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Naja sumatrana (Müller, 1890)
by Ms. Noor Faradiana Binti Md Fauzi, Mr. Mohammad Shahfiz Azman, Mr. Kaviarasu Munian, Ms. Nor Hazwani Binti Ahmad Ruzman & Mrs. Nur Alwani Binti Zakaria
Newsletter
Naja sumatrana (Müller, 1890)
by Ms. Noor Faradiana Binti Md Fauzi, Mr. Mohammad Shahfiz Azman, Mr. Kaviarasu Munian, Ms. Nor Hazwani Binti Ahmad Ruzman & Mrs. Nur Alwani Binti Zakaria

Naja sumatrana is more commonly known as the Sumatran Cobra (Das, 2015). It is in the Family Elapidae and is also called the Equatorial Spitting Cobra (Ecology Asia, 2019; Grismer et al., 2012). This venomous snake is a medium-sized species with an average length of between 0.9 and 1.5 metres (Das, 2015).

The features of this snake include a thick body, short tail, elliptical and depressed head which is slightly distinct from the neck, with a short, rounded snout and large nostrils. The colouration of N. sumatrana varies according to its geographical origin and size. In Malaysia, the common body colouration of this snake is black to bluish-black, and in the juvenile, the throat bears narrow, pale, cross-bar markings (Das, 2015; Ecology Asia, 2019).

Generally, the Sumatran cobra is widely distributed in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Borneo (Das, 2015). This cold-blooded species generally inhabits forested areas in the lowlands and mid-hills. Moreover, it is also found in oil palm plantations, rice fields, and gardens. Naja sumatrana also sometimes enters human habitations in towns and villages located near forest edges. This is because this snake has evolved to adapt well to heavily disturbed habitats (Das, 2015).

This terrestrial and mainly diurnal snake is an oviparous species. It generally mates in the months of August to October and lays clutches of between six and twenty-three eggs with an average incubation period of 70-90 days. This carnivorous snake mainly devours rodents and frogs; however, it will also feed on other snakes, lizards and small mammals (Das, 2015). This cobra helps in maintaining ecosystem equilibrium by being one of the carnivores that control rodent populations which when too high, may cause damage, especially in forest and plantation areas. It is also one of the medically important cobra species in South-east Asia as research on its venom composition is used to optimize snakebite management (Yap et al., 2014; 2011).

Naturally, N. sumatrana is not an aggressive creature; nonetheless, it will readily spit venom when threatened. Its spit contains neurotoxic venom with substances that can damage nerve tissues and shut down individual cells. The venom can cause serious damage if it gets into the eyes, nostrils or skin wounds. Venom sprayed into the eyes of a victim can possibly lead to permanent damage of the tissues surrounding the eye which could result in blindness if left untreated. This cobra may also strike and bite when it feels threatened. The injection of its venom through a direct bite may be fatal to the victim (Das, 2015).

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this snake is depicted as a Least Concern species, but ironically, it is threatened by humans. Common perils faced by this species include being victims to the international pet trade, and being harvested for food and usage in traditional medicine (Grismer et al., 2012). Therefore, there is a need to enhance public awareness towards N. sumatrana in order to respect its existence and appreciate its role in maintaining our natural ecosystems.

References

  1. Das, I. (2015). A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 384.
  2. Ecology Asia. 2019. World Wide Web electronic publication (Ecology Asia: Equatorial Spitting Snake (Black Spitting Cobra). Available from https://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/snakes/equatorial_spitting_cobra.htm (Version on 5 June 2019).
  3. Lee Grismer, L., Chan-Ard, T., Diesmos, A.C. & Sy, E. (2012). Naja sumatrana. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T184073A1748598. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Retrieved April 01, 2020, from https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T184073A1748598.en
  4. Yap, M.K.K., Tan, N.H. & Fung, S.Y. (2011). Biochemical and toxinological characterization of Naja sumatrana (Equatorial spitting cobra) venom. J Venom Anim Toxins Incl Trop 17 (4): pp. 451-459
  5. Yap, M.K.K., Tan, N.H., Sim, S.M., Fung, S.Y. & Tan, C.H. (2014). Pharmacokinetics of Naja sumatrana (Equatorial Spitting Cobra) Venom and Its Major Toxins in Experimentally Envenomed Rabbits. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 8 (9): pp. e3277
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