Cape Cobra Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name: Cape cobra, yellow cobra, brown cobra
Scientific Name: Naja Nivea
Life Span: 12 to 20 years
Size: 3.9 to 4.6 feet long
Habitat: Fynbos, karoo scrubland, savanna, bushveld, and the Namib desert
Country of Origin: Southern Africa

Physical Description

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The Cape cobra is a medium-sized and highly-venomous snake that is native to southern Africa. It is a versatile snake that can adapt do various surroundings including areas like semi-desert areas, fynbos, savanna, bushveld, and deserts. It can feed on a wide variety of animal species including lizards, small mammals, and birds.

Despite being highly-venomous, it is the prey of larger animals including honey badgers, mongoose, and birds of prey.

Mature Cape cobras can measure around 3.9 to 4.6 feet long but can grow up to 5.2 feet. Males are larger than females. The longest recorded specimen of the Cape cobra is a male which measured 6.2 feet long.

Cape cobras come in a variety of colors from yellow to a golden brown and from dark brown to black. There are noticeable black or pale blotches and stippling and having distinct color marks is present in cobras found in a particular area. For instance, Cape cobras of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and Namibia appear to have a distinct yellow color compared to their southern relatives.

Young Cape cobras have dark throats and the dark color can be seen down the belly of the snake. This color fades during the cobra’s first to two years of life. The young Cape cobra has been mistaken for the Rinkhals spitting cobra.

The Cape cobra is one of the most venomous and highly-dangerous cobra species in Africa due to its very powerful venom. This snake can surprise residents as it can roam inside houses and bite when it feels provoked.

The venom of the Cape cobra is potent containing neurotoxin and cardiotoxins. More about the Cape cobra’s venom in a later part of this post.  

Recognizing a Cape Cobra

Anyone traveling in places where Cape cobras are abundant should learn firsthand how to distinguish this snake in case they chance upon it on the road or in a private property.

Cape cobra is a non-spitting cobra which means it will attack or bite directly to deliver its venom. Adults can reach 1.2 meters in length and color variations are rich yellow, light to medium-dark brown and copper to black. These are speckled with brown and orange shades.

This can lift his head from the ground and face its enemy directly. It will spread its ribs to create a broader hood and body. It does this especially when it perceives that the individual is a threat. Young snakes will have one or two bands along its throat. These snakes will hiss or show their fixed front fangs. These will bite without warning.


Cape cobras are a part of the genus Naja and the family Elapidae. The Elapidae family is made up of snakes like coral snakes, mambas, rinkhals, and kraits. These snakes are characterized by a slender but large body which can raise their bodies from the ground. These create hoods by spreading their ribs and necks to make them look larger and more ferocious.

Other snakes species in this family are found in South Africa and may include snouted cobras, forest cobra, the rinkhals and the Mozambique spitting cobra.

Life Span

Cape cobras are very aggressive. It is not an ideal pet and should not be handled by inexperienced individuals.  This cobra has three life stages: hatchling, juvenile, and adult stage. 


Female Cape cobras will lay anywhere from 8 to 20 eggs during the midsummer. In the wild, females don’t make their nests and simply lays her eggs in a hole or in an abandoned termite mound. The hatchlings will break open their eggs after 70 days and will come out hungry and ready to look for prey.


Juvenile Cape cobras can hunt for more complex prey and are already highly-venomous. At this stage, Cape cobras are very inquisitive and may wander inside human homes and yards. They have a voracious appetite and their appearance already resemble their parents but are slightly smaller.


Adult Cape cobras are ready to reproduce and the mating season starts September to October. During this small window to breed, this cobra is more aggressive. Adults are high –venomous and victims will require immediate medical attention. More on Cape cobra’s venomous nature and its reproduction on later parts of this article.

Eating Habits

The Cape cobra hunts during the daytime and will sleep during nighttime. But during hot weather with temperatures higher than 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, these snakes can become crepuscular or they may become active during the twilight and early evening.

Cape cobras are very eager hunters and are often found moving on the ground in search of food. It can also climb trees to hunt birds and eggs found in nests. Their staple food includes birds and rodents but they may also eat lizards, frogs, and other snakes.

In captivity, Cape cobras may eat mice, lizards, and frogs. These have to be delivered to the tank in the daytime rather than in the evening like nocturnal snakes. Since Cape cobras swallow their prey whole, pet owners can sneak in vitamin supplements for their pet snake.

Sleeping Habits

Cape cobras will sleep at night or in the morning depending on the temperature. Usually, it will hunt in the daytime and eat but when the temperature is too hot for them to get around, they turn to nighttime or twilight hunting. After eating, these can remain inside their burrows to sleep contentedly until they are hungry again.

