Before we start with our list of fantastic King Cobra facts, we will just like to tell a few things in a somewhat poetic mood and tone. There is perhaps no other snake in the world that is as revered as the King Cobra.
It is true that its reputation precedes it and not just within its native range, the King is a matter of fascination in cultures far and wide. So high is its reputation that the King Cobra has made it into popular culture in the form of prints on tees, rings and pendants, walking sticks and games and more.
Can you point out another snake that enjoys this kind of reputation? No you cannot! Not even the notorious Black Mamba is so highly revered.
Okay, our poetic endeavor ends here and we can start with our list of facts about King Cobra but, before we plunge into the list, let us take a look at the table below for some generic information that might come in handy:
Now, the list…
King Cobra Facts: 1-9
1. It may sound a bit surprising though but the truth is that despite a part of the name being Cobra, this snake is not from the genus Naja to which the rest of the cobras actually belong. Yes sir! King Cobra has its very own genus and it is also the only member in that genus. Put in simple words, King Cobras are not true cobras.
2. Though endemic to Southeast Asia, the King Cobra is primarily found in Indian forests. However, you can always come across them in countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines. Yes yes, their habitat range is pretty big.
3. Now, that’s the range of habitat of King Cobras. What about the nature of the habitats they choose? Well, they are usually found in rainforests, mangrove swamps and bamboo thickets.
4. Those areas that receive heavy rainfall and have thick undergrowths are also the places where Kings can be found.
5. In case you are wondering about its distribution as per altitude, here is something that you might like about the King. It can be found all the way down at sea level and all the way up at an elevation of 2,000 meters or 6,562 feet.
6. Now here is where it all gets interesting. The King Cobras almost exclusively feed on snakes. Yes, you read it right. They eat snakes almost all the time.
7. Question is, what kind of snakes do King Cobras eat? They mostly prefer non-venomous snakes like the rat snake, small pythons etc. The most favorite King Cobra diet is a rat snake.
8. Do the King Cobras eat other venomous snakes? Of course they do! They eat the likes of Kraits and cobras. Well, rarely but they also eat other King Cobras if food turns out to be scarce.
9. Is there anything else that the King eats? Yes! Monitor lizards. They can even eat monitor lizards and occasionally, they may even take away an egg or two if they just want to change their taste or may be when food is not very much available. They can also eat small mammals.
King Cobra Facts: 10-18
10. Now, one big question – ‘how do King Cobras hunt?’ There are three ways and all of them are used at once. If not all three, at least two are used.
- First, they flick out their forked tongue and pick up the scent of the prey. The tongue is designed to collect chemical information that is passed on to Jacobson’s organ (a sensory receptor at the roof of its mouth).
- They might use their eyes to see the prey. The Kings have really good eyesight and can locate prey up to a distance of 100 meters or 330 feet.
- They will also track the prey using the ground vibrations that they pick up using their skin.
11. Once the prey is identified and located, the King Cobra will go for a hot pursuit. Yes, they will actively go after their prey instead of actually ambushing the prey.
12. Once it is close enough to the prey, it will strike at a lightning speed and inject its prey with large amounts of venom.
13. The King will not wait for the prey to die and become still. Instead, it will start swallowing the prey which is still struggling.
14. It will start swallowing the prey whole but will do that by starting with the prey’s head. It hardly matters if the head of the prey is larger than its own head.
15. The lower jaw of the King is very flexible because the bones of the lower jaw are attached with what is known as pliable ligaments that allow the bones to move independently of one another and open the mouth wide enough to start swallowing.
16. It is widely believed the King Cobras are diurnal. They are rarely seen at night and hence, many herpetologists believe that they remain active and hunt only during the day time.
17. They are shy creatures. They will actually try to escape and get out of way when confronted. However, there is no reason to think that they will not get aggressive. When provoked they can become really aggressive.
18. When a King Cobra becomes aggressive, it will lift one-third of its body off the ground and stand straight. They will erect their narrow hood and flare it out and will start hissing. The hissing sound has a low pitch and sounds very much like the growling of a dog.
King Cobra Facts: 19-27
19. The concerned King will strike with a downward move but it will still not strike to bite. It will only try to scare off the threat.
20. Because King Cobras don’t usually like to confront humans and try to get away, human fatalities aren’t high. Also, since they prefer to live deep in the jungles they will not like to confront humans very often.
21. Do you know that the King Cobra’s venom is not as potent as other venomous snakes? For instance, Black Mamba is far more venomous! This may lead you to think that its venom will not really kill anything.
22. You are absolutely wrong! The King didn’t just get its name for no reason. The King is capable of injecting large volumes of venom in a single bite. The sheer amount is capable of killing.
23. Here’s a stunner. A single bite from a King Cobra can kill a full-grown Asian Elephant within just one to three hours. And… one bite from a King Cobra can kill 20-30 humans at once. Yes, that is the amount of venom it injects in a single bite.
24. Wondering how much venom it injects in a single bite? It can usually range between 200 and 500 mg but it can ramp up the amount to 7 ml. Wondering what 7 ml means? 7 ml is equivalent to 7,000 mg.
25. The venom of the King is primarily composed of neurotoxins. These neurotoxins are known as haditoxin. Once the snake administers the venom, it hits the central nervous system and causes immense pain, blurry vision, drowsiness, vertigo and then paralysis. Then comes cardiovascular collapse, followed by coma and then death by respiratory failure.
