A-z - Animals

Cobra

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"The king cobra is the longest venomous snake in the world"

The average length of a king cobra is 11 to 13 feet. They live in southern China, India and Southeast Asia. Their habitats include streams, forests, bamboo forests and swamps. This snake is a carnivore and eats other snakes, birds and lizards. King cobras can live for about 20 years in the wild.

Incredible King Cobra Facts

  • It is the only snake that builds a nest for its eggs.
  • Their bite marks contain enough venom to kill an elephant.
  • The reptile lifts the front third of its body and unfolds its hood when it senses danger.
  • Humans are the only predators of adult king cobras (mongooses prey on juveniles).
  • The king cobra is the largest venomous snake. The largest King Cobra ever lived at nearly 19ft lived at London Zoo during World War II!

© AZ-Animals.com

scientific name

The scientific name of the king cobra is Ophiophagus hannah . The Greek word Ophiophagus means snake eater, and hannah is a reference to a Greek myth about an arboreal nymph. King cobras feed on other snakes and spend most of their time in trees. It is sometimes called hamadryad. It belongs to the cobra family, which belongs to the class of reptiles .

New research suggests that Thailand's king cobra may be an entirely different species of Ophiophagus . They appear to be genetically different, but more research is needed to verify this.

There are 20 different related species of cobras, including the forest cobra, Ash's cobra, Mozambique cobra and Indian cobra. These are part of the genus Cobra , or "true cobras."



King cobra on green background
The scientific name of the king cobra is Ophiophagus hannah . The Greek word Ophiophagus means snake eater, and hannah is a reference to a Greek myth about an arboreal nymph.

© mrjo/Shutterstock.com

History and Evolution

Cobras and king cobras evolved to have a hood over the neck and head area. This protrusion is an expansion of the snake's ribcage. These ribs are also able to pull outward the king cobra's excess skin in that area. It is believed that these deadly snakes have adapted this feature in order to appear larger and more fearsome to any possible threat in the wild. They combine this tactic with loud and aggressive hissing, which is also meant to scare off predators.

Scientists' research on cobra venom actually led to the production of a drug, Cobroxin, which acts as a pain reliever. In particular, they are used to stop the spread of nerves and even severe arthritis. Due to the successful venture of such research, drugs derived from snake venoms are being continuously tested and developed.

appearance

The king cobra is a smooth-bodied animal covered in yellow, brown, green and black scales. It has a colorful V-shaped pattern on the back of its neck. Some king cobras are albino. An albino king cobra loses most of its color and appears white. It's not albino because its eyes are blue, not pink. The albino king cobra has all the qualities of a king cobra except for its black, green, brown and yellow scales.

King cobras are animals with two black eyes and fangs that are half an inch long. Half an inch may sound short for a snake's fangs. However, they must be short so that they do not press over its jaw when its mouth is closed.

This snake can measure 12 to 18 feet long. For example, an 18-foot king cobra is 2/3 the length of a London bus! Compare that to the forest cobra, which is only 10 feet long. No wonder the king cobra is known as the longest venomous snake in the world.

King cobras weigh between 11 and 20 pounds. A 20-pound king cobra weighs as much as two gallons of paint. The heaviest king cobra lives at the New York Zoo, weighing just under 28 pounds. Male king cobras grow slightly larger than females. Read about the world's largest cobra here.

King Cobra vs Rattlesnake
At 18 feet long, the king cobra is known as the longest venomous snake in the world.

©Jolly Therattil/Shutterstock.com

Behavior

While this snake is known for being aggressive, it also has a shy nature. It prefers to avoid people and other animals if possible. It is considered a solitary reptile. However, when they occur together during the breeding season, the group is known as a quiver.

The reptile's dark brown, green and black scales allow it to blend into its environment. However, when it feels threatened by an animal or a human, it unfolds its hood and lifts the upper half of its body off the ground. This way it can move freely and meet anything that threatens it. Additionally, the snake bares its fangs and hisses when threatened. Some say the hiss of a king cobra sounds a lot like a dog's growl.

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The defensive stance of king cobras is a big reason why they are considered aggressive reptiles. Enough to scare small animals away! However, these reptiles are only protecting themselves from threats.

