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King cobra
The king cobra
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Genus: 'Ophiophagus'
Binomial name
Ophiophagus hannah

The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), also known as the hamadryad, is a venomous snake species in the family Elapidae, endemic to forests from India through Southeast Asia. It is threatened by habitat destruction and has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2010.

It preys chiefly on other snakes and occasionally on some other vertebrates, such as lizards and rodents. It is a dangerous snake that has a fearsome reputation in its range, although it typically avoids confrontation with humans when possible.

The king cobra is a prominent symbol in the mythology and folk traditions of India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. It is the national reptile of India.


King Cobra 25
King Cobra at the Cincinnati Zoo

The skin of king cobra is dark olive or brown with black bands and white or yellow crossbands. The head is black with two crossbars near the snout and two behind the eyes. Its belly is cream or pale yellow. It is the world's longest venomous snake. Adult king cobras are 3.18 to 4 m (10.4 to 13.1 ft) long. The longest known individual measured 5.85 m (19.2 ft).

The head of a mature snake can be quite massive and bulky in appearance, though like all snakes, it can expand its jaws to swallow large prey items. It has proteroglyph dentition, meaning it has two short, fixed fangs in the front of the mouth, which channel venom into the prey like hypodermic needles. The average lifespan of a wild king cobra is about 20 years.

Males reach larger sizes than females, which is an unusual trait among snakes whose females are usually larger than males. The length and mass of the snakes highly depend on their localities and some other factors. The king cobra typically weighs about 6 kg (13 lb).

Distribution and habitat

Ular anang Ophiophagus hannah Bandung Zoo
King cobra - Bandung Zoo, Indonesia

The king cobra is distributed across the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the southern areas of East Asia. It lives in dense highland forests, preferring areas dotted with lakes and streams. King cobra populations have dropped in some areas of its range because of the destruction of forests and ongoing collection for the international pet trade.


A king cobra, like other snakes, receives chemical information via its forked tongue, which picks up scent particles and transfers them to a special sensory receptor located in the roof of its mouth. This is like a humans sense of smell. When the scent of a meal is detected, the snake flicks its tongue to gauge the prey's location (the twin forks of the tongue acting in stereo); it also uses its keen eyesight; king cobras are able to detect moving prey almost 100 m (330 ft) away. Its intelligence and sensitivity to earth-borne vibration are also used to track its prey.

Following the injection of venom, the king cobra swallows its struggling prey. King cobras, like all snakes, have flexible jaws. The jaw bones are connected by pliable ligaments, enabling the lower jaw bones to move independently. This allows the king cobra to swallow its prey whole, and swallow prey much larger than its head. King cobras are able to hunt throughout the day, but are rarely seen at night.

Feeding ecology

King Cobra (6)
King Cobra

The king cobra's generic name, Ophiophagus is a Greek-derived word that means "snake-eater". Its diet consists primarily of other snakes. Its most common prey is the rat snake, and it also hunts Malabar pit viper and hump-nosed pit viper by following the snakes' odour trails.

When food is scarce, it also feeds on other small vertebrates, such as lizards, birds, and rodents. In some cases, the cobra constricts its prey, such as birds and larger rodents, using its muscular body, though this is uncommon. After a large meal, the snake can live for many months without another one because of its slow metabolic rate.


12 - The Mystical King Cobra and Coffee Forests
The Mystical King Cobra

When annoyed, this species quickly attempts to escape and avoid confrontation. However, if continuously provoked, the king cobra can be highly aggressive. When alarmed, it rears up the anterior portion (usually one-third) of its body when extending the neck, showing the fangs and hissing loudly.

It can be easily irritated by closely approaching objects or sudden movements. When raising its body, the king cobra can still move forward to strike with a long distance and people may misjudge the safe zone. This snake can deliver multiple bites in a single attack, and adults are known to bite and hold on. Many victims bitten by king cobras are actually snake charmers.

If a king cobra encounters a natural predator, such as the mongoose, which has resistance to the neurotoxins, the snake generally tries to flee. If unable to do so, it forms the distinctive cobra hood and emits a hiss, sometimes with closed-mouth strikes. These efforts usually prove to be very effective, especially since it is much more dangerous than other mongoose prey, as well as being much too large for the small mammal to kill with ease.

A good defense for anyone who accidentally encounters this snake is to slowly remove a shirt or hat and toss it to the ground while backing away.


King cobra jbi
King cobra

The female builds a nest and lays 12 to 51 eggs and guards it during the incubation period of about 51 to 79 days. The hatchlings are 31 to 73 cm (12 to 29 in) long and weigh 18.4 to 40 g (0.65 to 1.41 oz). The king cobra is unusual among snakes in that the female is a very dedicated parent. For the nest, the female scrapes up leaves and other debris into a mound, and stays in the nest until the young hatch.

She guards the mound closely, rearing up into a threat display if any large animal gets too close. Inside the mound, the eggs are incubated at a steady 28 °C (82 °F). When the eggs start to hatch, the female leaves the nest. The baby king cobra's venom is as potent as that of the adults. They may be brightly marked, but these colours often fade as they mature. They are alert and nervous, being highly aggressive if disturbed.


King Cobra 02
King Cobra

This species is capable of delivering a fatal bite and the victim may receive a large quantity of venom. Accordingly, large quantities of antivenom may be needed to reverse the progression of symptoms developed if bitten by a king cobra. The toxins affect the victim's central nervous system, resulting in severe pain, blurred vision, vertigo, drowsiness, and eventually paralysis. Proper and immediate treatments are critical to avoid death.

King Cobra (7)
King Cobra

If the bite is serious, it progresses to cardiovascular collapse, and the victim falls into a coma. Death soon follows due to respiratory failure. Bites from a king cobra may result in a rapid fatality which can be as early as 30 minutes after the bite. The king cobra's venom was even recorded to be capable of killing elephants within hours.


The species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN due to pressure from harvesting for meat, skin and use in traditional medicine, and because of increasing loss of habitat to deforestation. In India, king cobras are placed under Schedule II of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and a person guilty of killing the snake can be imprisoned for up to six years.

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