Cape cobra enclosures must be placed in a quiet area and should be kept under lock and key. The Cape cobra should be allowed to take a long rest after feeding, daytime or nighttime.


Cape cobras will drink water and just like any snake, it will be contented with a bowl of fresh water inside its tank. Change this water often to prevent any bacterial contamination. Also, water in a bowl or using a spray bottle to spray water inside the tank can help improve humidity inside the snake’s tank.

As much as possible, maintain the ideal humidity inside the tank to help your snake stay healthy and for better skin shedding.

Development and Reproduction

Cape cobras are oviparous which means that it will lay eggs where their offspring will emerge from. This is in contrast to some snakes laying their hatchlings alive and not from eggs. During the mating season, mature males and females come together to mate and to bear a new generation of venomous Cape cobras.

The breeding season is a small window between September to October and it is during the mating season when the snakes are more aggressive. After mating with a suitable male, females will lay anywhere from 8 to 20 eggs with each egg at 60 x 25 mm in size. The female will lay her eggs during the midsummer from December to January.

Pregnant cape cobras will not make her own nest. She will instead look for a suitable hole or even an abandoned termite home where she will deposit her eggs. Some say that this is a defense mechanism of a cape cobra because predators won’t think that there is a nest in these areas.

Some cape cobra females would prefer a warm area while some need a wet area to lay her eggs. When the eggs hatch, hatchlings will emerge which will measure from 34 to 40 cm in length. Hatchlings are perfect when these hatches. These may look small but are capable of looking for prey and moving here and there.  Hatchling ratio is one male to five females.

How to Breed

Breeding cape cobras need a healthy male and female. A healthy male is a snake with no illness, have steady growth and have the best size. Meanwhile, females must be large, have been observed to shed without problems and are overall healthy. 

Once you have your male and female snakes, place these on separate tanks all the while preparing the breeding tank. Give your male and female snakes good food and enough rest before they mate.

Create a suitable tank to mate and where the female will hatch her eggs. This tank must have adequate bedding, accessories, lamps, and heater; consider adding a water dish or tray so your snake can drink or wade if it wants to. Never place two males in one tank because this will make the snakes very aggressive and may fight for dominance.

Put the male and female inside the breeding tank. Usually, male snakes will be very eager to mate during the mating season. This will not be a problem considering that your pets are healthy and ready to mate.

It won’t be long when you spot your female cape cobra with a bulge on her belly. When you see this, don’t remove the males. Let the male remain inside the tank for a few more days. But after a week that the female still looks pregnant or still has the bulge, you may now remove the male.

Just like other pregnant snakes, a female cape cobra will usually remain still and inactive when pregnant. She may also refuse to eat and drink. This is a very common thing so don’t worry about it. The female may also want to stay under the light, will stay near it. You may also see your female go to her water dish not for a drink but for a dip.

It will take around a month or two before most female snakes lay their eggs. She will lay up to 18 or more eggs in a suitable area inside the tank. When the hatchlings come out of the eggs, these will remain inside the nest. The mother will remain near the nest as well but after a few days, these hatchlings will soon leave the nest to hunt and explore their environment.

Common Health Problems

Cobras are generally healthy as long as it is given the right food and their cages kept clean. Take note of good health symptoms like clear eyes, clear nose and mouth, good appetite, a rounded and full body and healthy skin.

Cobras with health issues may have wrinkled skin, shows signs of weakness with discharge from the nose or mouth, with smelly or loose feces, poor appetite, and vomiting. If you notice these signs and symptoms, consult a vet at once.

Here are the most common health issues of Cape cobras:

Internal parasites

Parasitic conditions are common especially when your snake is from the wild. A wild Cape cobra can pick up parasites coming from its food or from other animals and this can be transferred to captive snakes. Signs of internal parasites are lack of appetite, regurgitation, lack of energy and an overall unwell appearance.

And one way to test for internal parasites is to have your snake taken to the vet. The vet will check your snake, conduct fecal testing and will prescribe medications for any suspected parasitic illness.


Regurgitation is usually due to stress, holding or handling the snake soon after it has just eaten and due to an undiagnosed illness. This may be avoided by holding your snake after it has fed.

To help your pet avoid regurgitation, prepare a heated area inside the tank where your pet can stay before eating. For large food, cut these up to avoid regurgitation. You must consult a vet in case of more problems with regurgitation and digestion. 

