Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He has a keen interest in biology.
Around the world, there exists only a handful of snakes capable of inflicting serious harm (or death) on the human population at large. One of these snakes is the deadly Philippine Cobra. Considered one of the deadliest snakes in the world (and the most venomous Cobra species in existence), the Philippine Cobra is one of the most remarkable snakes in Asia due to its temperament and unique ability to project venom by “spitting” at its enemies. This work provides an in-depth analysis of the Philippine Cobra through an examination of the animal’s behavioral patterns, venom toxicity (relative to humans), and general characteristics. It is this author’s hope that a better, more-developed understanding (and appreciation) of this fascinating snake will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
- Common Name: Philippine Cobra
- Binomial Name: Naja philippinensis
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Squamata
- Suborder: Serpentes
- Family: Elapidae
- Genus: Naja
- Species: N. phillippinensis
- Synonyms: Naja tripudians (Boulenger, 1896); Naja naja phillippinensis (Taylor, 1922); Naja kaouthia samarensis (Deraniyagala, 1960); Naja sputatrix samarensis (Deraniyagala, 1961); Naja naja philippinensis (Harding and Welch, 1980); Naja philippinensis (Wuster and Thorpe, 1990); Naja philippinensis (Welch, 1994); Naja naja philippinensis (Wallach, 2009); Naja philippinensis (Wallach, 2014)
- Average Lifespan: Unknown (believed to be approximately 20 years)
- Conservation Status: “Near Threatened” (IUCN)
Characteristics of the Philippine Cobra
- Average Length: 3.3 feet (1 meter)
- Average Weight: 15 to 19 pounds (7 to 9 kilograms)
Appearance and Coloration
The Philippine Cobra is a relatively stocky species of snake known for its medium-sized length, and long hood. Average length for this species is approximately 3.3 feet (1 meter), with some specimens reaching a maximum length of 6.6 feet in more remote regions. Possessing an elliptical-shaped head, the Philippine Cobra’s facial region is accentuated by a rounded snout and large nostrils. Completing the head is a series of dark brown eyes with rounded pupils (a common trait of elapids).
Overall coloration of the Philippine Cobra varies significantly with age, as juveniles tend to possess a dark brown coloration, whereas adults maintain a light brown appearance.
As with all cobra species, the Philippine Cobra’s neck contains an inflatable hood behind the head that possesses a series of elongated ribs. When threatened, the snake is able to extend this hood by inhaling larger quantities of air which, in turn, expands this flap of skin outward. Cobras usually extend their flap as a defense mechanism against predators. By doing so, the snake is able to make itself appear larger than it really is; thus, scaring or frightening potential predators away on occasion).
The Philippine Cobra has between 23 to 27 scale rows around its neck that joins an additional 21 scales located in the middle section of its long body. Completing the snake is a series of 182 to 193 ventral scales, along with 36 to 49 subcaudals.
Behavioral Patterns and Traits
Philippine Cobras are considered terrestrial snakes in that they spend the majority of their time on the ground. As with many cobras, the snake is most active at night, using burrows, holes, bushes, rocks, and local vegetation to hide during the daylight hours (in order to avoid extreme heat). Hiding in this manner, however, also allows the cobra to conceal itself from potential prey, as the animal is considered a predominantly ambush-based hunter. As an extremely fast and agile snake, the Philippine Cobra can strike from the shadows with lighting quick speed, subduing prey with relative ease.
In addition to being extremely fast and agile, the Philippine Cobra is also known for its intimidating persona. The snake possesses a wide array of defense mechanisms, including the ability to sit upright and extend their hood (a process known as hooding). On average, the Philippine Cobra can extend nearly a third of its body upwards, giving the snake a menacing appearance to potential predators. Combined with its ability to hiss, only the bravest of predators will attempt to subdue the cobra.
Completing the Philippine Cobra’s array of defense mechanisms is the ability to spit large quantities of venom at their enemies. As with all spitting cobra species, the snake spits its venom through glands located at the tip of their fangs. Rocking their head in a lunging motion, the Philippine Cobra can project venom at a distance of approximately 6 to 8 feet with pinpoint accuracy. Projecting outward in an oval-shaped pattern, the venom is almost always aimed at the eyes of their enemy in order to rapidly incapacitate them through temporary (and sometimes permanent) blindness.
Threat to Humans
As one of 14 cobra species with the rare ability to “spit” venom at potential enemies, the Philippine Cobra is incredibly dangerous to humans. Considered to be one of the most venomous snakes in the world, one strike from the Philippine Cobra is capable of killing a human in as little as 30 minutes. Fortunately for humans, the snake is quite shy and timid, preferring to avoid human contact whenever possible. Most bites that occur involve local farmers in the Philippines who accidentally (or deliberately) wander too close to the cobra. Individuals within the snake’s territory should always watch the ground closely, and avoid getting too close to brush piles and ground debris. Wearing protective sunglasses can also help protect individuals from the cobra’s venomous “spit.”
Habitat and Distribution of the Philippine Cobra
As their name implies, the Philippine Cobra is found predominantly in the northern portions of the Philippines. They are frequently found on the islands of Masbate, Azria, Mindoro, Catanduanes, and Luzon with unconfirmed reports of cobra sightings on neighboring atolls. The natural habitat on these various islands is perfect for the Philippine Cobra, as they are covered in low-lying plains, fields, forests, and jungle; areas that offer the snake ample cover from predators and the elements (in particular, hot daytime temperatures).
