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19 Awesome Facts About King Cobra Snakes

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Read on to learn 19 incredible facts about the infamous King Cobra snake.

Read on to learn 19 incredible facts about the infamous King Cobra snake.

King Cobras

The king cobra is undoubtedly one of the most famous snakes worldwide. Its fame is due primarily to its startling (and frightening) physical characteristics, including its iconic hood that flares when it feels attacked.

This article takes a look at 19 key king cobra facts that any snake enthusiast—or interested onlooker—should know about the snake. Here's a table that previews what's to come in the rest of the article:

19 King Cobra Facts Covered in This Article

1. It growls

6. It's deadly from birth

11. It lives long

16. It can climb and swim

2. It's venomous

7. It doesn't chew

12. A group is called a 'quiver'

17. It is diurnal

3. It's name means 'snake-eater'

8. It's a dedicated mother

13. They can bite without injecting venom

18. It wrestles for mates

4. Its scales have a crown pattern

9. It has several interesting predators

14. It is used by snake charmers

19. It has a slow metabolism

5. It's very large

10. It's growth potential differs from other snakes

15. It is not aggressive

1. It Growls

Before striking, an aggravated king cobra will spread its hood and raise a third of its body off the ground so that it towers over whatever has upset it. It then emits a low growling sound like an angry dog by quickly exhaling and forcing a blast of air through its respiratory tract. An air cyst called a tracheal diverticulum in the tract acts as a resonating chamber to amplify the hiss.

2. It's Venomous

If a king cobra can't scare off an enemy, it will resort to biting and injecting up to a teaspoon and a half of venom. The dosage delivered makes up for its venom being less potent than some other species'. It rapidly affects the nervous system, blurring vision and causing drowsiness and paralysis. A large dose of venom can kill a human in 30 minutes.

3. It's Name Means 'Snake-Eater'

While the true cobras all belong to the genus Naja, the king cobra is thought to be more closely related to mambas. It's the sole member of the genus Ophiophagus, which is Greek and means 'snake-eater', a fitting enough name as they often dine on other snakes.

A king cobra showing the distinctive crown like pattern on the neck.

A king cobra showing the distinctive crown like pattern on the neck.

4. Its Scales Have a Crown Pattern

The king cobra is aptly named on account of the 11 large scales that are patterned in such a way that they form a very recognizable image to humans, that of a crown.

5. It's Very Large

The king cobra is the world's longest venomous snake. Adults usually measure between 10 and 13 feet long, but some of the longest individuals have been reported to have reached 18 feet. That's the same length as a large great white shark.

6. It's Deadly at Birth

King cobra hatchlings measure around 17-21 inches long. They're covered in a pattern of bands that fade as they grow. Although they can't strike with the force of their parents, their venom is just as potent.

7. It Doesn't Chew

Like all snakes, king cobras have very flexible jaws and can swallow prey larger than their heads. The jaw bones are connected by stretchy ligaments so that the lower jaw can move much more freely than in other animals.

8. It's a Dedicated Mother

Almost all female egg-laying snakes abandon their clutches immediately, but the king cobra is different. A female will spend hours dragging leaves into a pile before laying 21-40 eggs (nests of 70 have been found). The clutch is covered with more leaves, which provide warmth as they decompose, then the mother settles down on top of the nest. She remains there for three months, going without food and defending her young. Then, just as they begin to hatch, she leaves.

King Cobra vs Desert Mongoose

9. It Has Several Interesting Predators

Their venom makes them extremely dangerous, but there are predators brave enough to try and make a meal of king cobras. Crocodiles, colonies of army ants, civets and mongooses eat the young, and mongooses continue to hunt them into adulthood. They can do this as they're resistant to the cobra's venom due to an evolutionary quirk that means their cells are the wrong shape for the venom to latch onto.

10. Its Growth Potential Differs From Other Snakes

As a general rule in the world of snakes, the females are the ones that grow to great sizes, while the males are considerably smaller. However, with king cobras, this is the other way around. Males can grow up to 6 feet longer than the average-sized female.

11. It Lives Long

King cobras are predators with a highly effective hunting method. Couple this with the fact that they have very few natural predators in the wild, and you have a snake that can live for an average of 20 years. In captivity, away from the stresses of the wild, they can live considerably longer.

12. A Group Is Called a 'Quiver'

Many animals have rather quirky and interesting collective names for when they congregate in groups. For example, a flock of crows is known as murder, and a group of owls is known as a parliament. If you should ever encounter a group of king cobras, then the correct term to use is a 'quiver'.

13. They Can Bite Without Injecting Venom

Not every bite from a king cobra carries the chance of death. They often engage in a form of behaviour known as 'dry biting'. This is where they'll bite with their fangs as usual but refrain from injecting any venom.

A king cobra in a typical defensive posture.

A king cobra in a typical defensive posture.

14. It Is Used by Snake Charmers

With its impressive hood, the king cobra is the favourite among snake charmers. Contrary to popular belief, it can't actually hear the music being played, as it can only pick up vibrations in the ground. It is deaf to sounds travelling through the air, but it still dances to rhythm because it follows the movement of the instrument.

15. It Is Not Aggressive

While they may look ferocious, king cobras are actually very shy and try to avoid confrontation whenever possible. They slither away at the sound of approaching humans and only attack if there's no other option. Few people are ever bitten, and almost all victims are snake handlers.

16. It Can Climb and Swim

King cobras, like all other snakes, typically slither across the ground when moving regularly and in pursuit of prey. They are, however, fully capable of climbing trees and will even swim short distances in their pursuit of prey.

17. It Is Diurnal

All true cobras are fully nocturnal except for the king cobra, which is active during daylight hours. Once dusk falls, king cobras will take themselves off to a nice sheltered spot and sleep through the night.

18. It Wrestles for Mates

Male king cobras fight over females by wrestling, twisting around each other and trying to pin their opponent to the ground. There's very little biting involved because they have a high resistance to their own venom.

King Cobras Wrestling for a Mate

19. It Has a Slow Metabolism

True to their scientific name, king cobras mostly eat other snakes. However, when their favorite prey item is unavailable, they'll turn to rodents, birds and other reptiles for food. Their slow metabolism means that just one significant meal can keep them going for several months.

Sources and Further Reading

  • The Top 10 Deadliest Cobras in the World | Owlcation
    This article examines the top 10 deadliest (and most dangerous) cobra species in the world. It provides a direct analysis of each snake's behavioral pattern, level of aggression, and venom toxicity (in relation to humans and animals).
  • King Cobra | National Geographic
    King cobras are the longest of all venomous snakes. As they face a variety of threats stemming from human activities, these snakes are vulnerable to extinction.
  • King Cobra | Smithsonian's National Zoo
    King cobras are impressively venomous, large snakes native to Asia. They are called king cobras because they can kill and eat cobras. A full-grown king cobra is yellow, green, brown or black, typically with yellow-white crossbars or chevrons.
  • Facts About Cobras | Live Science
    Cobras are large, venomous snakes with a trademark hood. They hiss and spit and can raise the upper part of their bodies high enough to look you in the eye.
  • King Cobra | IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
    King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah has most recently been assessed for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2011. Ophiophagus hannah is listed as Vulnerable under criteria A2acd.

© 2018 James Kenny


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me on May 22, 2019:


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how mane types of cobra are there

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James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 19, 2018:

Thanks Liz. Glad you liked it.

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This is a very informative article with great illustrations.