As I’m sure all of you know, the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is a very dangerous and venomous snake. It is a member of Elapidae so its fangs are fixed instead of hinged like a viper’s. This means they do not fold down when the snake’s mouth is closed. Also unlike viper fangs, an elapid’s fangs are relatively short. This does not mean that any less venom can be injected, however, and has no impact on the snake’s ability to do serious damage. The venom of a king cobra is some of the most powerful in the snake world. One bite can deliver as much as two tenths of an ounce of venom and is enough to kill twenty adult humans or one adult elephant. The venom contains a mixture of neurotoxins and cardiotoxins. Once bitten, a person may feel extreme pain, become dizzy with blurred vision, experience paralysis, cardiovascular collapse, coma, and then respiratory failure. Death can come within half an hour for an untreated bite victim. Fortunately, there are two kinds of antivenom that have been created solely for king cobra bites.
But venom isn’t everything about the king. This snake also happens to hold the record for being the longest venomous snake in the world at up to eighteen feet. Another interesting thing is the fact that, despite being the most famous cobra and often the first snake that comes to mind when that word is said, it is not actually a “true cobra”. True cobras belong to the genus, Naja, while the king cobra is in its own separate genus, Ophiophagus, which is Greek for “snake eater”. That part of the name doesn’t lie. King cobras do in fact eat other snakes almost exclusively, the favorite being ratsnakes. It will also eat pythons, and other venomous snakes such as true cobras and kraits. When snake prey is scarce, it will hunt birds, lizards, rodents, and other mammals instead. The king cobra is found throughout South and South-East Asia in higher elevation forests. It has no problems pursuing prey into the trees or water, as it is an excellent swimmer and climber. It even prefers to live in areas that have access to several bodies of water.
As fearsome as they appear, king cobras are actually quite shy and reclusive, much preferring to flee if they have a choice. If this is not possible, however, they will first try to ward off a threat by raising up and displaying their hood. They may even feign striking while keeping their mouth closed. A king cobra’s hiss is also another effective defense tactic. Unlike the higher frequency hisses of most snakes, the king’s hiss is low and almost like a growl. If all this fails then the snake will strike to harm. It can do this even while raised high off the ground and moving forward. King cobras have a very large striking range and it is easy to misjudge the distance they can reach and accidentally get caught in the danger zone. While adult cobras would rather not waste their venom on defense, it’s a different story for the babies. Their bites are every bit as toxic as adult bites and they are much more nervous and aggressive since they are so small and vulnerable.
King cobras are very good parents, which is fairly unusual for most snakes. The female will make a nest for her eggs on the ground and vigilantly guard them and incubate them until they are ready to hatch. She usually lays between twenty and forty eggs and stays with them for up to ninety days. When the babies finally hatch, the mother leaves by instinct to go hunt so she doesn’t eat the hatchlings. Baby king cobras are a little less than two feet long and are more vibrantly patterned and colored than adult cobras.
Hopefully you now know a little bit more about the king cobra than the average person, and hopefully you enjoyed learning about it. It’s definitely an animal to be understood and respected deeper than just its widely feared surface.
“King Cobras.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 23 June 2015. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/king-cobra/
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3. “King Cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah).” Toxicology. University of California, San Diego, n.d. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://toxicology.ucsd.edu/Snakebite%20Protocols/Ophiopha.htm>.
4. Young, Diana. “Ophiophagus Hannah (Hamadryad, King Cobra).” Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, 7 June 1999. Web. 23 June 2015. <http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Ophiophagus_hannah/>.
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