tissue damage, loss of a digit, limb or mobility, reduced kidney function and other affects post-bite are not uncommon. There is a reason these snakes should only be kept be experienced handlers/keepers.

Like most African Cobras the base of the venom is mostly neurotoxic (Postsynaptic) (attacking the neurological system, to paralyze a prey for instance). But many spitting cobras, including these also have many heamotoxins/cytotoxins as they need an instant response when it hits the eyes. These toxins obviously effect the bloodvessels and tissues surrounding the bite and will have an immediate effect. Therefor fast threatment with antivenom is needed to prevent extensive tissues damage (and the secondary affects) as well as preventing paralysis and/or loss of important body functions like the lungs and hart.

Early stage bite symptoms include: immediate pain, swelling, irritation, haemorrhage, headache, vomiting, diarrhea. After this ptosis (hanging eyelids), heart-ritme problems, heavy breathing, heavy fever will follow which can lead to total stopping of bodily functions like the lungs (repertory failure) and heart causing the victim to die unless it is monitored in a hospital and helped by artificial live support. Tissue damage will continue as long as antivenom is not given. Also your kidneys and liver will get damaged.  

 

Housing:  If you are equipped, well experienced and have the means to care for these snakes. They can be a joy to keep. As always an well build, escape proof terrarium, preferably in an closed room for extra security is needed.

Naja nigricincta is, when it comes to needs and setup (aside from the fact they are venomous snakes) an easy to care for snake. They do not need high humidity and can also withstand a bit lower night temperatures as long as daytime temperatures and basking spots are warm and available. These are active snakes and therefor need the space to roam. For an adult until 160cm a well ventilated terrarium sized 125x80x60cm can be used. For bigger individuals or when we house a pair together for breeding a bigger terrarium is needed. Do not house these snakes together outside of the breeding season as cannibalism, especially between hatchlings and young is possible with this species. We prefer a high quality wood with glass front over all glass terrariums for these snakes to prevent cracking windows etc. With a quality glass terrarium this should not happen, but better safe than sorry. Also wooden terrariums are often insulated better which makes it easier to keep temperatures up.

Heating can be done with a ceramic emitter or basking lights. In general we recommend to use ceramic heat emitters covered by a mesh guard as they produce more heat per wattage and have a much longer lifespan then regular basking lights. (this also makes the maintenance, and therefor handling of the snakes lower). For additional lighting a Full-spectrum fluorescent tube (T5/T8) can be used. This will result in more natural and day-active behaviour. Also the UVA and possible small amount of UVB output will aid in the general health of the snake. In general temperatures in the warm months should range between 27-29C with an basking spot measuring 32C. Night-temperatures may drop to 24C or even 20 Degrees Celsius. Some people provide these cobras with an ‘cooler’ period that takes around 2.5 till 3 months at a day-temperature of 25C, with less basking hours and a night-time temperature drop till 15C. In the warm season daylight and should last 13.5/12.5 hours with a ten hour basking period and in the cooler period 10/11 hours of light with basking between 5-7 hours.

We highly promote a more natural setup when keeping reptiles. But in the case of venomous snakes we also need to make sure we can spot the animal at all times before we open the terrarium. Keep this in mind when decorating the terrarium. Substrate may consist of fine, soft terrarium sand like the Exo-Terra Desert sand. This can be combined with the Zoomed Reptibark. Using only Zoomed Reptibark is also an option. This can be kept dry and the animals can dig in it. But does not recreate the natural substrate as much as an sand(mixture). Dried branches are a great addition to the decoration as these snakes can climb very well. They may not hang in it like a typical arboreal snake but they will make great use of it and it is a great way to provide for more living space. With Exo-Terra Reptile caves, Cork bark or dried pieced of wood we can make natural looking hides. Do you prefer to use a hidebox? Then it is better to reduce the amount of hides in the terrarium so the chance of the cobra actually using this box is higher. Still, this is not a shy species like for instance Naja nubiae and they will spend most of their time outside the hide (when they feel safe and secure in their surrounding).

Agave and some Aloë are options to use as plants. But these are active snakes so the plants must be sturdy and can best be kept in the pots. Otherwise there are also some (easier to clean) artificial plants available. Cobras often have a fast metabolisme so an bio-active setup can be benefitial but is certainly not enough to keep the terrarium clean, also there are not as many invertabrated available that are safe, and can survive in the warm and dry conditions these cobras are kept in. Regular spot-cleaning and replacement of (part of) the substrate is needed.

Fresh water must always be available to these snakes. Misting is often not needed. Especially not when we  use a thick layer of substrate, 6cm or deeper, in which we keep a part a bit more moist. Often this is on the cooler side close to where the waterbowl is placed.

 

Feeding:  if there is anything that won’t be a problem, it is feeding these snakes. The food-response is high, fast and a bit uncalculated. You can hatchlings and young every 5 to 7 days and (young)adults weekly to bi-weekly. Preferably feed prey that are not wider as the body itself. This may mean you have to feed several mid-sized prey instead of a single bigger preyitem. In their natural range especially hatchling cobras will mostly feed on small lizards and even small snakes. But in captivity feeding these with small pinky-mouse or pinky-softfurrats will not be a problem. You can feed a great variety of items, mouse, rats, softfurrats, hamsters, gerbils, chicks, chicken-neck etc. Whole preyitems are always preferred over parts but these can be a nice way to mix it up. Do not thaw frozen fooditems in water, but rather on a warm (not hot) heatstrip or similar. This way less vitamins will get lost, and also less substrate will attach to the prey while feeding. This reduces the possibility of a great amount of substrate drastically compared to feeding with prey that are all wet.

 

Summary: We will never recommend the keeping of any venomous snakes. There are so many great looking and behaving snakes that do not pose a possible threat to the keeper. But we do recognise there is a group of people that have a great sense of responsibility, self-awareness and experience. For those, the Naja nigricincta is a great cobra to keep. In our experience these are not as nervous as many of the kept Asian species, have a great looking appearance, do not get to big and are relatively easy to care for.

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