The king cobra's venom isn't the strongest of all snakes, but it can inject enough venom into a human or animal in one bite to kill an elephant or 20 people. The venom can cause respiratory distress and heart failure. This definitely counts as a defensive feature of this snake!

How Tall a King Cobra Can Stand and 5 More King Cobra Facts Poster Image
Although this snake has a reputation for being aggressive, it actually has a shy nature.

© CappaPhoto/Shutterstock.com

Habitat

King cobras live in Southeast Asia, southern China and parts of India. Their habitats include forests, bamboo forests, streams and swamps. These snakes live in warm and humid climates.

They spend most of their time in trees, blending into dense, leafy branches. They sometimes hang down from a branch to catch another snake. Other times, king cobras will descend from trees to hunt prey on the forest floor. They may travel to nearby streams in search of food. These reptiles swim fairly well and have been seen moving through the water.

When the weather cools in late autumn and winter, king cobras migrate to their dens for warmth. They come back in spring.

What the King Cobra Eats in its Diet 11+ Foods Cover Image
King cobra habitats include forests, bamboo thickets, streams and swamps.

©Jolly Therattil/Shutterstock.com

diet

What do king cobras eat? King cobras are predators of birds, lizards, and other snakes. These snakes will eat small rodents when they are scarce. If a king cobra eats a lot of prey at one time, it may not eat again for months.

This snake has excellent eyesight. It can sometimes spot prey while resting on a high branch in a tree. Like other snakes, it has an impressive sense of smell.

King cobras are fast and can move quickly to attack their prey without having to hold their prey in place like other cobras.

For our complete guide on what the king cobra eats, be sure to check out What the King Cobra Eats: 11+ Foods to Eat in Your Diet.

King Cobra - Close Up
King cobras have an impressive sense of smell.

© Suresh Suryasree/Shutterstock.com

Predators and Threats

Poachers sometimes trap these snakes and kill them for their skin, medicine or even food. Some of these reptiles are illegally sold as exotic pets.

However, humans are not the only predators of the king cobra. Mongooses, honey badgers and secretary birds also prey on them. Mongooses are immune to the small amount of their venom, but they do win battles with their speed and agility.

Since these reptiles need a specific type of environment to thrive and they have a venom that can kill humans, it's definitely not a good idea for anyone to keep them as pets.

In Southeast Asia, snake charmers sometimes use king cobras in street performances. They pretended that the king cobra was mesmerized by the music they played on the flute. These snakes have been known to bite snake charmers as well as flee into environments where they cannot survive.

Habitat loss from deforestation and land clearing is another threat to the king cobra.

The king cobra's official conservation status is Vulnerable and the population is in decline. Although they are on India's endangered species list, the country is taking steps to protect them. They focus on properly educating the public about these reptiles. They're also microchipping king cobras so they can be tracked if they're captured by exotic pet traders. Vietnam has listed these snakes as a protected species.

Side view of king cobra with open mouth
King cobras have been known to bite snake charmers and flee into environments where they cannot survive.

© mrjo/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction and Life Cycle

King cobra breeding season runs from January to April. When a male king cobra becomes interested in a female, he pushes her body with his head. If there are other male king cobras in the area, the males will wrestle and the strongest will mate with the female. King cobras are monogamous (stay with the same partner each breeding season).

Females build their nests by pushing twigs, grass, and other vegetation into a pile. The temperature inside the heap/nest is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Before long, she lays 21 to 40 (sometimes more) eggs in the nest. Eggs hatch after 51 to 79 days. Note that the king cobra is the only snake that builds a nest for its eggs. The female remains in the nest and ferociously defends her eggs from predators until they hatch. As a result, most king cobra eggs will hatch and the young will survive.

Small king cobras are called pups. Each hatchling weighed from less than an ounce to an ounce and a half. Hatchlings are usually 12 to 29 inches long. A 12-inch hatchling is about the size of a small wooden ruler.

Newly hatched hatchlings are brightly colored. This helps scare off predators. As they grow, their scales turn dark brown, black and green. They leave the nest to hunt for food and live independently immediately after hatching. The venom of a hatchling is as powerful as that of an adult king cobra. Keep this in mind in case you see it!

