Readers are requested to refer to Human Snake Conflict Inside Coffee Forests and Snake Diversity and Conservation Inside Coffee Forests for a better understanding of the present article.
Shade grown eco friendly Indian coffee plantations are famous for their sweet Arabica and mildly bitter Robusta beans. The world’s leading Roasters are often perplexed as regards to the unique flavor and aroma of Indian coffee. Some attribute these to higher elevation, salubrious climate, topography or the soil system. There’s nothing much to talk about our soils, which has a average organic matter content, nor are they rich in volcanic ash, yet the coffee grown under shade has a unique taste of nature in the cup. How is this possible?
The one and only reason for this matchless taste and quality, is because Indian coffee is grown under the canopy of a complex multitier shade system, together with multi storied crops, including herbs and spices, together with biodiversity. Biodiversity, both plant and animal life; forms an integral part of the coffee ecosystem. In short the coffee forest ecosystem provides a habitat, a home for an amazingly complex variety of flora and fauna. It is a fact that shade grown eco friendly Indian coffee plantations are powerhouses of biodiversity.
Coffee forests, positioned inside the Western Ghats are unique because the evergreen and moist tropical ecosystem provides an ideal habitat for the proliferation of flora and fauna. In terms of biodiversity the Western Ghats are second only to the Himalayas in terms of harboring rare and threatened species of flora and fauna. India figures among the twelve mega biodiversity countries of the world, accounting for 7.8% of all recorded species. It being a party to the convention of Biological diversity treaty (1992), there is an urgent need to catalogue, document and conserve biological diversity.
Many of the species of flora and fauna which remain unidentified are threatened with extinction due to indiscriminate forest destruction. A significant portion of the forest cover is highly fragmented and shrinking rapidly because of the changing environment.
This brief article throws light on the many varied types of cobras that we have encountered in the two decades spent on mapping the biodiversity of the coffee forests. We have made a few significant observations with respect to the morphological characteristics of the various types of cobra and would like to highlight the same for the benefit of the global planting community. We are of the view that there are many new species of spectacled cobras that need to be catalogued.
We are also of the opinion that based on biotic as well as abiotic factors; natural selection favors those individuals whose traits render them best able to survive and reproduce inside the coffee forests. The resultant offspring will dominate in that particular region. Variation in size, color and markings may be attributed to both phenotypic and genotypic variations. In simple terms phenotypic variations represents adaptation by the individual and genotypic variations represents adaptation by the population, enabling it to change over time.
The point that we would like to stress is that man made environmental changes can result in the formation of extreme forms of a species resulting in disruptive selection. This acts as a catalyst in the formation of new species. Every major impact of climate change has resulted in an imbalance of nature resulting in new species, some of which are highly adaptive in the new environment. However, not all species have the adaptive capacity to survive in a hostile environment.
This article is specially written for growers to learn more about the different types of spectacled cobras. The idea is to encourage local growers to commemorate their local forests and to think about how important forests are.
Special care has been taken to provide close up pictures of the head to enable identification. Although, some of the pictures look similar, a keen eye can easily differentiate the different types of spectacled cobra’s based on altitude (From sea level right up to 5000 Feet elevation) and habitat. A few rare pictures with respect to molting will throw light on skin shedding.
Planet Earth is gifted with approximately 2000 species of snakes, out of which 272 are present in India ranging from the 10 cm long worm snake to the 7 meter long python and king cobra. India is blessed with three species of cobras, mainly the Indian Spectacled Cobra (Naja naja naja), the mono-ocellate cobra (Naja naja kaouthia) and the black cobra. Six species are present in Asia and nine in Africa.
We need to remember, that snakes are not under threat from other wild life, but these magnificent creatures are under threat from human beings. Cobras have good eyesight and a keen sense of smell. Cobras, especially those found in South India have a distinct pair of circular ocelli on the rear of the hood. These patterns seem to be connected by a curved line, which appear like spectacles, hence the name spectacled cobra.
Importance is given to almost all types of snakes in Indian mythology. The intent may be to conserve and preserve the balance of nature. The cobra stands out as one among the most revered and highly worshiped snakes. Lord Shiva is often portrayed with a protective cobra coiled around the neck and Lord Vishnu is usually represented as resting on the coiled body of sheshnag, a snake deity with a number of cobra heads.
Cobras are also worshiped during the Hindu festival of Nag Panchami. There are numerous myths about cobras in India, including the idea that they mate with rat snakes. This is a fallacy.
Scientific name: Naja naja
Indian name: Hindi-Nag; Tamil-Nalla pamboo; Kannada-Nagara Haavu; Malayalam-Moorkan
Average Length: seven to eight feet.
Average Length at Birth: 25 cm.
