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Scientific Name: Ophiophagus hannah
Common Names: King Cobra, Hamadryad
Geographic Range: India and Asia
Life Span: Average 20 Years
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Top 10 List
1. Some King Cobras Have Reached Lengths of 18 Feet
Adult king cobras can have a colour range of yellow, olive green, brown or black for their body, and usually have yellow or white-ish coloured chevrons going down their back. Their throat and underbelly are typically a light yellow or cream colour. King cobras also have 2 short, fixed fangs in the front of their mouths. Juvenile king cobras are a dark black colour with bright yellow, narrow bands down their back.
The average weight of the king cobra is 13 pounds, and their average length is 10 – 12 feet long. However, some cobras have reached lengths up to 18 feet!
2. The King Cobra’s Main Diet Is Other Snakes
Their generic name ‘Ophiophagus‘ is a word derived from Greek, and means “snake-eater”. This is in reference to the fact that the main diet of the king cobra is other snakes. These snakes can include rat snakes, pythons, and even other venomous snakes.
If food is scarce, they may also feed on birds, lizards, or other small mammals. In captivity and zoos, if started at a young age, they are able to be weened into feeding on ‘easier’ food, such as rodents.
3. They Spend A Quarter Of Their Time In Trees Or Bushes
King Cobras can be found in various areas from East India, to China and the South Philippines. They prefer to stay near streams that are in dense or open forests, such as bamboo thickets and dense mangrove swamps, and they spend a quarter of their time up in the trees and bushes that are commonly found throughout their habitat. These cobras prefer to stay near streams as streams have a pretty constant temperature and humidity.
4. Bites From A King Cobra Are Rare, And Can Be Fatal
Bites from King Cobras are rare, and snake handlers or snake charmers receive most of the bites that do happen. Not all of the bites result in the cobra releasing venom, but should still be taken seriously.
The venom of the king cobra can be fatal, and has many side effects. The effects of the venom can include pain, blurred vision, vertigo, drowsiness, and eventually paralysis. If left untreated this can progress into a coma, and eventually death.
There has been an anti-venom that has been made to help treat king cobra bites. However, due to the fact that king cobra bites are rare, it is not commonly stocked, and is only made in small quantities at a time.
5. The King Cobra Is Technically Not A “True” Cobra
King cobras are technically not considered to be a “true” cobra. They do not belong to the genus ‘Naja‘ like the rest of the cobras. Instead they are in their own genus, being the only member of the genus ‘Ophiophagus‘.
Main differences in their appearance include the fact that King Cobras have longer and narrower hoods, are generally larger, and have chevrons or stripes down their neck instead of the double or single eye shape generally seen on true cobras. King cobras also have a pair of large scales located at the back of the top of the head, known as occipitals.
6. King Cobras Have An Impressive Defense Display
Despite having deadly venom, king cobras actually prefer to avoid confrontation, fleeing and trying to escape when possible. However, if continuously provoked and unable to flee, they can become aggressive.
When feeling threatened, the king cobra will raise up their body and display their hood around their head/neck. They then open their mouths to show off their fangs, and will emit a low hiss that sounds almost like a deep growl. The king cobra may even “false” strike, essentially headbutting the threat as a warning. However, they can and will strike, able to strike at impressively far distances, and even able to strike multiple times at once. Adults have been known to bite and hold on to the threat.
7. It is Thought That King Cobras Are Diurnal
King cobras are considered diurnal by most scientists, due to the fact that they can be seen often hunting for food during the day, and are rarely seen moving around at night.
They receive chemical information from their forked tongues, which allow them to pick up scent particles and locate prey. They also use their keen eyesight, being able to spot prey up to 330 feet away.
8. Female King Cobras Are More “Motherly” Than Other Snakes
The female king cobra is gravid (growing the eggs inside of her) for 50 – 59 days, and when she nears the end of this time she will create a nest for the eggs by scraping up leaves and other debris into a pile. Unlike many snakes, the female king cobra will stay and protect the nest of 12 – 51 eggs that she just laid. She will continue to protect the eggs until they start to hatch 51 – 79 days later, at which time she will leave.
Hatchling king cobras are around 12 – 29 inches in length, and weigh anywhere from 18.4 to 40 grams. As mentioned above, these snakes come out dark black with yellow stripes, both of which will end up fading or changing colour.
9. King Cobras Are Classified As Having A Vulnerable Population
According to the IUCN, king cobras are classified as having a vulnerable population. In India, they were placed under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which means that if found guilty of killing a king cobra, the perpetrator can spend up to 6 years in jail.
The main threats to the king cobra are being harvested for their meat, skin, and use in traditional medicine, as well as loss of habitat from deforestation.
10. King Cobras Have A Rather Large Cultural Significance
A ritual in Myanmar involves a king cobra and a female snake charmer. The charmer is usually a priestess who is tattooed with three pictograms. She ends the ritual by kissing the king cobra on the top of its head.
The members of the Pokokku clan tattoo themselves weekly with ink that has been mixed with the king cobra venom. While it has not been scientifically proven, they believe that this will protect them from the snake and its venom.
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