Shedding Problems

Shedding is a part of a snake’s life and this is a sign of a growing snake. Shedding may pose a problem to cobras when the snake and its tank are not properly hydrated. The skin in the body and tail may shed but the skin surrounding the eye and tail can take time and may cling to the body in case the snake is too dry.

Spray water all over the tank, on the accessories and on the cobra. A bowl of water inside the tank will also help improve humidity. Usually, a snake will change its eye color to a whitish color when it is time to shed. As soon as you identify this, place a bowl of warm water in its tank to soak. You must take your pet to the vet if it is having difficulty removing dried skin.

Skin Conditions

Your pet cobra may become affected by skin conditions including abscesses, blisters, mites, cuts, and abrasions. Abscesses is due to a previous injury that has become infected by bacteria looking like a may look like a small lump on the skin. This can protrude to the internal tissues and organs.

Blisters are fluid-filled skin structures that form along the underside of the snake. This skin condition is because of a moldy, dirty and overused substrate. Snakes with blisters should be taken to a vet because these could pile up and block the mouth and nose.

Mites and ticks may also affect cape cobras. Mites are tiny moving dots that can be red, white or black. Ticks are larger and can bury itself in between the scales and will never let go of the skin. Do not remove the tick just leave the snake to soak in a warm bath to remove these parasites. If the mite and tick persist consult your vet right away.


The size of the snake and its metabolism affects the time it takes to digest its food. If it has been days from the last time it pooped then it may be suffering from constipation.

The first treatment is to let your snake stay in warm water for at least 15 minutes daily. This will help stimulate digestion and excretion to help it move its bowels. But if constipation persists and is accompanied by swelling of the belly, take your snake to the vet.

Respiratory Conditions

If you notice lethargy, coughing, open-mouth breathing, runny nose or unusual clicking noises in the mouth, your snake may be having respiratory issues. If you notice these, increase temperature in the tank to enhance the snake’s immune response.

Move the cage to another part of the room away from other snakes and pets to avoid contamination. The area should be quiet to allow the cape cobra to recuperate. Most viral respiratory conditions do not need any treatment. But if your snake’s condition persists, consult a vet right away. 

Preventing Illness

To prevent illness, make sure that the cobra enclosure has optimal temperature and hydration. You need the best tank lighting and humidifier and a digital thermometer and hygrometer to monitor tank health efficiently. Use backup power like battery-operated lamps if there is a power outage.

Hydrate your snake by misting the tank with water or placing a bowl of water inside. Remember to change this water daily. Change substrate often to avoid parasitic and bacterial infections. Don’t reuse the substrate to avoid skin problems. A cape cobra needs pebbles or rocks as bedding so you must check the entire area of the tank for rotting food or poop because these can rot lead to disease.

A new snake pet should be quarantined before you allow it inside the room with your snake. Remember that some infections may be from other snakes and reptiles caught in the wild. Bring your new pet to the vet for a complete check-up.

When feeding your pet python, don’t give wild-caught animals because these may have consumed pesticides which can harm your pet. You can sprinkle supplements or multivitamins on the cape cobra food as well.

When it comes to shedding, remember that this is a stressful thing for snakes so leave them alone. Offer help when you see problems like incomplete shedding of the tail and eyecap. You can prevent these by improving temperature and humidity inside the cobra enclosure.


The following are common behaviors of a cape cobra. Remember the following when you are handling a cobra or any kind of venomous exotic snake.

Good Climbers

Although most snakes stay in the ground, the cape cobra does more by becoming good climbers as it searches for prey. It is naturally a terrestrial snake but will easily climb bushes and high trees to reach nests of birds and other small mammals. Experts believe that if it is unable to get food on the floor, it can climb and easily weave through tree branches in search of food. 

Hides in Holes Under The Ground

When this snake is not active, it can stay underground to rest or to recuperate. It may also be found underground cover like brush piles. When it is too hot or warm on the ground, this snake can easily hide and wait until the temperature is perfect for it to move around.

Generally Calm

Experts say that this snake is calmer compared to other venomous snakes from Africa. But as it is highly-venomous, it is still dangerous to handle one unless you have been trained to do so.

Strikes Readily When Threatened

This snake can strike when threatened and it won’t hesitate to do so. You should never approach one in the wild or when you spot a Cape cobra in your yard.

Will Escape After Striking

Another behavior that you may notice with Cape cobras is that it will escape after attacking an individual. Experts say that it is a part of the snake’s defense mechanism. After making sure that the threat is motionless, it will escape quickly and may be difficult to track afterward.