These reptiles are susceptible to various types of skin fungi. The lifespan of a king cobra in the wild is about 20 years. But the record for the longest-lived king cobra is held by a snake that lived to be 22 years old!

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population

The exact number of king cobras is unknown. However, the conservation status of the king cobra is Vulnerable. Its population is decreasing. Habitat loss and poaching are the two biggest threats to this snake population. It is on India's endangered species list.

similar animal

  • Mozambique spitting cobras can spit venom nearly 10 feet.
  • Indian cobras are also known as cobras.
  • The forest cobra is one of the longest true cobras.

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about the author

heather ross


Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

King Cobra FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are king cobras considered smart?

Yes, the king cobra is often considered the smartest snake. Among the factors that lead to this intelligence perception is that they seem to be able to recognize their handlers, approach different prey with new strategies, and they build large nests that other snakes cannot.

What snake eats other snakes besides the king cobra?

Besides the king cobra, many snakes will eat other snakes. Some examples include king snakes, king brown snakes, banded kraits, and eastern indigo snakes.

How long is the king cobra?

King cobras are 12 to 18 feet long. Males are usually a little larger than females.

What is the difference between an Indian cobra and a king cobra?

When comparing king cobras and Indian cobras, the main differences are size and venom potency. The king cobra is generally twice the length of the Indian cobra, but the Indian cobra kills far more people each year.

How does the King Cobra compare to the Black Mamba?

When comparing the king cobra and the black mamba, the two snakes live in different continents, the black mamba lives in Africa while the king cobra lives in Asia. The King Cobra is also larger, with a more prominent hood.

King Cobra vs Cobra: Who Wins the Battle?

King cobras eat other snakes, including cobras, so a king cobra would win a fight against almost any other type of cobra.

How deadly is the king cobra?

The venom of a king cobra isn't particularly strong, but this snake releases a high volume of venom. A venomous bite (as opposed to a dry bite without venom) can kill an elephant or 20 people. Be aware that a dry bite is also dangerous, as this snake's fangs are very sharp and can cause serious injury.

Can you survive a king cobra bite?

Yes. There is an antivenom that counteracts the king cobra's venom. The snake's venom can kill a person within 30 to 45 minutes of being bitten. Therefore, it is important to get the person to a medical professional as soon as possible.

What is the difference between a cobra and a king cobra?

King cobras and other cobras seem to be grouped together. But there are also some differences. For one thing, the king cobra is in its own genus. The genus of king cobras is called Ophiophagus, while Chinese cobras, forest cobras, and many other cobras are included in the genus Cobra.

Another difference is that the king cobra has a larger head and narrower hood than other cobras. They also have two particularly large scales on the back of their heads, which other cobras do not have. These specialized scales are called occipital.

Many cobras are venomous. True to its name, the spitting cobra will spit venom at anything that threatens it. The Egyptian cobra is venomous and also releases a poison that targets the predator's nervous system. However, the king cobra claims to be the longest venomous snake of the group.

Is the king cobra a herbivore, carnivore or omnivore?

King cobras are carnivores, which means they eat other animals.

To which kingdom does the king cobra belong?

The king cobra belongs to the animal kingdom.

How does a king cobra give birth?

King cobras lay eggs.

What is the difference between a king cobra and a rattlesnake?

There are many differences between king cobras and rattlesnakes, including their habitats. King cobras have a distinctive hood to ward off predators, while rattlesnakes use rattles.

What's the Difference Between a King Cobra and a Gabon Viper?

One difference between the Gabon viper and the king cobra is that the Gabon viper is much shorter and has a much heavier body than the king cobra. Also, Gabon vipers live in specific parts of Africa, while king cobras are native to India and Southeast Asia. Another key difference is their coloration — king cobras are solid-colored, while gabon vipers have intricate patterns that help them blend into their surroundings.

What is the difference between a cobra and a viper?

The difference between cobras and venomous snakes is size, location, habitat, appearance, behavior and lifespan.

Why is the king cobra bite so dangerous?

A bite from a king cobra is very dangerous because one bite contains a lot of venom. Read all about king cobra bites here!

What is the difference between a king cobra and a python?

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Both king cobras and pythons live in Asia, but pythons are killed with a constrictor, while king cobras are killed with venom. The average python also outgrows the average king cobra, but usually by weight rather than length.