As a species with an affinity for water, the Philippine Cobra spends much of its time near larger bodies of water, including ponds and rivers within the region. Aside from its abundant supply of drinking water, these areas provide the snake with a steady supply of food.
Prey and Natural Predators
The Philippine Cobra feeds primarily on smaller mammals, including mice and small rats (which make up the majority of their overall consumption). However, the snake is also known to feed on a variety of frogs, lizards, birds, and other snakes when the occasion arises. Philippine Cobras also dine on a large array of eggs. Consumption of these are rarer, however, as feeding on these items often places the snake into contact with predatory species (and in harm’s way).
Despite their potent venom, the Philippine Cobra faces numerous predators in the wild. These include the agile Mongoose, large birds, and King Cobra. Larger rats are also known to systematically attack the Philippine Cobra on occasion as well. While these attacks often result in victories for the cobra, large scratches and injuries are common, leaving the snake vulnerable to numerous health complications.
While each of these predators are serious threats to the Philippine Cobra though, perhaps their most formidable opponent is human beings living within the confines of their territory. Fearing the snake for its deadly bite, humans often kill cobras on-site to prevent potential bites. In recent years, such attacks on the snake have resulted in a significant population decline and will likely continue to be a problem in the years to come.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
- Average Clutch Size: 10 to 20 eggs
- Incubation Period: 70 to 90 days
- Reproductive Method: Oviparous
- Lifespan: Unknown
Breeding season for the Philippine Cobra takes place year-round, as the warm climate of the region provides the snake with nearly perfect conditions for mating. Nevertheless, it has generally been observed that breeding occurs primarily in the first weeks of the dry season (following months of monsoon weather conditions). After locating a potential mate, the male and females begin a systematic mating ritual where the male “tries to dominate its partner by pushing down the female” with its hood (aboutanimals.com). After completion, the female then proceeds to locate a burrow (or will construct a nest from various debris), where she will eventually lay her eggs.
During the 70 to 90-day incubation period, females are considered extremely “aggressive, territorial, and protective” over their young (aboutanimals.com). Bites (in regard to human attacks) are usually much more frequent during these periods. Once her clutch of eggs hatch, each of the babies then venture into the wild where they face a variety of dangers for the next few weeks of life.
"The snake will always bite back."
— Jake Roberts
Venom Characteristics of the Philippine Cobra
The Philippine Cobra is widely recognized as one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Comprised of a postsynaptic neurotoxin known to directly attack the respiratory system of its victims, a single bite from the Philippine Cobra can be extremely deadly (especially with humans). Overall venom yield varies significantly, but are believed to be in the vicinity of 90 to 100 milligrams per bite (Brown, 184). Without prompt medical treatment, death is likely to occur.
Philippine Cobra Bite Symptoms and Treatment
After injecting their venom, the Philippine Cobra’s powerful neurotoxins begin to immediately attack the body’s respiratory function through a disruption of nerve signal transmissions. Symptoms of envenomation often occur within minutes and include headache, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. By half an hour, complete respiratory failure is common as muscles near the lungs undergo severe paralysis. Although antivenom exists to combat the venom’s effects, rapid medical treatment is necessary to prevent long-term injuries or death. This is often problematic in the Philippines, however, as the majority of bite victims are farmers that live great distances from hospitals and clinics.
As with most spitting cobras, the Philippine Cobra faces a wide array of dangers in the wild; predominantly from human interference in their natural habitats. Poaching and habitat destruction are among the greatest threats to the cobra, along with indiscriminate killing that is carried out by local farmers in the region. For these reasons, significant population declines have been recorded for the Philippine Cobra in recent years, prompting the IUCN to classify the species as “near threatened.” Experts warn that the snake could approach extinction in the years to come if no protective measures are implemented.
In closing, the Philippine Cobra is one of the most fascinating snakes in the world due to its unique behavioral patterns, characteristics, and venom toxicity. To this day, the snake continues to be a highly respected (and feared) species throughout the Philippines due to its potential for inflicting serious harm to humans. Although numerous studies have been conducted on the cobra in recent years, there is still much to be learned about this extraordinary creature. As additional research is conducted by scientists, it will be interesting to see what new information can be learned about this remarkable animal in the years and decades that lie ahead.
- Brown, J.H. Toxicology and Pharmacology of Venoms from Poisonous Snakes. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1973.
- “Philippine Cobra: Deadliest on the Planet?” Cobras.org. Accessed 3 April 2020.
- Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Deadliest and Most Dangerous Snakes in the World.” Owlcation. 2019.
- Tuazon L. and Theakston R.D. “Bites by the Philippine Cobra: Prominent Neurotoxicity with Minimal Local Signs.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 1988. 39(3): 306-311.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Larry Slawson
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 05, 2020:
I do not want to come face to face with thia snake. The cobra is so deadly but I did enjoy your article. I am wondering if I may have seen one of these because I took my children to different zoos many years ago.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on April 05, 2020:
Thank you Lorna and RoadMonkey! Glad you enjoyed the article :)
RoadMonkey on April 04, 2020:
Very interesting. I can understand farmers and their families not wanting this snake anywhere near them, though it is a shame that the creature cannot have a remote area for iteself.
Lorna Lamon on April 04, 2020:
Definitely a snake to be respected and having lived in Australia there are quite a few of these amazing creatures. It is worth noting that the majority of snakes are quite shy and timid and will only attack if provoked. Another wonderful article Larry about a snake I hadn't heard of. Thank you for sharing. Keep well and stay safe my friend.