A Unique Cobra-like Snake

Common Name: Rinkhals

Scientific Name: Hemachatus haemachatus

Family: Elapidae

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Southern Africa

Size:  Avg 1m (40 in), Max 1.5m (59 in)

Diet: Mammals, birds, frogs and lizards.

Reproduction: Live Young

Venom: Mostly Cytotoxic


The rinkhals, Hemachatus haemachatus, is often mistaken for other snakes such as the puff adder, the Cape cobra and the boomslang.

This snake is a close relative of the true cobras; it spreads a hood, ‘spits’ and has a pair of fangs fixed to the front of the upper jaw. Among other subtle features, it differs (with a true cobra snake) by having keeled scales and by giving birth to live young.

Once you know which features to look out for there is no mistaking the rinkhals – if it is standing up and spreading a hood.    When standing in defence the first feature you might notice is the pale cream to yellow bars on the throat area. There are usually between one and three although some individuals have four while some don’t have any.

Unlike the cape cobra, the rinkhals is generally much darker underneath and in the Western and Eastern Cape and Kwa-zulu Natal provinces it is usually strongly banded.

If this snake is not standing its ground one might mistake the bands and stocky build of this snake for that of a puff adder, although the bands do not form the same chevron-like pattern.

Sometimes when one is looking out for a black back and yellow marking underneath one may mistake a male boomslang for a rinkhals, especially if you only see it for a second. The most noticable difference is that male boomslang would be yellow down the entire length of their underside whereas the rinkhals only has one to four crossbars.

Contrary to popular belief the rinkhals is by no means an aggressive snake. 

In fact, the rinkhals will do virtually everything in its power to avoid a confrontation. It will hiss, spread a hood, ‘spit’ venom with incredible accuracy and convincingly sham death. Many people bitten by rinkhals make the mistake of picking up what they think to be a dead snake.

Leave all snakes alone, even dead ones! (just a friendly word of advice).

Bites rarely occur from the rinkhals and there is debate as to whether there as ever been a recorded fatality. That being said the neurotxic/ cytotoxic venom combination is potentially lethal and bites should be treated seriously.


  • Almost anything from small mammals, eggs, to other snakes although frogs and rodents seems to make up a large part of their diet.


  • Viviparous giving birth to 20-30 (exceptionally up to 60) young in late summer


Predominantly neurotoxic with some cytotoxic effects.

Key ID points:

  • Shorter and stockier than the Cape cobra
  • Maximum size 1.4 metres
  • Keeled scales
  • Underside usually black with up to 4 white/yellow-cream bars on the throat area
  • This is a spitting snake
  • When confronted it may: spread a broad hood, hiss loudly, spit venom, sham death
  • Colouration varies but Western Cape specimens appear to be strongly banded


Snake playing dead with a question mark over its head.

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