The highly strung citizens of New York have yet another reason to feel on edge this morning: one of the world's most venomous creatures has escaped from its secure enclosure at The Bronx Zoo.
The Egyptian cobra, which according to breathless TV news reports can kill a human in just 15 minutes (or a fully-grown bull elephant in a mere three hours) is thought to have escaped from its perspex cage some time on Friday.
Zoo officials say the adolescent male, measuring roughly 20 inches long, is unlikely to have ventured far from its home turf. And they have closed the zoo's reptile house "until further notice" while keepers attempt to find it.
A sign telling visitors of the incident says simply: "The World of Reptiles is closed today" because "staff observed an adolescent Egyptian cobra missing from an off-exhibit enclosure". That wasn't good enough for local news reporters, who spent the weekend door-stepping the zoo's director, Jim Breheny.
"To understand the situation, you have to understand snakes," he said, in a written statement explaining that the creature, similar to the one believed to have been used by Cleopatra to commit suicide, will probably have slithered into an enclosed space where it feels safe.
"Upon leaving its enclosure, the snake would feel vulnerable and seek out a place to hide and feel safe. When the snake gets hungry or thirsty, it will start to move around the building. Once that happens, it will be our best opportunity to recover it."
Mr Breheny said the cobra's generally reclusive nature meant that it posed little threat to the public. And he said the brisk weather (New York was forecast to be minus two last night) would in any case be enough stop the cold-blooded creature from even thinking about venturing too far into the open.
That hasn't stopped the missing reptile from becoming a minor celebrity, though. New York tabloids have dubbed the creature "Cobra-dini" and yesterday carried photographs of visitors to the zoo combing through piles of leaves and lifting up rocks in an effort to find it.