The King Cobra snake is the largest of the venomous land snakes, growing up to 18.5 feet (5.7 m) in length and with a width of up to 1 foot at the neck. However, as they are generally slender, King Cobras usually do not exceed 20 kg in weight. Male King Cobras are longer and weigh more than female King Cobras, this is very unusual since in most snake species, the male is smaller than the female.
The King Cobra can lift a third of its body off the ground. Like other snakes bearing the cobra name, the King Cobra can also flatten its neck, giving it the distinctive hood. When the King Cobra is threatened or on the attack, it will hiss, rear up and flatten its neck ribs into the hood. There are false eyespots on the hood, which can scare some predators.
The King Cobra snake lives in much of mainland South East Asia and throughout the dense highland forests. The King Cobra has a preference for living in areas where there are lakes and streams as it is an excellent swimmer. King Cobra populations have reclined in some areas of its range due to the destruction of forests. It is widely worshiped in India as nagaraja (‘king of snakes’)
BEHAVIOR AND DIET:
Despite the King Cobras fearsome reputation, it is generally a shy and reclusive animal, avoiding confrontation with people as much as possible.
The King Cobra snakes diet is mainly composed of other snakes. The King Cobra snake prefers non-venomous snakes, however, it will also eat other venomous snakes including kraits and Indian Cobras. Cannibalism is not rare. It also feeds on vertebrates such as lizards. Like all snakes, they swallow the prey whole, head first.
The top and bottom jaws are attached to each other with stretchy ligaments, which let the snake swallow animals wider than itself. Snakes cannot chew their prey. Food is digested by very strong acids in the snakes’ stomach. After a large meal the snake may live for many months without another meal due to a very slow metabolic rate. King Cobras are able to hunt at all times of day, although it is rarely seen at night.
King Cobras, like other snakes, smell using their forked tongue which picks up scent particles and transfers them to a special sensory receptor (Jacobson’s Organ), located in the roof of its mouth. When the scent of a potential meal has been detected, the snake will continue to flick its tongue to gauge the prey’s direction. It will also rely on its excellent eyesight. The King Cobra snake is able to detect moving prey almost 100m away. The King Cobra snake uses sensitivity to vibrations and outstanding intelligence (compared to that of other cobra species) to track its prey.
Breeding usually takes place in late spring or early summer. The King Cobra is said to be the only snake which makes nests for its eggs. The female will then lay between 10 and 25 eggs. The offspring are independent as soon as they are hatched and can capture prey the size of a rat.
Females wait approximately 55 days before laying eggs. The King Cobra snakes average life span is about 20 years
The King Cobras venom is a neurotoxin, capable of killing humans. The mortality rate can be as high as 75%, however, most bites involve nonfatal amounts.
Their venom is not the most potent among venomous snakes, however, the amount of neurotoxin they can deliver in a single bite – up to two-tenths of a fluid ounce (seven mm) – is enough to kill 20 people, or even an elephant. King Cobra snakes are fiercely aggressive when cornered or provoked.
King Cobra venom, which is composed mostly of proteins and polypeptides, is produced in specialized salivary glands just behind the snake’s eyes. When biting its prey, venom is forced through the snake’s half – inch – long (8 – 10 mm) fangs and into the wound. Although the venom is less toxic than that of many other venomous snakes, including the Indian Cobra, a King Cobra is capable of injecting more venom than any other snake except the gaboon viper. In fact, a King Cobra can deliver enough venom to kill a full-grown Asian Elephant in 3 hours.
King Cobra venom attacks the victim’s nervous system and quickly induces severe pain, blurred vision, vertigo, drowsiness and paralysis. In the minutes following, cardiovascular collapse occurs and the victim falls into a coma. Death soon follows due to respiratory failure.