A Moment of Science

Spitting Cobras

Spitting Cobras, found in Africa and Asia, kill thousands of people each year. Learn about their deadly fangs on this Moment of Science.

Cobra in snake charmer's basket

Photo: RussBowling (flickr)

Some cobras spit venom into their victim's eyes

Spitting Cobras live in Africa and Asia where they kill thousands of people each year. The scary thing is, some cobra species don’t even have to bite you to injure you. They can spit poison a distance of three feet and they always aim for the eyes. Their poison is a neurotoxin that causes pain and can damage the mucus membranes and cornea. It can even cause blindness.

Scientists have found that they can hit a target about two feet away with one-hundred-percent accuracy. But the snakes don’t really spit. The poison is released from openings in the front of their fangs. As it’s released, they expel air from their lungs to blow the poison outward. Researchers used high-speed photography to find out how they hit their target every time.

Instead of holding their head still to spit, the snakes rotate it from side to side, spreading the poison over an area. It’s a lot like using a shot gun with lots of pellets instead of a rifle with a single bullet. The snakes don’t need to aim perfectly, they just need to be close.

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