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Cobras are venomous snakes of family Elapidae, of several genera. (Elapidae also include the taipans, brown snakes, tiger snakes, fierce snakes, coral snakes, mambas, and sea snakes.) Cobras generally inhabit tropical and desert regions of Asia and Africa. Elapidae cannot fold their fangs down, as Viperidae can, so the fangs are generally shorter. Most are quite large, reaching on average 1.2–2.5m (3.9-8.2ft) in length. The King Cobra may reach up to 5.2m (17.1ft), making it the largest venomous snake in the world. They kill their prey, usually small rodents and birds, by injecting a neurotoxin through their nearly hollow fangs. The neurotoxin blocks the synaptic communication between the victim's neurons and muscles, thus stopping movement and control. The snake will only attack a human if provoked or in other extreme circumstances which threaten its survival. Furthermore, for a dangerously venomous snake, the cobra's strikes are quite slow when compared to the almost literally "faster than the eye can see" strikes of such species as rattlesnakes. Additionally, not all bites result in envenomation and in the case of the Cobra the amount of "blank" strikes may be quite high: in one series of recorded bites in Malaysia only 55% of strikes had been poisonous. However, as with any venomous snake, a bite from a cobra should be treated as a potentially fatal injury and medical attention should be sought immediately. The King Cobra eats other snakes; it feeds almost entirely on other snakes, even venomous ones (ophiophagy). The spitting cobra can also incapacitate larger would-be predators by delivering venom to their eyes. Cobras come in varying colors from black or dark brown to yellowish white. The (jet) black cobra found in Pakistan and North India is considered a sub-species of Indian Cobra (Naja naja).
The cobra's most recognizable feature is its hood, a flap of skin and muscle behind the head which it can flare, perhaps for the purpose of making it appear bigger and more threatening to predators. The cobra's predators include the mongoose and some raptors.
"Cobra" is the Portuguese (and also was once for Galician) common name for a snake; it came from late Latin *colobra (for classical coluber, colubra). When Portuguese navigators arrived to the coasts of Africa and South Asia in the 16th century, they named the cobras "cobra-capelo" = "hood-snake"; from this compound, the name entered Spanish, French, English, and other European languages.
The cobra is important in Hindu symbolism, see under Naga (mythology).
In Vietnam, cobras are bottled in rice wine to produce snake wine, which is believed to possess medicinal properties.
- The archaic term asp was used to describe many venomous snakes and the asp said to have been used by Cleopatra VII to commit suicide may have been an Egyptian cobra.
- A pair of cobras are the villains in Rudyard Kipling's short story, "Rikki Tikki Tavi".
- Snake wine
- Integrated Taxonomic Information System Serpentes