Defensive Posture

The hallmark defensive posture where the snake raises its body from the ground and spreads its hood. The snake will also hiss very loudly as if to warm the threat to stay away. This defensive posture is something that frightens people and is a sign that a snake is dangerous and that they must stay away or risk getting bitten.


Cape cobra is one of the most dangerous cobra species in Africa. It has a potent venom that is thick, syrupy in consistency and can dry to shiny small flakes. The venom is composed of potent neurotoxins and cardiotoxins. These will affect the nervous system, respiratory system, and the cardiovascular system. The average venom per bite of this snake is 100 to 150 mg and the mortality rate is unknown but experts say that it’s high.

If a person is bitten and does not get help right away, it will take an hour to ten hours before respiratory failure and death occur. The only antivenom used is a polyvalent antivenom from the South African Institute of Medical Research.

More Aggressive During The Mating Period

Another dangerous thing about the Cape cobra is when its mating season because it can get very aggressive. Experts say that it can become twice as aggressive and thus the female may bite and threaten any individual that she might find threatening to her and her babies.


Shedding means that you have a healthy pet. Ideally, snakes shed once a month or regularly. During shedding, the skin will stretch and grow to accommodate the increasing size of the snake, hence this is important to growing juvenile and adult snakes. Shedding is a regular part of a young or juvenile snake’s life but adults may shed only once or twice a year. If a snake is not shedding then this could indicate malnutrition or other issues. Some issues include stress, skin bacteria, trauma, too much handling, or other skin conditions. When a snake sheds, the skin is removed entirely and not in flakes.

And remember, when your snake is about to shed, its eyes become glazed and will turn milky white. A complete shedding its old skin in one piece and not in flakes.


When in the wild, spotted python will remain in rocky areas. The color and texture of rocks will hide the cape cobra from predators. In captivity, spotted pythons should be kept in enclosures that are tall and wide, not in small plastic containers.

A larger enclosure may also be used in a spare room or basement. You may also use a made-to-order tank. A glass terrarium is an ideal place to keep a cape cobra so you can check the condition of your pet better.

Install an insulator material to prevent the escape of heat and humid air. Place accessories like perches, plants, and pots where your snake can perch to sleep and hibernate. Be sure to keep one snake in one tank.

Don’t place two snakes together because these can fight and can cause severe injuries.  If you plan to take care of several snakes at a time, use multiple tanks or enclosures to keep your solitary pets contented, safe and quiet. Also, consider that these are nocturnal animals so don’t place the tank in high traffic areas in your home.

Lighting and Humidity

Use a good lamp made for reptile tanks. The constant temperature must be maintained and this is between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. You should reduce this by five degrees at nighttime to create a more comfortable area for your pet. Monitor the temperature and humidity with a digital hygrometer and thermometer and correct humidity with a pan of water inside the tank or a spray bottle or mister.

The LED lighting is the best kind of lighting that will suit a snake tank. LED lamps are bright but will never make the tank too hot or too uncomfortable. LED lamps are very expensive but will burn for a long time and will never consume too much electricity even when kept overnight.

There are several LED lamps available. You must have backup lighting with battery-operated lamps in case of power outages. You can purchase these from any online store or shop.

Tank Bedding and Accessories

Provide safe and easy to maintain bedding and accessories for your pet. Always follow its natural habitat and use natural materials as much as possible. For cape cobras, use smooth rocks and sand which are somewhat the same color as the skin. The bedding must be spot-checked daily or several times to maintain tank cleanliness. 

You may use natural or artificial plants and ledges. For natural plants use a lamp that will provide UVB lighting for healthier plants. Remember that natural plants will wilt and rot so be sure to constantly check for these when you maintain your tank.


Clean the snake tank and use natural agents as much as possible. Natural agents are lemon, baking soda or vinegar which will remove dirt and smell without any dangerous ingredients that can affect the health of your pet cobra.

If you want chemical products, to clean your tank, follow directions on the label. Rinse the tank completely and be sure to dry with paper towels before you replace the accessories, substrate and your pet. Make sure to clean the accessories as well. We recommend using artificial plants and perching surfaces so you can wash these as you clean your tank.

Choose from a wide variety of cleaning products to clean your snake’s tank. You can choose from disinfectants, sterilizers, and sanitizing products. Another way is to use boiling water to sterilize the tank.

To use boiling water, let the water and soap stay in the tank for a few minutes before removing it. Open a window, door, and fans if you want to use bleach and other cleaning solutions. Rinse the tank well and dry it completely using paper towels or a piece of soft cotton fabric to absorb water before you place your python back.


