Species Profile: The Rinkhals

Captive specimen kept at a venom research facility. Photo credit: JP Dunbar
Captive specimen kept at a venom research facility. Photo credit: JP Dunbar

Name: The Rinkhals (Hemachatus hemachatus)

Range: Eastern regions of South Africa. Typically found in grassland.

Diet: Small amphibians, but will sometimes take small mammals and reptiles.

Conservation Status: IUCN – Least Concern

While closely related to the true cobras, genus Naja, the Rinkhals is actually a monotypic species in the genus Hemachatus. While this species is capable of spitting venom, the mechanism is not as highly evolved as that of spitting cobras in the genus Naja. In addition to spitting venom, this animal will also play dead as a defensive technique.

Though common, and venomous, bites from this species are relatively rare. Perhaps this is partially down to the defensive mechanisms employed by this species, with spitting and death feigning offering a more effective means of deterring unwanted human attention. The venom of this species is much “thinner” than that of other elapids, which facilitates the spitting action.

This stunning animal displays a black throat with two to three strong white bands. The dorsal colouration can vary between black and striped. At about 1 metre in length, this species is not particularly large, but it is nonetheless, very imposing when it displays its hood and broad neck.

Unlike other African cobras, this species is ovoviviparous, meaning they retain the developing eggs to the point of hatching, effectively giving birth to “live young”.

Rear hood