Such is life: first you're pining for something so hard that you almost develop a bleeding ulcer, and then, when you finally get it in spades, it bores you faster than you can say "attention span disorder".
For two entire years, I've been constantly bitching and moaning about the utter lack of Chinese cobras I meet in the field, and in the process practically mystified this species and elevated it to almost godlike status. But this summer has been throwing cobras at me in buckets, and now that I've had four proper opportunities to photograph Naja atra
in the wild, I'm so jaded that I don't even take pictures of them myself, but rather let the kids practice their photography skills on them. Granted, cobras are still my absolute favorite snakes, and they're always fascinating to observe, but I expect certain standards now. Like, babies
We found this youngster during one of our "Snake Safaris for Kids" last night. Especially during the summer holidays, we often bring other children along. Neighbors, relatives, our sons' friends or classmates, and this time Mark and Janko, two bright fifth-graders from the Taipei German School, tagged along together with Mark's mother. It was the first herping trip for Mark and the third for Janko, and although they really appreciated the meager menu the dry conditions offered - a bamboo viper and a little Dinodon rufozonatum
- being ten-year old boys, what they REALLY wanted to see was a cobra. Due to the utter lack of rain in the past weeks and the resulting dearth of herps, I had little hope to see anything at all, but I guess lightning always strikes when you least expect it. After two hours of getting utterly skunked on the road, suddenly we spotted this little black thing fixing to slither off the tarmac into the bush.
Luckily, cobras aren't exactly the Maseratis of the snake world, so I managed to get out of the car and hook the beast back onto the road before it could disappear. Unlike the ultra-mellow dude
we found last Sunday, this one made its tribe proud by showing all the standard behavior you would expect from a well-bred Naja atra
. Rearing up, throwing hissy fits, and taking pot shots at the audience, this young, barely 15-inch long specimen gave us the full show, and the four boys were absolutely delighted.
In fact, I think I enjoyed watching the kids getting such a huge kick out of the experience way more than I dug the snake...
PS: A word about morphology: the kind observer might notice that this snake sports thin black & white bands around the body. This is a feature found almost exclusively in cobras from Northern Taiwan. Southern N. atra
tend to be more brownish and rarely have any stripes at all. Specimens from different parts of the island also have different ventral coloring: "The color of ventral body and tail may be white to gray, dark gray mottled with white, or blackish. The populations in different geographic regions of Taiwan reveal a unique composition of ventral coloration: the eastern population is exclusively blackish (100%), the central and southern populations are mainly white to gray (both 80%), and the proportions of blackish and white-gray morphs in the northern population are 60% and 30%, respectively.
" (Source: http://www.snakesoftaiwan.com
PPS: As mentioned in the second paragraph, all photos but the last were taken by either Hans or Karl. I think I could get used to that!