What is the difference between a king cobra and a cobra?

King cobras belong to a different genus than king cobras, and most cobras are not as large as king cobras. Additionally, king cobras eat other snakes, which many other species of cobras do not.

Who would win a fight between a king cobra and a lion?

Lions win the fight against the King Cobra. The lion has a number of strengths that help it do the job. For one thing, a lion only needs one bite to completely kill a king cobra. At the start of a run, it can easily grab the snake in its claws and bite off its head before the snake can react.

Who will win the battle between a king cobra and a mongoose?

Mongooses will kill king cobras in combat. Mongooses specialize in hunting venomous snakes for food in their range. These animals have some resistance to venomous snake bites, which means they enter the fight with the advantage.

A king cobra may need to bite a mongoose more than once to put it down. At the same time, the speed and agility of this mammal are so much higher that it can crush a snake's skull with just one bite.

Who would win a fight between a king cobra and a crocodile?

The crocodile will win the fight with the king cobra. If the king cobra bites the crocodile first, it probably won't matter.

Alligators have thick skin. While king cobras have 0.5-inch fangs, that's probably not enough to deliver venom into the crocodile's system. Even then, crocodiles can catch fleeing snakes and kill them.

Who would win a fight between a king cobra and a grizzly bear?

The Grizzlies would win the battle against the King Cobra.

To be clear, the king cobra would definitely kill the grizzly, but there's a good chance the grizzly would kill the snake before dying. If the two animals meet at a neutral location that does not allow any ambushes, the grizzly can kill the snake outright.

Who would win a fight between a king cobra and a crocodile?

The crocodile will win the fight with the king cobra.

Both animals are ambush predators, so the crocodile can wait for the king cobra to come to drink before attacking and killing it. Likewise, a king cobra can wait in tall grass and bite a crocodile, but it won't be fast enough to escape the fight and let the crocodile die. The alligator will turn on its afterburner and bite the snake.

What is the difference between a king cobra and a king snake?

King cobras are much larger than king snakes, and are also much more venomous. King snakes also come in more colors than king cobras.

What is the main difference between a golden spearhead and a king cobra?

The main differences between the golden spearhead and the king cobra are their size, location, and color.

What's the difference between a Green Mamba and a King Cobra?

The main differences between the green mamba and the king cobra are their size, weight, morphology, distribution, diet and venom. Typically, a Green Mamba is smaller and lighter than a King Cobra. Also, while the king cobra has a hood on its head, the green mambas, with the exception of the eastern green mambas, do not have a hood when raising their heads.

What's the difference between a king cobra and a boomslang?

Size, phylogenetic family, distribution, morphology, reproduction, life cycle, and conservation status are the main differences between boomslang and king cobra. First, the average king cobra can grow to be three times the size of the average boomslang. Additionally, boomslangs are found in Africa, while king cobras are widely distributed in Southeast Asia.

Which is more venomous, a king cobra or a rattlesnake?

King cobras are more venomous than rattlesnakes. Their venom is both potent and profuse. However, king cobra bites are rare, much rarer than rattlesnake bites. So, pound for pound, king cobras are more venomous than rattlesnakes, but rattlesnakes are more of a threat to humans.

Who would win a fight between a honey badger and a king cobra?

Honey badgers will kill king cobras in combat.

What is the main difference between a murga snake and a king cobra?

The main differences between mulga snakes and king cobras are size, distribution, lifespan, venom resistance, threat presentation and attack methods.

Which is deadlier, a king cobra or a brown recluse spider?

The king cobra is a deadlier hunter than the brown recluse not only because of its larger size, but also because its venom is more powerful relative to its size.

Who will win the battle between the king cobra and the monitor lizard?

The king cobra would win the battle with the monitor lizard.

In most cases, the average monitor lizard is too small or slow to react to defeat a king cobra. Once the cobra bites the monitor lizard, the timer starts to die. Of course, large monitor lizards may fight back. It might even grab the king cobra's head and bite down, but its chances of getting the first and only coup de grace in this fight are slim.

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source
  1. Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/king-cobra
  2. National Geographic, available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/k/king-cobra/
  3. Animalia, available here: http://animalia.bio/king-cobra