Range: From India eastward to Vietnam, southern China, and the Philippines, and southeast through Malaysia and Indonesia. The largest are found in peninsular Malaysia and in Singapore. It is rare throughout its range and uncommon in Singapore.
Habitat: Bamboo thickets and grasslands. Favors tea plantations where rodents are abundant. The King Cobra is not there to hunt the rodents; it is the other species of snakes that are attracted to the rodents that the King is after!
Natural Diet: The King Cobra hunts almost exclusive for reptiles, primarily snakes. They have been known to eat lizards when they are encountered by the snake.
Diet at Rain Forest: Pre-killed rodents scented with snake.
Size: World's largest venomous snake; may reach 16 feet in the wild. The record of an 18' individual is believed to be accurate.
Skin Coloration: The skin of the King Cobra varies by sub species but can be olive green, tan, or black with faint, pale yellow cross banding. The underbelly of almost all King Cobras is a pale yellow or cream color.
Rain Forest Facts: By far the largest of all living venomous snakes, the King Cobra is capable of reaching lengths of over 18'. Capable of standing up to one-third of its body length the King Cobra can stand tall enough to look an adult human in the eye! This, and other species of cobras are generally known to strike up to the distance they can raise their bodies above the ground, in the case of an adult King Cobra this may mean a strike range of over five feet!
A disappointing fact for many of the visitors to RainForest who come to see our King Cobra, is the fact that this species does not have as large or impressive a "hood" as many other species of cobra. Cobras are often associated with "snake charming" where the hood of the cobra is displayed to the snake charmer as a threat.
As is the case with many of the snakes in the family Elapidae, this snake has a life span of approximately 20 years. Captive snakes often out live their wild cousins due to the ideal conditions under which they are kept. Wild snakes must hunt for food, survive droughts, and generally fend for themselves. This has a tendency to shorten their life spans compared to captive specimens.
King cobras shed their skins at the beginning of the breeding season. When the female sheds her skin, a scent or pheromone is released, which attracts a male to her. They may remain entwined for many hours while he fertilizes her. Unlike most snakes, king cobras can form stable pairs, and the male and the female may co-operate in searching for a nest. Once a site has been found, the male lurks nearby, ready to fight off any egg-eating predators. About 20-50 white eggs are laid by the female. Newly-hatched king cobras are glossy white with yellow stripes and are already about 50cm long. They are able to hunt almost immediately.
A highly intelligent animal, the King Cobra, will actually build and defend a nest for its eggs. A large clutch of King Cobra eggs may be 18-24! Record clutches of eggs numbering into the 50's is not uncommon.
The babies hatch sporting a beautiful stripped pattern that fades with time. Due to the large natural range of this cobra, there are recognized sub-species of the King Cobra; each sub-species is highly variable in its natural color patterns and sizes.
Unlike our North American Pit Vipers, whose fangs are hinged and fold back into the roof of the mouth, the King Cobra has fixed fangs. A large adult King Cobra can have fangs up to a half an inch long. The fangs are not hollow; they are rear-facing, which may actually help the King Cobra hang on to any prey item it has bitten.
A bite from the King Cobra results in large volumes of a neurotoxic venom being delivered to the affected area. It is the large volume of venom that does most of the dirty work. Many other species of cobras are actually much more toxic than the King, but the volume of venom delivered is huge compared to smaller snakes.
The victims blood stream carries the venom throughout the body relatively quick. A neurotoxic venom causes nerve endings to begin to fail and prevents the victim from breathing as well as other critical body functions. Death in small animals, even cold-blooded animals, is rapid.
Almost all of the King Cobras in the wild are faced with loss of habitat. The numbers of wild animals is declining at an alarming rate. Experts disagree as to whether or not the King Cobra was ever found in great concentrations; such apex predators rarely are densely populated, even under ideal conditions.
The Latin name for the King Cobra is Ophiophagus hannah, literally translated this means snake eater. The King Cobra lives almost exclusively on other snakes, including venomous snakes.
Status in Wild: Numbers declining due to over collection as well as habitat destruction. They may never have existed in large numbers in the wild.