Small Animal and Reptile
Genus and Species: Ophiophagus Hannah
Fangs – The hollow fangs grow to a length of 1.25cm. The snake punches them into its prey, using them like hypodermic needles to inject its powerful venom.
Tongue – The cobra detects prey by flicking its tongue out to collect scents from the air. Inside the mouth, the tongue passes over the Jacobson’s organ – a receptor with which the snake analyses scents.
Skin – The skin is olive green, tan or black, with a faint, pale yellow cross bands down the entire length of the body. The under belly is cream or pale yellow.
Head – The cobra can dislocate its jaw to engulf large prey. The venom glands lie behind the eyes.
Hood – The cobra spreads its neck ribs to form the hood, which has a double chevron marking on the back.
The largest venomous snake in the world. Growing to a length of almost 5 meters.
Preys on other snakes – even venomous species – subduing them with its highly potent venom and swallowing them whole.
Rears its head off the ground and spreads out its neck into a ‘hood’ to present a menacing threat display towards intruders and predators.
Where in the world
Widespread, but nowhere common, across southern and southeast Asia: through Bangladesh, India, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, parts of China and the Philippines.
Weight – 5.5-8kg .
Length – Up to 4.9m ; average 4m.
Sexual – Maturity – About 4 years.
Mating – Season – January.
Number of eggs – 18 to 51, usually 40- to 50 laid about 2 months after mating.
Incubation period – 70 to 77 days.
Birth Interval – 1 year.
Typical Diet – mainly snakes, plus some lizards.
Lifespan – 20 years.
The combination of immense body size and plentiful, potent venom makes the King Cobra a formidable hunter, and helps it defend itself ably when threatened.
The King Cobra is found mainly in Southeast Asia, where it frequents clearings, bamboo thickets and the borders of primary (undisturbed) forest. In Northern India, the King Cobra inhabits dense highland forests, right up into the foothills of the Himalayas. Although it can climb trees with ease, the cobra rarely does so unless pursuing prey.
Throughout its range, the King Cobra is also found on farmland, and in the outlying parts of villages and abandoned buildings. As its forest habitat is cleared for development, it is increasingly encountered by humans.
Food and Hunting
The King Cobra preys on other snakes, as well as lizards. It will attack venomous snake, such as Kraits or other cobras, and non-venomous species, such as pythons – even ones that are larger than itself.
The cobra tracks prey by sight, and by ‘tasting’ the air with its tongue. It strikes rapidly, sinking its fangs into the prey and injecting a massive does of venom that paralyses the nervous system. Despite the great quantity and potency of the venom, it may take two hours or more to subdue reptile, whose body circulates the venom at a slow rate. When the King Cobra bites a warm blooded mammal, such as a water buffalo that has blundered into the snakes neat, the venom succumbs swiftly because its of higher rate of circulation.
Not surprisingly, swallowing the victim whole also takes time. Like other snakes, the King Cobra can dislocate its jaws and gradually work its meal down into its long stomach. It then slips away to digest its meal.
Although the King Cobra is active by day, it is rarely seen by humans, it can move through Vegetation, and deliberately awards disturbances. If an intruder startles the King Cobra at close quarters however, the snake rears its head, spreads its neck to form a menacing hood, and sways from side to side, hissing. Its can swag for several minutes and, uniquely among cobra, can also move towards while in this posture. The display is intended to intimidate and repel the intruder without the cobra having to strike. Occasionally, an intruder does not retreat, and if the cobra is provoked or highly alarmed, it may bits as a last resort to protect itself.
The cobras bite is little use against birds of prey, which swoop from behind to strikes the snake’s head. By lying low in thickets, the cobra can hide from its enemies.
In January the male King Cobra sets about finding a mate, tasting the air with its flickering tongue. When he has tracked down a female, he approaches her cautiously and rubs his chin over her body. The rough skin on his neck pacifies her, and stimulates her into mating.
About a month after mating, the female seeks out a secluded spot, such as a bamboo thicket, where she excavates a shallow, circular depression in the ground up to about meter in diameter. There, she deposits usually 40 to 50 eggs remains on or, near the nest until the hatch, 70-77 days later. The female actively defends her nest site: female cobras have been reported even to chase intruders away from their eggs. The male, too, may stay close by for a while to assist in defence.
When they emerge, the hatchlings are 30-63cm long. Their venom, though produced in small quantities, is just as powerful as that of an adult. As soon as all of the young snakes have hatched, the female leaves them to look after themselves.
The King Cobra’s forest habitat is being felled in parts of its range. In eastern Asia, the snake is also collected for use in traditional medication and for the table. Although the widespread Asian cobra is responsible for more human deaths, and consequently suffers greater persecution from humans, the King Cobra is still greatly feared, and is usually killed wherever it is found. Although not yet endangered, the King Cobra has few allies and its population is likely to decline.
The family Elapidae, to which the King Cobra belongs, is sometimes called the cobra family. There are over 200 species of elapid, distributed over most of the world, with the exception of Antarctica and Europe. All are venomous and have short, fixed fangs, but they differ greatly in appearance and in habit.
The Coral snake flaunts its bold colours, which warn animals not to attack it and risk a lethal bite; the Death Adder hides under sand by day and hunts by night, and the green Mamba rests hidden among tree foliage.
Did you know?
The cat sized Indian Mongoose can survive a dose of King Cobra venom that would kill eight rabbits.
The King Cobra’s generic name means ‘ snake-eater’.
Snake-charmers usually perform with the Asian cobra rather than the King Cobra, because of the Asian Cobra’s smaller size and broader, more impressive hood. The Asian Cobra is also more common.