Saturday, September 14, 2013

Spitting King Cobra spotted at Ulu Pandan Canal

Spitting King Cobra spotted at Ulu Pandan Canal
STOMPer Augusta came across what appears to be a Spitting King Cobra at Ulu Pandan Canal.

According to the STOMPer, these snakes are apparently rather common sightings at Clementi.

She said:

"On Sep 13 at 9.30am , a Spitting King Cobra was sighted at Ulu Pandan Canal at the drain along the cycling track, towards Clementi Road.

"A sweeper who was at the scene contacted his supervisor about his discovery.

"However, by the time his supervisor arrived, the reptile had slipped behind the concrete slab.

"Spitting King Cobras are quite common in Clementi, and I checked online and consulted some friends."
Spitting King Cobra spotted at Ulu Pandan Canal
Spitting King Cobra spotted at Ulu Pandan Canal
Spitting King Cobra spotted at Ulu Pandan Canal

Wow, a spitting king cobra? This is an extremely important discovery; it might even be the first recorded case of hybridisation between two different elapid snakes in Singapore!

No, not really. It's just another example of failing to get the name right. Which does make me wonder how rigorous was this person's fact-checking, given that she claims to have "checked online and consulted some friends". Then again, maybe her online checking was limited to browsing through Yahoo! Answers or

If the person who submitted this sighting had actually done some proper online research, she would have easily found out that the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) does not spit venom at all.

The king cobra is still present in Singapore, as highlighted in one of my earlier posts, but this largest of all venomous snakes is restricted to forest habitats in central and western Singapore, as well as some of our offshore islands.

King Cobra
(Photo by myrontay)

A royal meal
(Photo by Lip Kee)

(Photo by Noel Thomas)

On the other hand, the equatorial spitting cobra (Naja sumatrana), sometimes known as the black spitting cobra (due to the coloration seen in populations from Singapore and southern Peninsular Malaysia), is widespread and common, and can be found living in urban areas. This is the species of snake documented in the original post.

Interestingly enough, I was doing fieldwork in a patch of secondary forest in Clementi earlier this year, when I found a snake shed.


I checked online and consulted some friends, and managed to ascertain that this was the shed skin of an equatorial spitting cobra.


I wrote more about the equatorial spitting cobra in this post. As an aside, I really need to write about the other species of elapid snakes present in Singapore, such as the kraits, coral snakes, sea kraits and sea snakes.

Black Cobra
(Photo by Soo Ching)

Equatorial Spitting Cobra
(Photo by kokhuitan)

Equatorial spitting cobra
(Photo by hiker1974)

Based on the photos (all of which were taken in Singapore), the king cobra and equatorial spitting cobra look very different, and even if you did not know anything about snakes and was looking at coloration alone, it would be difficult to get the 2 of them confused.

As far as I know, the only known instance where a king cobra was recorded spitting venom was in Hillenbrand & Hillenbrand (1999).

The veracity of this source is in question, due to several inconsistencies; for instance, the snake observed was identified as a cross between an "African king cobra" (the king cobra is an Asian species) and an eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus).

King cobra, Langkawi;
(Photo by AngiWallace)

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Florida;
(Photo by Nick Scobel)

Although hybrids between different snake species are known (with the pet trade producing various combinations), most involve closely related species within the same family. A hybrid between an elapid and a viperid (2 different families) really stretches credulity. Not to mention that not only does this putative hybrid possess a rattle, its hood apparently bears the characteristic markings seen in another species, the Indian cobra (Naja naja).

Indian cobra, India;
(Photo by m I m)

This work looks like a classic case of Critical Research Failure, and as a result, should not be used as a credible source of information regarding snake venom delivery techniques, reproduction, or biogeography.