Spitting cobras are famous for their terrifying defense mechanism: They spit venom directly into an attacker’s eyes, causing severe pain and possibly blindness. Now, scientists have learned that the name “spitting cobra” is a misnomer, since the snake doesn’t actually spit out its venom. Instead, it sprays the poison in geometric patterns such as paired ovals, similar to the way a pitcher winds up to throw a ball.
And how did this astonishing fact come to light? Biologist Bruce Young at the University of Massachusetts Lowell examined the spitting habits of three captive species of cobra…by provoking them to spit venom in his face.
No, he’s not crazy—he wore a visor fitted with an accelerometer, so a computer could trace his eye and head movements in 3D while he taunted the angry reptiles. Young also tracked the snakes’ movements, using high-speed videography to quantify the sway of their heads and electromyography (EMG) to measure the contraction of their head and neck muscles.