King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)


Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family:    Elapidae
Size:    Length: 10 to 18 feet (3 to 5.5 m)
Weight: Up to 20 pounds (9 kg)
Diet: Other snakes, frogs and lizards
Distribution: India, southern China, southeast Asia
Young:  20 to 40 eggs
Animal Predators:  Indian grey mongooses prey on young cobras
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: No special terms
Lifespan: Up to 30 years



·         On the annual holiday Nag Panchami, Hindus refrain from field work out of respect for cobras.

·         The Latin name “Ophiophagus” means snake-eater.



King cobras are the largest venomous snakes in the world. They are mostly green, brown or black with a creamy-yellow throat. They have yellowish-white cross-bars at intervals along their body. Their heads are huge, as big as a man’s hand—with fangs that are a half inch (1.25 cm) long. Their skin is smooth and dry. 



King cobras range through India, Vietnam, southern China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, western Indonesia and the Philippines.  They inhabit rain forests near streams or swamps and spend about a quarter of their time in trees.


Feeding Habits

King cobras mainly eat non-venomous snakes such as the rat snake, but also Indian cobras and even small king cobras. They capture prey by biting it with their fangs and delivering venom into the victim’s bloodstream. Although the venom of a king cobra is less lethal than a common cobra’s, the king has more venom per bite—enough to kill 20 people. The venom attacks the victim’s nervous system and shuts down his breathing. 



Scientists believe king cobras to be monogamous. The female carries the eggs for two months before laying them in the bottom of a nest made of leaves and branches, then curls up over top of them. King cobras are the only snakes to make nests. The female remains on the nest for two months without eating, and then just before they hatch, she leaves. During this time, the male remains close to guard the nest. The hatchlings are 14 inches (36 cm) long and about as big around as a human finger. During the first year of their lives, they shed their skin once per month. After the first moult, when they are seven to 10 days old, they begin to hunt for food. After one year of age, king cobras shed four to six times per year.



Despite their huge size and fearsome reputation, king cobras would rather avoid confrontation and will back away unless threatened. When threatened, these huge snakes make a hissing sound and lift the front of their bodies three to six feet (9 to 1.8 m) off the ground while travelling forward. At the same time, the snakes will expand and flatten out their neck ribs to form a hood. If king cobras are in an upright position without flattening their ribs, they are not threatening, but trying to see into the distance, usually because of tall grasses or bushes. King cobra snakes have excellent sense of smell. They flick their tongue to bring odours back to the nostrils located inside the mouth. King cobras are considered very intelligent. 



Deforestation has become a serious concern, as king cobras find their habitat shrinking and sometimes make their way into villages, where they are killed. King cobras are rare throughout their range.



King Cobra Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US