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Naja ashei WÜSTER & BROADLEY, 2007

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Higher TaxaElapidae, Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Ashe’s spitting cobra 
SynonymNaja ashei WÜSTER & BROADLEY 2007
Naja (Afronaja) ashei — WALLACH et al. 2009
Naja ashei — LARGEN & SPAWLS 2010: 599
Naja ashei — LIVIGNI 2013: 405
Afronaja ashei — WALLACH et al. 2014: 9
Naja ashei — SPAWLS et al. 2018: 557 
DistributionKenya, S Somalia, SE Ethiopia, NE Uganda, NE Tanzania, Republic of South Sudan (RSS)

Type locality: Watamu, Kenya (3° 21’S: 40° 01’E).  
TypesHolotype: NMK S/3993, female, National Museums of Kenya, coll. Royjan Taylor, maintained in captivity at Bio-Ken Snake farm until 29/09/2004. Paratypes: BMNH. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis: Naja ashei differs from all other African spitting cobras in possessing a unique clade of mtDNA haplotypes. From the data presented here, we identified 12 fixed nucleotide differences that differentiate N. ashei from the other eastern African spitting Naja. These correspond to positions 105, 169 and 315 of the ND4 sequence of the holotype (DQ897706), and to positions 60, 108, 153, 201, 348, 381, 507, 630 and 676 of the cytochrome b sequence of the same specimen (DQ897749), the diagnostic bases at these positions being C, T, G, C, G, T, T, T, A, C, T and A, respectively.

Morphologically, N. ashei differs from East African N. nigricollis in a number of characters relating to adult colour pattern and scalation. In particular, its midbody and posterior ventral colour is predominantly light, with dark pigment encroaching mostly from the sides of the body (venter normally largely or entirely dark in N. nigricollis), it lacks any red, orange or pink pigment under the throat (usually pronounced in N. nigricollis), and the head is the same olive-brown colour as the rest of the body (often black above and below in East African N. nigricollis). Scalation does not provide any absolutely diagnostic characters for N. ashei, but mean scale counts and the range differ clearly from those of East African N. nigricollis (Table 4). In particular, N. ashei can be distinguished from most eastern African N. nigricollis by the combination of high ventral scale and dorsal scale row counts. Most N. ashei have over 195 ventrals and at least 21 and typically more scale rows around the neck, whereas most N. nigricollis with 195 or more ventrals have at most 21, and usually 19 or fewer scale rows around the neck, whereas higher scale row counts around the neck tend to be found in specimens with fewer ventral scales.

Naja ashei differs from the more closely related N. mossambica in lacking any dark edges on the labial scales and ventral scales, in having a less complex ventral banding pattern, and in having higher average ventral scale counts, but lower dorsal scale row counts. Naja pallida and N. nubiae differ in having higher midbody dorsal scale row counts (usually 25, compared to 21–23 in N. ashei). In addition, N. pallida differs from N. ashei in having a single, very clearly defined and clean-edged throat band (which very obviously crosses the neck except in older, darker specimens), in usually having higher ventral scale counts, and in the frequent presence of a single preocular and seven supralabials. Naja nubiae also has a cleaner, neater throat pattern, and two dark bands across the neck and two or three across the throat; a characteristic black tear-drop marking (consisting of dark edges to the supralabial suture below the eye) is almost invariably present; moreover, N. nubiae has almost consistently higher ventral scale counts, and often has seven supralabials and/or a single preocular (see Wüster & Broadley, 2003). Naja katiensis has consistently lower ventral and subcaudal scale counts (Table 4), a much smaller adult size, and lacks cuneate scales. Among the non-spitting cobras, N. ashei is most likely to be confused with N. haje, on account of its drab brownish coloration and large size. However, N. haje differs in having a single preocular, a row of suboculars separating the eyes from the supralabials, a greatly enlarged sixth supralabial, a single anterior temporal, and in lacking spitting adaptations to the fangs (Bogert, 1943), and thus being incapable of spitting venom. Naja melanoleuca similarly differs from N. ashei in having a single preocular, no suboculars, an enlarged sixth supralabial and a single anterior temporal. 
EtymologyNamed after the late James Ashe (1925–2004), in recognition of his contributions to East African herpetology, of the inspiration he gave to others working on the herpetofauna of this part of the world (see Spawls, 2004), of his early recognition of the distinctiveness of the species that now bears his name, and in gratitude for his support for this work. 
  • BRANCH, W.R., MENEGON, M., & BERADUCCI, J. 2010. Naja ashei (Wüster & Broadley, 2007). African Herp News (52): 21-23 - get paper here
  • Hörold, Ralf 2019. Die echten Kobras und ihre Gifte Ophidia 13 (1): 18-26
  • Largen, M.J.; Spawls, S. 2010. Amphibians and Reptiles of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt, 694 pp.
  • LiVigni, F. (ed.) 2013. A Life for Reptiles and Amphibians, Volume 1. Chimaira, Frankfurt, 495 pp. - get paper here
  • Malonza, Patrick K.; David M. Mulwa, Joash O. Nyamache, Georgina Jones 2017. Biogeography of the Shimba Hills ecosystem herpetofauna in Kenya. Zoological Research 38(5): 1-11 - get paper here
  • Spawls, Steve; Kim Howell, Harald Hinkel, Michele Menegon 2018. Field Guide to East African Reptiles. Bloomsbury, 624 pp. - get paper here
  • Stephen Spawls; Tomáš Mazuch& Abubakr Mohammad 2023. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of North-east Africa. Bloomsbury, 640 pp. - get paper here
  • Wallach, V.; Wüster, W. & Broadley, D.G. 2009. In praise of subgenera: taxonomic status of cobras of the genus Naja Laurenti (Serpentes: Elapidae). Zootaxa 2236: 26–36 - get paper here
  • Wallach, Van; Kenneth L. Williams , Jeff Boundy 2014. Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. [type catalogue] Taylor and Francis, CRC Press, 1237 pp.
  • Wüster, W. & Broadley, D.G. 2007. Get an eyeful of this: a new species of giant spitting cobra from eastern and north-eastern Africa (Squamata: Serpentes: Elapidae: Naja). Zootaxa 1532: 51–68 - get paper here
  • Wüster, Wolfgang; Steven Crookes, Ivan Ineich, Youssouph Mané, Catharine E. Pook, Jean-Francois Trape, Donald G. Broadley 2007. The phylogeny of cobras inferred from mitochondrial DNA sequences: Evolution of venom spitting and the phylogeography of the African spitting cobras (Serpentes: Elapidae: Naja nigricollis complex). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45: 437–453 - get paper here
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