12 Facts about King Cobras…

12 Facts about King Cobras…

King Cobra
The Mystical King Cobra and Coffee Forests by Michael Allen Smith cc2.0

The fear of snakes, known as ophidiophobia, is one of the most common fears in the world, and any snake, big or small, is often enough to send a lot of people scrambling and screaming. No snake, however, has a reputation as fearsome as that of the king cobra, which is easily recognized by its flaring hood, narrower and longer than that of other cobras. (In fact, the king cobra is not actually a true cobra, but belongs to a genus of its own.) But are king cobras truly worth fearing? How much do you actually know about them? Read on to learn some of the most important and interesting facts about the king cobra.

1. Are King Cobras Poisonous?

Venom Milking
Venom Milking. By Syafiq Asnawi Zainal Abidin cc2.0

One of the reasons the king cobra is so feared is because it is a venomous snake. This means that it stores poison in glands behind its mouth, and when it strikes, it delivers the poison through its fangs, killing with a single bite.

Is it poisonous? When we say an animal is poisonous, this means that the animal can be harmful when eaten or touched, in contrast to venomous, when the animal actually delivers the poison, as through a bite. King cobras can be poisonous when eaten whole, but with their venom glands removed, they are safe to eat, and are in fact served as a delicacy in exotic restaurants in parts of Asia.

2. Are King Cobras Deadly?

Nervous system diagram
The human nervous system. Image Credit: The Emirr cc3.0

To their prey, king cobras are definitely deadly. But what about to us? Can a king cobra kill a human?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. While the king cobra is not the world’s most venomous snake — that title belongs to the inland taipan — nor is it responsible for the most human deaths, it can deliver a lot of venom in just one bite — enough to kill twenty people, or even bring down an elephant! If left untreated, a human can die from a king cobra’s bite in as little as a half an hour. This is because the king cobra’s venom targets the central nervous system, eventually leading to kidney, heart and lung failure. Initial symptoms include pain, drowsiness, a stumbling gait, blurred vision, paralysis of the limbs, convulsions, headache and loss of consciousness. So try to avoid getting bitten!

3. The Longest Venomous Snake

In addition to its venom, the king cobra is feared for its size. It is the longest venomous snake in the world, with the longest captive specimen growing up to 18.8 feet (5.7 meters) long! In the wild, king cobras usually grow 8 to 13 feet (2.4 to 4 meters) long, with males being longer than females. While the longest non-venomous snake in the world is the reticulated python — which can grow over 25 feet (7.6 meters) long, and the heaviest snake is the green anaconda — able to weigh over 100 pounds (45 kilograms), even a small king cobra is still pretty big if it’s slithering toward you!

The heaviest king cobra found in the wild was recorded at 26 pounds (11.8 kilograms), while a captive specimen at the New York Zoological Park weighed as much as 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms). Normally, the king cobra’s weight is about 20 pounds (9 kilograms). The eastern diamondback rattlesnake and the gaboon viper are heavier, however, weighing over 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms).


4. Where Are King Cobras Found?

Map showing the distribution of the King Cobra
Map showing the distribution of the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) in red. By Mad Max GFDL

King cobras can be found on the Indian subcontinent (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka) as well as in parts of Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore). It can also be found in parts of China.

The king cobra can adapt to various habitats, both wet and dry, but prefers dense forests with streams and swamps.

5. King Cobra’s Adaptations

What makes the king cobra able to thrive in different environments? Its most significant adaptation is its skill as a hunter and its potent venom. With that killer combination, it can find food practically anywhere.

Speaking of hunting skills, the king cobra has excellent vision, able to spot prey from 300 feet (91 meters) away. It also has a superb sense of smell, having one of the longest forked tongues in the snake kingdom. As you know, snakes use their tongues to smell, picking up particles in the air. While king cobras may not have ears, they can sense vibrations on the ground, which is how they are able to dance to a snake charmer’s flute.

King cobras are usually olive green, brown or black, with pale bands, which help them to blend in with vegetation. They also have large, stretchable jaws, which allow them to swallow prey whole.

