The deadly king cobra is the longest of all venomous snakes and can easily claim the title of “king”: this powerful reptile feeds mostly on other snakes and it can live for decades in the wild, as there are very few other animals that can kill this kind of snake. Found mostly in the rainforests and swamps of Asia, king cobras prefer habitats with thick vegetation such as bamboo and mangrove thickets.
Here are eight facts that will offer insight into the mysterious and intriguing world of the king cobra.
1. The King Cobra Is the Longest of All Venomous Snakes
There are hundreds of species of venomous snakes in the animal kingdom, but the king cobra is the longest of all of them. An adult snake can be 10 to 12 feet in length and weigh up to 20 pounds. When a cobra “stands,” it can be eye to eye with a human of average height. The longest king cobra on record was measured at 18 feet. In comparison, the python, the longest non-venomous snake, can grow to be 20 feet long.
2. Their ‘Hoods’ Are Actually Ribs
When a king cobra is on the defense, it produces a distinctive hood that flares around its face. This hood, as well as other parts of the snake’s body, all have markings that are unique to the king cobra. At first glance, it looks like part of the snake’s skin, but it’s actually a system of rib bones and muscles that can flex and move. To make itself appear larger and more dangerous, the king cobra spreads these ribs and fans out the hood as it hisses and “stands” up.
3. Their Venom Is a Deadly Neurotoxin
Poisonous snakes are generally divided into two types of venom classifications: neurotoxic and hemotoxic. A neurotoxin is any poison that directly affects the nervous system of a human or animal. Hemotoxins, on the other hand, affect the bloodstream and are usually the kind found in rattlesnakes and vipers. The venom of a king cobra is neurotoxic, and when it strikes, a very small amount — mere ounces — is produced.2 Even just this small amount can send its prey into paralysis. Moreover, it’s so incredibly poisonous that a human can die within minutes of being bitten. A large animal, such as an elephant, can die in several hours.
4. They Are Cannibals
King Cobras are considered cannibalistic because they really only eat other snakes. On occasion, they may eat a small animal, rodent, or bird, but that’s more characteristic of a common cobra. Even if the other snake is venomous, cobras’ stomachs have adapted with digestive juices to break down the poison and render it safe. Since they don’t have any teeth, their prey is eaten whole. Their jaws have the ability to stretch and open wide to allow large animals to pass through. It may take several minutes for them to swallow an animal entirely.
Cobras, along with a variety of other snakes, can go months, even years, without eating. Snakes don’t need to drink water to survive, but they will absorb it through their bellies as they pass through naturally wet areas such as streams, marshes, and creek beds.
5. Female Cobras Make Nests
The king cobra is the only snake that builds a nest. When a female cobra prepares to lay its eggs, which is usually in the spring, it creates a nest of leaves and twigs. She builds up walls, as well as a cover, to insulate and protect the eggs she will be laying. A clutch, or group of eggs, can be as many as 50 eggs. She remains in the nest, on guard, for several months until the snakes are hatched. From the start, hatchings are able to take care of themselves and can even bite if necessary. It takes about four years for a king cobra to reach full maturity from the hatchling state.
6. Their Biggest Predator Is the Mongoose
As powerful as the king cobra snake is, the one animal it will avoid crossing paths with is the mongoose. This small mammal, which is a member of the Herpestidae family, is only about a foot long, but is immune to the venom of many snakes. As a carnivore, the mongoose normally eats small rodents, like rats, but has been known to fight and kill venomous snakes. The mongoose won’t hunt or track a cobra intentionally, but will defend itself if threatened.
7. They Use Sound to Defend Themselves
Even though king cobras can swim quickly and climb trees, they are still prone to attacks from other reptiles and animals. When king cobras are on alert, they use multiple defense tactics to protect themselves. Most of the time, they would rather get away than fight and can move as fast as 12 mph. However, if cornered, in addition to flaring their hood to make themselves appear bigger, they also make a unique moan.3 Like most snakes, cobras will hiss, but they also use this moan to signal to their predators to back away before they strike. By filling up their lungs and slowly exhaling, they emit a long, low-pitch noise like a dog growl. Unfortunately, the king cobra’s greatest predator is the human.
8. They Have Long Lifespans
In the wild, these snakes can live for more than two decades. Since they can survive for long periods of time without eating and don’t require much water, they aren’t overly susceptible to droughts, food scarcity, or other natural disasters in the same way that other animals and reptiles might be. Also, not many other animals that live in the areas that cobras inhabit hunt these snakes, so they have very little danger of becoming prey.