August 24, 2014

Animal Profile: Egyptian Banded Cobra

Among the most fearsome and awe-inspiring animals of Egypt is none other than the Egyptian Cobra, for it’s magnificent hooded head and the myths and legends that encircle it throughout history. Let’s take a look:

An Egyptian Banded Cobra rears up to inspect his surroundings.

An Egyptian Banded Cobra rears up to inspect his surroundings.

The Snake:

The Egyptian Banded Cobra (Latin: naja haje annulifera) is an almost 8 foot long snake, with dark brown bands encircling its light yellow-brown body. The snake, whose poison can be deadly if not treated immediately, can rear up to two feet off of the ground!

The Egyptian Banded Cobra is a mostly nocturnal creature, though it is not unheard of to see them out and about during the day. Its usual territory is in the hot, dry regions of northern Africa, near a water source. An agile snake, they can climb trees and swim in water. They generally maintain a territorial home, such as a burrow, a hollow tree, a rocky crevice, or an abandoned termite mound. Egyptian cobras enjoy feasting on toads as a source of nourishment, but also are known to feed feed on small mammals, birds, eggs, lizards, snakes, frogs, and sometimes even fish.


The Myth:

The Uraeus (the Egyptian word for a reared cobra) was a symbol for various things from early times including: the sun, Lower Egypt, the king and a number of deities. It is said that the Egyptian goddess Isis created it from the dust of the earth and the spit of the sun-god. Apparently, the cobra was the tool Isis used to conquer the throne of Egypt for her husband, Osiris.

The Cobra was often called the “fiery eye” of Re, the highest of the Egyptian gods, though it has also symbolized gods such as Ma’ath and Reith. A pair of fire-spitting Cobras were thought to have guarded the gates to the afterlife at every hour.


The Legend:

A gilded wooden cobra called netjer-ankh (“living god”) was found in the tomb of Tutankhamon (see picture at left). It is representative of the cobra’s associations with the afterlife. An Egyptian cobra named after the Delta city of Buto became the symbol for all of Lower Egypt. Indeed, each species of snake in Egypt was thought to be a god incarnate, but cobras in particular. Deities associated with poisonous snakes were in particular considered to be beneficial. It would appear that the ancient Egyptians had a love/hate relationship with this deadly snake, as they feared it for it’s ability to kill, but also adored it for its sacred connotations.

The snake goddess Meretseger personified the pyramid-esque peak that rises above the Valley of the Kings. She may have been the goddess of a religious following in the nearby village of the royal tomb builders and their families, because snake figurines were found during excavations, many of which were covered with cooking soot, suggesting she provided protection for the kitchen. (Dunn)

Be careful not to step on one of these in your adventures!



“Egyptian Banded Cobra Fact Sheet” on Accessed 2/5/14.

“Ancient Egypt: The Mythology” on  Accessed 2/5/14.

“The Snakes of Egypt” by Jimmy Dunn.