Often times a mongoose will prefer easier prey than a cobra. However, getting down to brass tacks, should the two fight, it's fairly axiomatic that the mongoose takes the win the majority of the time. I haven't found any studies that formally record the win/loss ratio, but let's guesstimate the mongoose wins 80% of the time. Let's break it down; how does the mongoose pull it off?
Tale of the Tape
- Ongoing research shows that mongooses appear to belong to a group of mammals that have convergently evolved to survive certain types of venom. We are talking about elapid venom here, and not, say, rattle snake venom.
- The mongoose is warm-blooded and during a fight, its heart pumps blood at a very fast pace, helping the mongoose to be extremely agile even when the ambient temperature outside is cooler.
- The mongoose will often dance around the snake and provoke it to attack until the snake is exhausted.
- The mongoose knows the snake's weak spot which is the back of the snake's neck. The mongoose can bite through the neck and sever the spine, which paralyzes the snake.
- Cobras are not the Mike Tyson's of the snake world; they use venom, but this will likely be ineffective on all but the most feeble of mongooses.
- The only puncher's chance I know of for the cobra to win is if the species of cobra can spit venom, the spit can cause damage to the eyes or other openings of the mongoose where the venom-adaptation is of less use
As we can see, the tale of the tape suggests the cobra to be the underdog in this fight. The mongoose has a more developed brain, faster reflexes, stamina and more. The cobra's Vegas odds are not very good. I want to create a world where the situation is reversed. I would like the cobra to win 80% of the time. And for all the reasons articulated above; it has proven to be a bit of a challenge.
We must be particularly cautious in making generalizations. There are many parameters involved in animal predation, resulting in very stochastic outcomes. For instance, a lone desperate roaming nomadic male lion could bring down a very large animal like a young elephant or giraffe. However, lions can also be killed by much smaller animals. Even a kick of a small impala could break the lion's jaw and leave the lion to die slowly of starvation. Not to labor the point, but other variables include: blinking at the wrong time, glare from the sun, not sleeping well the night prior, learned experience, ect. So instead of getting bogged down by every rabbit-hole that presents itself, we can simply evaluate this process at its mean -- that is to say, what will happen most of the time, holding as many variables constant as possible?
What is the most effective evolutionary response for the cobra to win the arms race against the mongoose?
Success Metric: Address the vulnerabilities exploited by the mongoose (see Tale of the Tape). Vulnerability Recap: ineffectiveness of venom, lack of speed, lack of stamina, neck/spine vulnerability.
Quality Metric: Efficiency. Since evolution tends to occur efficiently, things are repurposed instead of starting from scratch. When we propose evolutionary solutions for the cobra, the quality metric will be efficiency. For example, if we must re-wire the cobra to be warm blooded in order to keep pace with the mongoose, that would be a very expensive solution (to say the least) in evolutionary terms.
Time Frame: While I'm leaving this as entirely optional, I suppose the shorter time required the better.
Species: I'm intentionally leaving this ambiguous because I do not want to create a disincentive to answerers by stipulating a species he/she may have never heard of. However, if you feel this information will be helpful, feel free to use: slender mongoose and giant spitting cobra. If you don't like my picks, please feel free to choose your own.