How Far Can Spitting Cobras Shoot their Venom?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: March 22, 2022
Image Credit Stu Porter/Shutterstock.com
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Spitting cobras are venomous snakes with a bit of twist. They can bite their prey to envenomate them and shoot their venom into their victim’s eyes. That unique method of attack makes them extra dangerous. We’re going to look at the danger posed by these venomous snakes. Specifically, we will answer the question, how far can spitting cobras shoot their venom? We’ll also look at how they manage to shoot their venom and what you can expect if the venom hits you.  

How Far Can Spitting Cobras Spit Venom?

Mozambique spitting cobra - Close Up On Venom
Spitting cobras can spit anywhere from 3 to 10 feets away.

Eugene Troskie/Shutterstock.com

Spitting cobras can shoot their venom anywhere from 3 to 10 feets away from their bodies. However, some spit their venom in a fine mist rather than jets. The result is that they spray for shorter distances, but they gain a much greater chance of hitting their opponent.

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Interestingly, spitting cobras can determine how far away their prey is and adjust the power with which they spray. They are known for specifically aiming for the faces of their prey. In fact, they probably have evolved specifically to use their venom spray to keep human beings at bay.

The bottom line is that you want to stay away from these creatures. They can spray their venom longer than the height of an average person.

How Do Spitting Cobras Shoot Venom So Far?

The red spitting cobra (Naja pallida) a dangerous snake capable of spitting venom into its victims' eyes. Red spitting cobras are distinguished from other snakes within the genus Naja by the single, thick dark band around their necks and throats.
Spitting cobras have unique fangs that help them shoot venom very far.

mountainpix/Shutterstock.com

Spitting cobras’ teeth are different from regular cobras’ teeth, allowing them to spray venom and inject it. Cobras have hollow fangs. When they want to envenomate a creature, cobras will bite them and then use muscles located by their venom glands to push the venom through their fangs and into the wound. This method allows them to bite and envenomate their enemies simultaneously.

However, the holes in the fangs that allow for venom delivery are much more prominent in regular cobras compared with spitting cobras. The holes in the fangs of spitting cobras are much smaller. So, when they decides to spray their victims, they start the process like a cobra getting ready to bite.

They will squeeze the muscles by their venom glands, forcing the venom to travel into their fangs rapidly. Instead of having a long discharge orifice that oozes the venom into a wound, the venom is forced toward a very small discharge orifice.

The combination of high pressure from the muscle squeezing the venom gland and the front-facing discharge orifice allows the snake to spray the venom. These factors combine to provide the long-distance spraying of venom.

Scientists have made numerous discoveries about the venom-spitting action. They have discovered that the venom spat by cobras is basically the same consistency and viscosity as that which is injected.  

The physical differences in the snakes’ fangs account for the ability to spit venom. The spitting cobras’ fangs require less pressure to “spit” the venom than typical cobra’s fangs, and that makes a world of difference.  

Why Do Spitting Cobras Shoot Venom?

Spitting cobras spit their venom at their prey as a defensive measure. Although it might seem counter-intuitive to not use it for offense, snakes often only use their venom when in severe danger or when there is food to eat.

So, spitting cobras will almost exclusively use their venom on foes when they feel threatened. Scientists have theorized that spitting cobras evolved to spit venom at humans’ ancestors. Humans are large creatures that pose a serious threat to cobras, so it’s only natural that snakes develop a defense over many years.

Three different lineages of spitting cobras all showed the development of toxins that caused increased pain in mammals. Also, the spitting cobras can aim precisely for humans’ eyes. Not only can these snakes spray far enough and high enough to hit humans, but they have also even developed a specialized technique to increase the chances that they blind them.

Spitting cobras have been seen using an undulating motion when they spray their venom.  That way, when they release their venom, it will spray in two streams across the face of an individual. This results in a higher chance of hitting a person in the eyes with venom.

When they land a shot with the venom, their target will likely flee.  

What Happens if a Cobra Sprays You with Venom?

Black rinkhals, spitting cobra, side view. Some of these snakes may have a mostly black body, while others are striped.
If a cobra gets venom in your eyes, you could go blind.

Andre Coetzer/Shutterstock.com

A spitting cobra’s venom has the potential to blind the creature that gets sprayed. However, there is more to this story that we need to explore. As we have already said, cobra venom evolved to have a devastating impact on humans.  

Yet, the impact depends on where a person gets hit. For example, if the cobra’s venom misses its mark and hits your neck or face without getting into your eyes, the impact is lower. Your skin may blister or become irritated. Sometimes, humans feel no effect.

When venom from a cobra hits a human’s eyes, the first reaction is different. First, intense burning pain sets in, and that’s the reaction the snake wants. When a person has chemicals introduced to their eyes, a significant amount of pain will make them flee. At the very least, the human will no longer present a threat to the snake.

If the individual seeks treatment, they will suffer corneal irritation and pain that varies depending on numerous factors. If they do not get treatment fast enough, the venom can blind the person entirely.

The bottom line is that every person should avoid contact with these snakes. They can spit venom, but they can also bite you and envenomate you with that method. As such, it is imperative to stay far away from spitting cobras.

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About the Author

I am a freelancer specializing in SEO content writing. I write in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I've been writing full-time since 2018, so I've been doing remote work before it was cool. When I'm not working, I can be found reading, trying to catch up on my tv show backlog, playing video games, and starting stories that I'll never finish.

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