Cobra King Fact File

We are often asked if we have King Cobras on display and at present, we don’t….the reason for this is simple.  They are eat other snakes, and this is a difficult dietary requirement to fulfil.  Some keepers force-feed their “Kings” with chicken necks, but we feel this presents an unacceptable risk to our keepers, particularly as there is no anti-venom in the country should a bite occur.  However that doesn’t mean they aren’t fascinating creatures (especially given that they aren’t actually a cobra!) hence the following fact file: 

King Cobra 
(Ophiophagus hannah)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Suborder: Serpentes

Family: Elapidae

Subfamily: Bungarinae

Genus: Ophiophagus

Species: King Cobra

(Ophiophagus hannah)

What does the name mean? The word “Ophiophagus” means “snake-eater”. The definition of “Hannah” is not well documented, but believed to have its origin in Greek mythology which refers to wood, or tree nymphs. Possibly derived from the word “Hamadryas” (the oak tree nymph and mother to all hamadryad nymphs of lesser forest trees). This snake is also referred to as “Hamadryad”.The best definition forOphiophagus hannah would be “Snake-eating tree dweller”.

Description: This is the longest venomous snake in the world.

A truly magnificent snake. Despite its name, this is not a true cobra. All true cobras belong to the genusNaja. The king cobra however belongs to its very own genus Ophiophagus. No other snake shares this genus. It does however belong to the family Elapidae which it shares with all proteroglyphs (fixed front fanged snakes). This includes Cobras and Mambas.

This snake can attain 5.5m (18ft) although the average length is about 3.9m (12.8ft). The average weight for these snakes is around 6kg (13.2lbs), but individuals weighing an incredible 9kg (19.8lbs) have been recorded.

Males are generally larger and thicker than the female of the species.

The Black Mamba, (Dendroaspis polylepis) is the second longest venomous snake in the world.

The colour of this snake is variable depending on its geographical location. Their colours range from an olive green, brown,black, or yellow with faint yellow or white cross bands down the entire length of the body. The belly is usually a lighter creamier colour interspersed with darker bars.

Like all elapids, it is able to spread an impressive hood. When disturbed this snake may rear its head 1.8m(5.9ft).

This is one snake that can look at you eye-to-eye.

Venom: Classified as highly venomous. The venom is primarily Neurotoxic which attacks the central nervous system. Death results due to respiratory failure.

Distribution: Present throughout South-East Asia, Malaysia, India, Southern China, Indonesia, and the Phillippines.

Habitat: Although not common, the king cobra is widespread throughout its distribution area. Habitats include dense rainforest, savannahs, and highland forests. Other areas include Mangroves, grasslands, bamboo thickets and even human settlements.

Habits: Despite its fearsome reputation this snake will avoid confrontation wherever possible. It is shy and leads a predominantly solitary existence. It is generally reluctant to bite, even when confronted. When disturbed it will rear up, spread an impressive hood and hiss loudly. It may even feign a few strikes with its mouth closed.

It is generally active during the day, and therefore has good eyesight. They are excellent swimmers, and as the name implies, they are adept climbers.

They are intelligent snakes capable of recognising their handlers when in captivity.They are not aggressive, and therefore generally tame well in captivity, even to the point of being handled freely (not recommended). That being said, some never tame and remain absolute nightmares throughout their lives.

Reproduction: King cobras are Oviparous (lay eggs). January signals the begining of the mating season, although this may vary depending on locality.

Approximately two months after breeding (April) the female will deposit between 20-50 eggs in a nest which she has built. This is the only species of snake that is known to actively build a nest site. The female uses her coils to gather a mound of leaf-litter in which she deposits the eggs.

During the incubation period (60-70 days), the female guards the nest tenaciously from any would-be predator, including humans.

As soon as the eggs begin to hatch, the female leaves the nest site and no further parental care is offered. The juveniles measure between 30-63cm (12-25inches) at birth. Unlike the adults the neonates are a glossy jet-black in colour with bright yellow bands.

Sexual maturity is reached at 5-6 years of age.

Diet: King cobras are active hunters, and as the name suggests, their diet consists mainly of snakes. Both venomous and non-venomous snakes are taken. Their preferred diet may explain why the female leaves her nest as soon as the eggs begin to hatch. Perhaps the temptation would be just too much. Cannibalism has been recorded on several occasions.

Other prey items recorded include birds, lizards, and rodents.Following envenomation prey is swallowed head first as with most other snakes.

Subspecies: There are no subspecies.

Conservation statusIUCN Red LIst : Not evaluated.

CITES : Appendix II

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