Naja melanoleuca (Forest cobra, Black and white lipped cobra)

Boskobra [Afrikaans]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Lepidosauromorpha > Lepidosauria > Squamata > Serpentes (snakes) > Family: Elapidae > Genus: Naja

Naja melanoleuca (Forest cobra, Black and white lipped cobra), KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. [photo F. Grundlingh ,from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Naja melanoleuca (Forest cobra, Black and white lipped cobra), KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. [photo A. Coetzer ,from SARCA Virtual Museum]


The Forest cobra can be identified the following features; highly polished body scales, its good climbing ability, a preference for thick vegetation in close proximity to water and its narrow hood. This snake grows to an average length of 2 meters but can grow up to 2.7 meters in length (the Forest cobra is the largest cobra in Africa).

Distribution and habitat

Has a very small distribution only being found in the following areas North East KwaZulu-Natal, Southern Mozambique and on the East Zimbabwe border. Its preferred habitat is lowland forest or costal savanna thickets. It is common to find these snakes both in trees and small shrubs.


Feeds on amphibians (e.g. frogs and toads), small mammals (e.g. rodents), birds, other snakes and fish.

Predators, parasites and disease

Fed on by other snakes.


Oviparous (egg laying), lays between 11 and 26 eggs in summer.


Like most cobra species it has an average life span of 20 years (one specimen lived for 28 years).

Medical importance

This cobra species has a highly dangerous neurotoxic venom, It is however responsible for very few bites and there is an antivenom available.



  • Broadley, D.G. 1983. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

  • Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.


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