IUCN threat status:

Vulnerable (VU)

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Slowinski and Wüster (2000) described the dangerously venomous Naja mandalayensis, a new species of spitting cobra that is apparently endemic to an arid region in central Myanmar (parts of Mandalay, Magwe, and Sagaing Divisions) where annual rainfall is generally less than 1000 mm. Historically, this area was characterized by acacia savanna and, in wetter areas, indaing, a stunted dipterocarp savanna. Due to intensive agricultural use, little of this original vegetation remains, but N. mandalayensis thrives in agricultural field and in and around villages (in fact, the holotype was captured inside a hut in a small village).

Asian cobras of the genus Naja were long thought to belong to a single species, N. naja. However, it was apparent by the early 1990s that Naja included at least 10 distinct species. Another Naja species, N. kaouthia, occurs widely in Myanmar, although it appears to be largely or entirely absent from the central Myanmar region where N. mandalayensis is found (Slowinski and Wüster note that a similar situation is found in Thailand, where N. kaouthia occurs more commonly in wetter areas and N. siamensis in drier ones).  Naja mandalayensis differs from N. kaouthia in (1) having a hood mark that is very faint or absent in adults and spectacle-shaped in juveniles (in N. kaouthia, this mark is present and monocle-shaped in both adults and juveniles) and (2) N. mandalayensis tends to spit venom when threatened and its jaws are more highly modified for spitting, with a smaller venom discharge orifice; N. kaouthia rarely spits venom. (Slowinski and Wüster 2000 and references therein)

Slowinski and Wüster (2000) concluded that N. siamensis and N. mandalayensis are likely sister taxa. They also noted that the central dry zone of Myanmar harbors other endemic snake species, such as Oligodon splendidus and Bungarus magnimaculatus and predicted that further study of the Myanmar herpetofauna would reveal other endemics from this region.

Leviton et al. (2003) provide a technical description of N. mandalayensis: Underside of chin and throat dark, set off from first dark band by 2 to 4 ventrals that are pale (or at least less densely mottled) followed by 2 or 3 broad dark bands; remainder of underparts is pale with occasional dark mottling. Hood has no (or extremely faint) markings. Fangs are modified for spitting and venom discharge orifice is small. Ventrals 173-185 (male 173-185, female 182-185); subcaudals 50-58 (male 56-58, female 50-56). Total length 828 mm, tail length 152 mm (some individuals probably larger). Often found in the vicinity of villages and agricultural lands.


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© Leo Shapiro

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