Many elapid snakes are active at dusk and at night. Others are active daytime foragers. Because elapids, like all snakes, are ectoderms and therefore must thermoregulate, the time at which they are active depends on the temperature. In cooler regions, such as southern Africa and southern Australia, elapid activity follows the seasons. Peak activity occurs during the warmer months, and hibernation during the colder months, although many species emerge on sunny winter days to bask. During the heat of summer, diurnal snakes are most active in the morning, late afternoon, and early evening, when it is cooler. In the spring and autumn, these species are active throughout the day because they do not become overheated.

Because snakes can be difficult to find, surprisingly little research has been conducted on the behavior of elapid snakes and snakes in general. The introduction of radio transmitters small enough to be surgically implanted into snakes has allowed researchers to follow snakes and document their daily activity through the seasons. The findings have shown that many elapids once thought sedentary are actually highly mobile, such as Australian death adders (genus Acanthophis) and the Australian broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides).

A cobra emerging from a woven basket and "dancing" to a snake charmer's flute is a familiar image. Egyptian, Asian, and Indian cobras are used for these demonstrations. Contrary to popular belief, the snakes are not being charmed or hypnotized. The snake is collected and placed in a woven basket, where it is secure. The charmer may reach into the basket and grab the snake at mid body but is careful to keep the snake off balance. When the charmer lifts the lid of the basket, the snake rises in a vertical defensive posture with hood spread. Because he knows cobras strike from a vertical posture downward, the charmer stays out of reach and sways from side to side as he plays. Snakes lack external ears and pick up only low-frequency airborne sounds, therefore the music has no influence on the cobra. The charmer's flute is only a prop; the cobra follows the charmer's movements. Some charmers use snakes immobilized by cooling, and some use unaltered cobras. There is evidence, however, that some charmers provoke cobras to strike a stick or a piece of rough cloth, which is forcefully pulled from the snake's mouth, taking the fangs with it.

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