DISTRIBUTION: The spectacled cobra is widely distributed across the length and breadth of the country from sea level up to 4000 m (in the Himalayas). The color varies from black or dark brown to yellowish white.
The famous spectacled markings are but a pair of connected rings. In some cobras, the spectacled markings are altogether absent. The cobras of North West India are more blackish in color and have barely distinguishable spectacled markings.
HABITAT: No fixed habitat like dense jungle or scrub lands. With unchecked habitat destruction, cobras can be found in open places and very close to dwelling places too. Cobras are active both during the night and day.
BEHAVIOUR: Cobras are shy by nature and under most circumstances try to avoid human beings. They would rather hide or flee than fight. But their shyness or timidity should not be taken for granted, because they are hostile when provoked. All cobras are intelligent and provide three distinct warnings before striking human beings. It is important to realize that most snake bites from cobras are not life threatening, for the simple reason that the cobra injects very small amounts of venom or no venom at all depending on the severity of the threat. This is called a DRY BITE. (Not life threatening)
Cobras are not classified in the endangered list, but their numbers have been reduced by the loss of habitat. Although the Indian Cobra is not an endangered species, it has recently been hunted for its distinctive hood markings in the production of handbags. It is listed under the treaty because it closely resembles other species that are threatened and in need of protection.
MOLTING OR SKIN SHEDDING: An adult cobra sheds its skin about six times a year. It provides for vigor and agility.
FEEDING HABITS: All snakes are carnivores. (Lizards, Frogs, toads, insects, rodents, birds)
MATING AND REPRODUCTION: Cobras mate during January and February and lay 12 to 36 eggs, usually in a rat hole or termite mound which hatch within 60 days. The female stays with the clutch, till they hatch, feeding rarely if at all.
SNAKE VENOM: In simple terms is highly modified saliva with a mixture of different kinds of proteins, toxins and enzymes capable of digesting the entire prey. The cobra venom is Neurotoxic in nature and acts on the nervous system and brain. It can lead to respiratory paralysis and cardiac failure.
The venom glands of baby cobras (Hatchling) are as poisonous as a fully grown cobra. Their venom glands are fully functional. A large yolk sac remains in the hatchlings stomach which provides for nourishment up to two weeks, before it needs to find food on its own.
The maximum quantity of venom injected by a cobra is up to 211 mgs. However, a mere 16 mg of venom is sufficient to kill an adult human being.
SYMPTOMS OF COBRA BITE: Convulsions, drowsiness, headache, blurring of vision, slurred speech, limb paralysis, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, intense abdominal pain and severe pain around the bite wound. Increased blood pressure and abnormal heart beats. Good chances of respiratory failure.
TREATMENT: The first snake Antivenom discovered in 1895 by Albert Calmette was due to the significant number of fatalities resulting from the bite from the spectacled Indian cobra.
- Reassure the patient to be calm. Explain that 90% of cobra bites are dry bites and are harmless.
- Do not use tight tourniquets.
- Do not allow the patient to exert or walk.
- Raise the leg and cover with blanket.
- In case of vomiting, turn the patient to one side to avoid choking.
- Take the patient to the nearest hospital-Anti venom serum.
RESEARCH ON COBRA VENOM: Research conducted at the Tata Memorial Cancer Institute at Bombay on various fractions of cobra venom has shown promise in treating certain cancer cells in mice. At present, the American pharmaceutical companies have successfully brought out pain killers made from cobra venom-COBROXIN, and NYLOXIN
We have often emphasized the importance of natural selection of species because, Natural selection, is the keystone of evolution and the basis of natural selection is variation. Because the entire process is a gradual one, it goes through many time tested stages, eventually resulting in a species which is fully adapted to the environment. It also explains how evolution is not a chance factor. We have always stressed that Natural selection explains the paradox of how a relatively stable species can change genotypically over time, even though individual populations do not change.
In the recent past, the coffee forests are subjected to many environmental shocks due to global warming. The break down due to the disturbances of stable environment can wipe out species which have evolved over many thousands of years. The higher altitude coffee forests are becoming dryer. Much of the dense forest canopy at lower altitudes is opened up, exposing the plantation to more and more sunlight resulting in a new type of macro environment, unsuitable both for the flora and fauna.
We have observed many different types of spectacled cobras. In-depth studies and research can reveal the mechanics of evolution which in turn will enable the scientific community to predict the effects of environmental changes upon the coffee ecosphere resulting in the establishment of new species of spectacled cobras.
Acknowledgement: We would like to acknowledge the help from Mr. Joy S Mascarenhas in identifying various snake species inside the coffee forests. Joy is not only an expert on snakes but is doing his very best in the conservation of reptiles.
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