The King cobra is the largest venomous snake. It reaches an average length of 3.6 – 4 m (12-13 feet) and usually weighs 6 kg (13.2 lb). Its color varies depending on the location of its natural habitat. It can be either tan, black or olive green; the stripes and ventral area are either light yellow or cream. The large scales located on the top of its head, towards the back, are called occipital scales and are typical of the King cobra as they can only be found on this species.
Despite having good hearing, this snake uses vibrations to hear, rather than sounds. It also smells their prey with their forked tongue. It has a good vision, which enables it to spot its prey from a distance of 100 m (300 feet).
The natural habitat of the King cobra is located in forested areas found in Southeast Asia, India and Southern China. It is usually living close to lakes and streams. This snake is comfortable on land, in trees and in water. Despite the destruction of forests due to the expansion of civilization, the King cobra is not listed as being an endangered species by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
The venom of the King cobra is so powerful, mainly due to the fact that it can inject multiple doses during a single bite or hold on to its prey until it is subdued. In fact, it can kill between 20 and 40 adult humans or an adult elephant. While a healthy human can die within 15 minutes of the bite, the average time varies from 30 to 45 minutes. The symptoms caused by the bite are: paralysis, blurred vision, severe pain, drowsiness, vertigo, respiratory failure, coma and respiratory failure.
This reptile rarely attacks humans as it prefers to retreat rather than confront them. In fact, unless they feel cornered, they will avoid any confrontation. As a warning, the King cobra will rise up to one-third of its body, show its short fangs and hiss loudly. Contrary to other snakes, the hissing sound is much lower and resembles a growl rather than a hiss. To prevent such an attack, a human should not be closer than 2 m (7 feet). Its natural predator is the mongoose, which is a small mammal immune to the venom of the King cobra.
The diet of the King cobra includes: other snakes (his favorite being the Rat snake), juveniles of its own species, small mammals, birds and reptiles. While this snake will usually bite its prey during the attack, it is also known to constrict it. It can eat a much larger prey than its head because its jaw is very flexible. In fact, its lower jaw is independent of the upper one, enabling the snake to swallow its prey whole. Toxins are starting the digestion process on the struggling prey as it is being swallowed. Due to its slow metabolism, the King cobra can go without a meal, for months.
This species is the only one building a nest for its young. It uses leaves and debris to build it. The female will produce between 20 and 40 eggs that she will defend aggressively. She will hide and spring forward to defend her eggs if a larger animal is getting too close. Once the eggs are ready to hatch, the female will leave the nest to hunt. It is believed to be based on instinct, to avoid eating her babies. The juvenile snakes are born as carriers of potent venom as powerful as an adult King cobra. The babies measure between 45 and 55 cm (18 to 22 inches) in length. The life expectancy of a King cobra is 20 years.
Female snake charmers practicing in Burma are tattooed with three pictures, using King cobra’s venom. This supposedly protects the snake charmer from the snake. At the end of the show, the charmer is known to kiss the snake on the head. Contrary to the popular belief, the snake is not under the spell of the music created by the flute, the vibrations are responsible for the snake’s reaction.
Did you know that scientists use synthetic cobra venom in Arthritis medication and pain reliever medication? Only two places manufacture the anti venom for the King cobra’s bite: the Red Cross (Thailand) and the Central Research Institute (India). Unfortunately, it is not produced in high quantities, diminishing its availability.
The King cobra is a creature who deserves our respect. As long as we keep our distances, why not live in harmony?
Here are some resources linked to the King cobra.