6. Can King Cobras Swim?

The king cobra is not just great at climbing trees and slithering on land. It can also swim, which is why it is usually found near water.

7. The King Cobra’s Diet

A royal meal
A royal meal. Predator: King Cobra, Prey: Gerards Water Snake. By Lip Kee cc2.0

The scientific name of the king cobra is Ophiophagus hannah, from the Greek ophio “snake” and phagus “to eat”. Indeed, the king cobra does feed mostly on other snakes, venomous and non-venomous alike, such as kraits, true cobras and small pythons, as well as other king cobras. It has also been known to eat lizard eggs, frogs, rats and birds, and even monitor lizards!

King cobras hunt during the day. When they find prey, they approach slowly and strike rapidly. As soon as their venom takes effect, paralyzing the helpless animal, the king cobra begins to swallow its prey whole.

8. Fight or Flight?

Elapidae Ophiophagus hannah
A king cobra in its defencing posture (mounted specimen at the Royal Ontario Museum). By Hectonichus cc3.0

The king cobra has a reputation for having a bad temper but in truth, it is more likely to flee when encountering humans.

When it does happen to be in a bad mood or is cornered, the king cobra will first take up its signature defensive stance, lifting up to a third of its body off the ground. If it can grow up to almost 19 feet (5.8 meters) — remember that longest one above? — then it would stand over 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall! It will look its attacker in the eye, extend its hood and produce a low growling sound. At this point, it is best to back away slowly, and throw a hat or a shirt on the ground as a distraction. If you don’t, the next thing the king cobra will do is strike and, mind you, it can strike from 7 feet (2.1 meters) away. It can deliver several bites, too, or deliver just one and hold on.

9. Mother King Cobras

King Cobra and Nest
King Cobra and Nest by Ryan Somma cc2.0

Most snakes do not have a reputation for being good mothers. They lay their eggs and then vanish. The female king cobra is different, though. After mating, she lays twenty to fifty eggs in a nest made of twigs and leaves. Then she covers the eggs and rests on top, guarding the eggs until they hatch, which can take up to 90 days. Just before hatching time, the female leaves the nest. Why? Scientists believe it may be to avoid the temptation to eat her own young, since she hasn’t hunted and is starving at that point.

10. What Eats King Cobras?

Yellow Mongoose
Yellow Mongoose by Tony Hisgett cc2.0

With all that venom, you might think the king cobra is at the top of the food chain, but this isn’t the case. King cobras can be eaten by mongooses, which are immune to the venom and are agile enough to avoid their strikes. Of course, they can also be preyed on by humans.

Young king cobras have even more predators. At birth, king cobras may already be nearly 2 feet (0.6 meters) long and have as much venom as their parents, enabling them to hunt from birth. They are often hunted, however, falling prey to mongooses, civets, saltwater crocodiles, adult king cobras and even army ants and giant centipedes.

11. Are King Cobras Endangered?

Deforestation by crustmania cc2.0

Currently, the king cobra is listed as a Vulnerable Species, which is one step above Endangered. This means that its population is decreasing and it is likely to become endangered if reproduction rates do not increase and/or the threats to its population are not lessened.

The largest threat to the king cobra is currently loss of habitat due to deforestation. Also, it is hunted for its meat and skin, and its bile is used as an ingredient in traditional medicines.

12. King Cobras as Pets

King cobra
Kissing a King Cobra by Jared Smith cc2.0

Can a king cobra be kept as a pet? It is possible, but it is neither easy nor advisable. For one thing, the king cobra can grow to enormous lengths and therefore needs a really large cage. Second, it needs to be fed snakes. Third, its venom is highly toxic and if the snake is mishandled, it can easily kill. Some animals just don’t make good pets! Admire them from afar.

King cobras are featured in the following books:
25 Most Deadly Animals in the World
25 of the Most Poisonous Animals in the World!
25 Top Predators in the World Book
25 Awesome Snakes

25 of the Most Poisonous Animals in the World!

poisonous animals



To view the complete list of sources, please click here.



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