Keep a dish of clean water inside the tank. You must use a dish made of ceramic or clay and avoid plastic. Spray the tank with water using a mister. Your snake can lick vapor from the wall or leaves inside the tank. Be sure to keep an eye on the tank’s humidity in case you need to correct it. Use the mister to add moisture inside the tank. And if you want a more precise way to correct humidity, invest in a heavy-duty humidifier.

Availability – Where to Get One?

You can purchase a cape cobra from an online pet or reptile shop. You must buy your pet from a reputable dealer or pet shop to guarantee good health. But before you take an exotic pet home, ask for a certificate from a vet. This requirement must be provided by the seller to make sure that you have a healthy snake.    

Cape cobras cost anywhere from $300 to $400 depending on the size, gender, and shipment or handling costs. You can also save by buying a snake from a local breeder or dealer rather than buying pets online.

How to Care for a Cape Cobra?

  • Take time to clean the snake’s tank. Spot clean daily, change or wash the tank weekly or more often each month to avoid illness especially skin conditions.
  • Monitor tank temperature and humidity constantly. Invest in a reliable digital thermometer and hygrometer to keep track.
  • A dish of water inside the tank is not just for hydrating your cobra but also for improving humidity. Change the water from this dish often.
  • Give your cobra live food to build its energy. Your cape cobra will eat mice, bats, small mammals, birds, arthropods and lizards. You must consult your vet for appropriate supplements to support your pet’s health.
  • Be careful when handling your pet but do so early to help it adjust to you. Start during the juvenile stage or when your snake is still young. Use protective equipment to do so. This will also reduce the snake’s aggressiveness and nervousness.
  • Take care of your snake as it sheds. Provide good food and hydrate its tank by misting to ensure shedding will be complete including the eye caps and tail.
  • Always take your pet to the vet for any medical issue. A reptile expert and not just a general vet can help more. He will be able to help you handle your pet and how to safely deal with cobra behaviors as well.
  • Always purchase healthy pets from a reputable dealer. Demand a certificate from the vet from the seller to ensure that you are buying a snake in good health.

FAQ Section

How venomous is a cape cobra?

Cape cobras will rather flee than fight. This doesn’t spit venom than other cobras but its bit can still paralyze and kill a human. Their venoms are very powerful and are neurotoxic so you’ll be immobilized and will be in extreme pain.

Is venom for a cape cobra available where I am?

When you are bitten by a Cape cobra, it will be difficult to get help because the only venom supplier is in a hospital in Africa. The bite is very dangerous and thus you need to get medical help right away.

What do you do when you see a cape cobra?

When you suddenly cross paths with a Cape cobra, stay calm and breathe gently. Don’t panic, if you do, you might get bitten because it can strike without hesitation.

What to do if you get bitten by a Cape cobra?

If you get bitten, stay calm. Apply a bandage around the wound just like applying a bandage on a muscle sprain. Do not use a tourniquet and never attempt to suck the venom out of the wound; get medical help at once. 

How long is a cape cobra?

The cape cobra is a medium-sized snake species of a cobra. Mature cape cobras can be from 3.9 to 4.6 feet long. The males are slightly bigger than females and the longest specimen is up to 6.2 feet long.

Can cape cobras swim?

Yes, snakes like the cape cobra can swim well but it prefers to remain underground and sleep. When it hunts prey, it can hunt food on the forest floor and in bushes or trees rather than in water.

Will cape cobras chase you?

No, a cape cobra will not chase after you and in fact, it will run away if you remain still. But if you get bitten, you need to get to the hospital right away for immediate medical attention.

Can you feed live food to your pet cobra?

Yes, cobras will prefer to eat live food rather than fresh-frozen food. It loves the feel of warm prey and it will take its time to eat it.

Do cape cobras hibernate?

No, cape cobras do not hibernate. From where they come from, it’s hot and humid all year long and thus it does not need to hibernate to escape cold climates.

How do you feed a pet cape cobra?

Feed a pet cape cobra with live food like mice and smaller mammals. And as snakes also need supplements, you may sprinkle this on the food you give your snake.

Do you need a permit to keep a pet cobra?

In some places yes because it may be a regulated animal while in some countries or state, it is illegal to keep one. So before you buy a pet cobra, make sure that this is legal from your location.

How do you take a pet cobra to the vet?

Just like taking any reptile to a vet, handle the snake well using protective equipment and gently place it inside a crate or cage. Place a towel over the cage as you transport it so your snake will feel more comfortable.

Can you place two cobras in one tank?

You should never place two snakes in one tank even if you have a very large enclosure. This may result in fighting and a dominant snake can kill the other smaller or non-dominant snake.

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