Cobra De Capello (hooded snake), the Portuguese name of the naja tripudiam (Merr.), a venomous serpent of the East Indies, so called from its habit of dilating the neck into a kind of hood, covering in part the head; it has also received the name of spectacle snake, from the peculiar coloration on the back of the dilated hood. The family to which this serpent belongs seems to establish the transition between the genus coluber and the true venomous serpents; for, though armed with poisonous fangs, they have not the external characters of tri-gonocephalus, crotalus, and vipera, such as heavy forms, large triangular heads, and cari-nated scales; on the contrary, the form is slight and graceful, the head small and rounded, and the scales smooth; like coluber, they have the top of the head covered with nine plates. The poison apparatus is less developed than in the rattlesnake, and its excretory duct is shorter and unfolded; the long processes of the vertebra) are smaller and indicate less muscular strength than in the true venomous serpents; the bones of the head are less movable; the fangs are fixed in the jaws, which arc capable of only moderate extension; and the whole aspect indicates a gentleness and docility which it is well known they possess.
The cobra do capello has been known for centuries as possessing the power of dilating its neck, which is marked in a peculiar manner, and as being the dangerous playmate of the Indian jugglers. The dilatation of the neck depends on the length and straight-ness of the ribs of this part; at rest, they are directed backward, but when drawn forward they assume a horizontal direction, and thus spread laterally the integuments of the neck; this dilatation extends from the head to about the 10th vertebra, gradually diminishing upward and downward from the middle of this space. This power of dilatation is possessed by many other serpents to a less degree. The two white spots with a black centre, united in front by a curved line, are rarely so distinct as to resemble spectacles, being generally irregular black marks which the imagination could transform into a great variety of semblances; they are most distinct when the hood is dilated, and are probably due to the arrangement of the scales consequent on the forced raising of the ribs. Two spots are sometimes seen on the lower surface of the neck. These colorations are not sexual differences, as they occur both in males and females.
The general color of this serpent is a brownish yellow, of various degrees of brightness; the young often have the body with black bands and white spots. The total length is from 3 to 4 ft., and the thickness a little more than an inch; the tail is short, robust, and conical; the trunk is cylindrical and strong, as indicated by the agility of its movements. When attacked it raises itself boldly, supporting the trunk on the tail placed horizontally on the ground; then, with body bent, dilated neck, and threatening head, it presents quite a formidable appearance. It devours toads, frogs, birds, small animals, and also other snakes. In confinement they often utter a peculiar cry, described by a traveller, in whose apartment one of these snakes was catching rats at night, as a "strident sound, the attempted imitation of which resembled the acute staccato note of a treble hautboy." This species is found throughout the East Indies, and on many of the islands of the Indian archipelago, varying somewhat in color according to locality; it is nocturnal in its habits, and very frequently enters houses in search of its prey.
The specific name tripudians (dancing) given to it by Merrem indicates a frequent use made of it by the Indian jugglers, to the great surprise of the uninitiated; the poison fangs are first extracted, so that their bite is quite harmless, though the exhibitors pretend to employ powerful antidotes; the serpents are trained to execute certain movements corresponding to the motions of the jugglers, keeping time to the musical accompaniment, and resembling a rude dance. The poison of the cobra, though less virulent than that of the rattlesnake, is exceedingly dangerous; from the experiments of Dr. Russell, in his work on the serpents of India, it appears that its poison proves fatal to a dog in less than 27 minutes, and to a chicken in less than half a minute; inserted by incision or inoculation, it is equally dangerous. Unless remedies are speedily applied, the bite of the cobra is generally fatal to man. According to Dr. Davy, its poison has an acrid taste, paralyzes the iris of fowls when applied to their eyes, and is soon exhausted by biting; it produces tainting, coldness, convulsions, and death, the lungs being generally found gorged with blood and serum.
After the mechanical means of removing the poison have been tried, such as ligatures above the wound to prevent the return of venous blood, sucking the bitten part, excision, cauterization, or the application of cupping glasses, the constitutional remedies are, in the first place, diffusive stimulants, to support the prostrated nervous energy which invariably accompanies such bites; such are ammonia alone, or, as eau de luce, in combination with tincture of oil of amber, or even simple alcoholic stimulants in large and repeated doses, which have been found to prevent the fatal effects of the more virulent poison of the rattlesnake. The favorite remedy in the East Indies is arsenic, either in the famous Tanjore pills, each of which contains about one grain of arsenic, or in Fowler's solution, which contains the arsenite of potash; experience has shown the efficacy of the pills in some cases reported by Dr. Russell, where no other remedy was employed, and they might prove as beneficial in the bites of other venomous serpents. This cobra has received a number of native names, one of the most common of which is goomna.
Several interesting experiments with the poison of the living cobra, some made in Boston in 1871, are given in the "Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History," vol. xiv. Such is the rapidity with which the poison is introduced into the blood that antidotes are rarely of any avail, though the fatal result may not occur for several hours. The cobra avoids using its fangs as much as possible except when securing its food, and rarely if ever bites unless trodden upon. The idea that the poison of the cobra has no effect upon the mongoose, or that the latter if bitten finds an antidote in certain plants, is entirely erroneous; the mongoose, if bitten, dies as soon as any other animal; the fact is that this agile creature avoids the bite of the sluggish reptile, and always seizes it by the back of the head, destroying it instantly. The cobra exhibited in Boston had eaten nothing for seven months, and yet seemed in good condition. - The N. haje (Linn.), found in Egypt and also in southern Africa, has sometimes been erroneously called cobra de capello, which might lead to the supposition that the true serpent of this name extended its area of distribution into Africa. (See Asp.)
Cobra de Capello.