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the web of life in southern Africa

Hemachatus haemachatus  (Rinkhals, Ring-necked spitting cobra)

Spuugslang [Afrikaans]; iPhimpi, uNobhiya [Xhosa]; iPhimpi, uNobibi [Zulu]; iPhimpi [ Ndebele]; Kake [Tswana]; Petia [North Sotho]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Lepidosauromorpha > Lepidosauria > Squamata > Serpentes (snakes) > Family: Elapidae

Hemachatus haemachatus  (Rinkhals, Ring-necked spitting cobra), Free State. [photo A. Prozesky ©,from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Hemachatus haemachatus  (Rinkhals, Ring-necked spitting cobra), Gauteng. [photo L. Verburgt ©,from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Hemachatus haemachatus  (Rinkhals, Ring-necked spitting cobra), Mpumalanga. [photo G. Diedericks ©,from SARCA Virtual Museum]

Hemachatus haemachatus  (Rinkhals, Ring-necked spitting cobra), Eastern Cape. [photo K. Webster ©,from SARCA Virtual Museum]


This snake can be identified by the following, a dull black or brown body (mostly in Gauteng) or a banded patterning elsewhere in its distribution, 2 or 3 white bands on its hood, its keeled (rough scales) and its ability to play dead.

Distribution and habitat

This snake species is widely distributed being found in the Western Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, parts of Gauteng and throughout Lesotho and Swaziland. It has a wide variety preferred habitats which includes grasslands, savanna, low land forest, fynbos and has been known to regularly enter peoples homes. It is also adept at climbing trees and can be found in both trees and shrubs.  


It is known to feed on toads, lizards, rodents, other snakes, birds and even birds eggs.

Predators, parasites and disease

Fed on by birds of prey (particularly  Secretary birds and Snake eagles), other snakes and it seems Bullfrogs are particularly partial to young specimens, However its most serious threat is habitat destruction.  


This species is Viviparous (gives birth to live young) and gives birth to between 20 and 30 ( although it can have as many as 60) young during summer.


Most likely 10 years or more when compared with the life span of the similar cobra species ( Rinkhals are not true cobras)

Medical importance

The Rinkhals has potentially deadly neurotoxic venom that will not as deadly as the Cape cobra could still kill a man. This snake also unique because it is one of 3 snake species in South Africa that is able spit its venom, despite this there are very few fatalities attributed to this snake and in any case there  is an effective antivenom. This snake is still dangerous however because its venom can cause blindness when directed into the eyes.  



  • Broadley, D.G. 1983. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

  • Marais , J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishing, Cape Town.