26. Did you know that of all the venomous snakes that roam our planet Earth, the King Cobra is the longest one? The average length of a King Cobra is within the range 9.8 feet to 13.1 feet. The longest one till date was stored in London Zoo and measured a whopping 18.8 feet. That captive King Cobra was eventually euthanized when World War II broke out.
27. Wondering about the weight of a King Cobra? The average weight is 13 lbs or 6 kg. However, the heaviest King Cobra till date was the one that was at New York Zoological Park. It weighed a whopping 28 lbs or 12.7 kg.
King Cobra Facts: 28-36
28. In terms of size, King Cobras are sexually dimorphic. This means that the males and the females are different in size. Usually in case of snakes, females are larger in size than males but in case of King Cobra, males are larger compared to females.
29. In terms of color, the King Cobras can have different colors depending on the region they belong to. The color is either black or tan or olive-green. Irrespective of the base color, all of them will usually have pale yellow cross stripes or cross bands across their entire length but some of them may eventually lose the yellow bands. The underside of the body, i.e. the belly will either have pale yellow or cream color.
30. The juvenile King Cobras will have these narrow yellow bands across, but the base color will be shiny black, giving them the appearance of a banded krait but it is their expanded hood that allows proper identification.
31. The breeding period for the King is between January and March. It is this time when the male King Cobra will follow pheromone (chemicals) released by female King Cobras and try to find out a potential mate.
32. Once a male finds a potential mate, he will rub his head on the female’s body as courtship. This courtship may last for 5 minutes to a couple of hours. The female may resist and she may show actions like butting or nudging.
33. Just in case multiple males find the same female, a competition ensues. The two or more males will then compete and try to push the head of the opponent on to the ground. There is no fight-to-death criteria here. The loser will simply leave.
34. The victorious male will then copulate with the female. The champion of the duel and the female in heat will then intertwine their bodies together and stay in the position for several hours. Mating can continue for several days in which the pair will copulate several times.
35. Once the male plants his seeds into the female, the male will leave. The gravid female on the other hand will find a spot for building a nest. For building nests, females will usually find a place that is close to trees and has ample shade.
36. In order to build a nest, a female will gather leaves. They will usually gather leaves from within a radius of 3 meters to 5 meters and then deposit them and fashion them into tight coils.
King Cobra Facts: 37-45
37. A gravid female King Cobra will keep on doing this and repeatedly move inside the coil until the nest grows at least 3 feet in diameter and the side grow nearly 30 centimeters tall.
38. Once the desired shape is achieved, she will just get inside the nest and lay her eggs. She will usually lay her eggs somewhere during the last week of April. She will lay anywhere between 20 and 40 eggs at a time.
39. Once the eggs are laid, the female will move out and start fortifying the nest with further leaves and keep stacking them until the nests grow around 4 feet tall. She will make chambers in the nest. The lowest chamber is where the eggs will stay. A layer of leaves and twigs will cover the eggs and on top of that layer, the female will stay. The female King Cobra stays there to protect her eggs from predators.
40. The eggs incubate with the heat generated by the rotting vegetation. The temperature is ideally between 24°C to 28°C. The humidity is between 55% and 90% and the total incubation period is between 90 and 113 days. Once the eggs are about to hatch, the female King Cobra will just leave and no further parental care is provided.
Because of the unique nests that King Cobras build, they are often considered to be most intelligent among all known snake species.
41. King Cobras don’t have many natural predators, but there are some that threaten them. For the newly hatched snakes, natural predators are giant centipedes, mongooses, army ants and civets despite the fact that the newborns have exactly the same lethal toxin as the grown ups.
42. The grown ups or adult King Cobras find mongoose, eagles and hawks as natural predators.
43. While natural predators are always there, humans are also great threats to the King Cobras. Gradual destruction of their habitat is now threatening their very existence.
44. Yet another problem is that King Cobras are often caught and even harvested by humans for bile, skin and meat. Many cultures actually use these as ingredients in traditional medicines.
45. As of today, King Cobras are considered as Vulnerable under IUCN (International Union For Conservation of Nature). In India, anyone who is found guilty of killing King Cobra can be imprisoned for 6 years.
How does a King Cobra swallow a snake longer than or equal to its own body length?
Now, that’s one important question. The answer is pretty complex. Studies have found that King Cobras or any other snake that eats a snake that is equal to or longer than their own size make use of a particular type of motion that mimics the motion of the musical instrument caller Concertina.
These predator snakes will move their vertebral column in such motion and the prey snake will simply conform to that motion and will take that shape.
Remember that the prey snake is dead or almost dead and hence, it will have no other option other than conforming to the shape of the vertebral column of the predator snake.
At this moment, the predator snake will straighten and advance its jaws but the waves that were created in the dead or prey snake will remain. This means that the prey snake will simply bend in waves and stay bent and thus, adjust inside the gut of the predator snake.
Think of it in this way. You are standing on a straight road. There are two sides of the road that will run parallel to each other. You need to reach from one end of the road to another end. There are two ways you can accomplish this:
1. You will just walk straight from one end to another end right from the center of the road. Your task is achieved and you walk the shortest possible distance.
2. You start waking from the center at the end line of the road and then, instead of walking straight, you start walking in a wave pattern as shown in the image below.
You will eventually reach the other end of the road and hit the point where you need to be but in this case, you have traveled a longer distance while the distance between the two points of the road remains the same.
In the above image, the red wave shows the second option of how you reach from point A to point B while the dotted straight line (with arrow head) at the center shows the first option you take to reach from point A to point B.
When a King Cobra swallows a prey equal to or larger than its own size, it uses the same principle (second option) you choose in moving from point A to point B. This allows the King to keep the large prey inside its gut.