How Many Species of Cobras Are There?

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The number of species that can formally be identified as cobras is somewhat open to interpretation. According to Live Science, only 28 species of snake belong to the genus Naja, the genus that scientists claim to be the genetically "true" cobra. However, when one adds all the other species that share traits and genetic kinship with the Naja, the number of cobra or related species reaches 270.

The Naja genus includes the Arabian, Chinese, Sumatran, Egyptian, Monocled, Burrowing, Philippine, Caspian and Mozambique spitting cobras. Among the trademark features of these species is the ability to raise the forward portion of the body and to flatten the appearance of the neck when threatened. However, since a wide number of other species share these same features, they are commonly included as cobras. King cobras, mambas, adders, and taipans are just a few examples of snakes that are referred to as cobras but are not part of the Naja genus. Additionally, many sea snakes, including Kraits, also share these characteristics.

According to Live Science, all snakes classified as cobras are Elapids, meaning their fangs are hollow and affixed to the front top jaw. All varieties of cobra are highly poisonous and can be found throughout the world. The coral snake for example, another cobra relative, can even be found in the United States. In addition to other food sources, Elapids often demonstrate cannibalistic tendencies, feeding on other species of snakes. Indeed, fellow snakes make up the majority of the Krait's diet.

One of the most recent cobras to be discovered is Ashe's spitting cobra (Naja ashei) — named after the local herpetologist, Jimmy Ashe, otherwise known as the large brown spitting cobra.

Discovered in Kenya in 2007, it immediately became the largest spitting cobra species in the world, capable of growing to more than 9 feet in length. Researchers also considered this particularly aggressive species to be capable of injecting more venom from a single bite than any other cobra species.