Facts About the Endemic Palawan Spitting Cobra (Naja miolepis)
Just a week ago, a snake silently slithers its way through the bermuda grass towards a pile of stones used to landscape our lawn. Alarmed, my brother-in-law trapped its tail with a sturdy piece of stick and blurted out "cobra". I got out and saw the cobra instinctively rear its head while expanding its throat section (a characteristic behavior of cobras) to fight. We had to kill it because there are children playing nearby. Cobras are known for their poisonous bite.
I took some pictures of the cobra, measured and kept it in a bottle intending to preserve it. I browsed Google and found out that the snake is one of the endemic species of cobra in the Philipines. It's an endemic Palawan spitting cobra known scientifically as Naja miolepis. Here are pictures of the spitting cobra. It is a juvenile (total length = 43 cm) based on descriptions of the spitting cobra in online references I browsed.
A. Dorsal View of the Spitting Cobra
B. Ventral view of the head portion of the spitting cobra.
C. Side view of the head of the spitting cobra.
D. Ventral view of the body of the spitting Cobra
Nomenclature of the Spitting Cobra
The endemic Palawan spitting cobra was formerly classified as a subspecies under the Asiatic species of Naja naja. Later studies (Wuste and Thorpe, 1990; Wuster, 1996) reclassified the Asiatic species into 10, noting particularly a discrepancy in color between Naja miolepis and its close relative, Naja sumatrana. Juveniles (just like the one in the pictures above) have a light throat area, specifically from ventral scales 1 to 13 in this specimen. Also, conspicuous light crossbands can be found on a dark ground color in the dorsal portion of the cobra and a chevron (V-shaped) mark on the hood of the species. The adult spitting cobra has an entirely black body where only the head portion remains light.
A 1.12 meter long spitting cobra killed next to a house in Puerto Princesa (Photo by P. Regoniel in Picable).
Wuster and Thorpe (1990) consider the Palawan population to be a divergent peripheral population of Naja sumatrana. Studies of the Palawan spitting cobra, however, are limited to very few specimens. It is possible that the observed difference in morphological features of Naja miolepis and Naja sumatrana may be individual variations of the species.
- Naja miolepis reared for three years In Avilon Zoo in Montalban, Rizal produced small clutch of 4 to 7 eggs (Mat Yuyek, 2008).
- The specimen of spitting cobra above has 184 ventral scales; counting from the first ventral scale next to a row of scales at lateral location that ends behind the head until the scale before the anal plate.
- Spitting cobras have the ability to eject venom from their fangs when defending themselves against predators. The sprayed venom is harmless to the skin but can cause permanent blindness if left untreated.
Chan-ard, T., Stuart, B. L. and W. Wuster, 2000. First Record of Indochinese Spitting Cobra Naja siumensis Laurenti (Serpentes: Elapidae) from Laos, With Comments on the Genus in the Country. Nat. Hist. Bull. Siam Soc. 48: 149-152.
Wuster, W. and R. S. Thorpe, 1990. Systematics and biogeography of the Asiatic cobra (Naja naja) species complex in the Philippine Islands. Vertebrates in the tropics, Peters, G. and R. Hutterer (eds.). Bonn: Museum Alexander Koenig.333-344.
Wuster, W., 1996. Taxonomic changes and toxinology: Systematic revisions of the asiatic cobras (Naja naja species complex). Toxicon. Volume 34, Issue 4: 399-406.