King cobras are feared and revered snakes for their size, appearance, behavior, and cultural significance. But there’s more to this snake than meets the eye. Today, we’ll dive into the world of one of the deadliest yet most fascinating reptiles on Earth – the infamous king cobra.
I present to you 15 of the most interesting facts about this crawler that you may not be aware of. Let’s get it going!
The King Cobra is the Longest Venomous Snake in the World
The king cobra can reach 8-12 feet in length, depending on the specimen, environmental conditions, food availability, and genetic makeup. Some specimens can grow as long as 18 feet, a size which typically describes constrictor snakes. The fact that a venomous snake can reach 18 feet in length is unheard of, including from an evolutionary perspective.
In general, there’s no reason for venomous snakes to grow too large. That’s because they don’t use size to intimidate their attackers or hunt, but their posture, colors, and venom, paired with an aggressive demeanor. This stays double true for king cobras, which can be extremely intimidating thanks to their trademark posturing and deadly venom.
The fact that they can also reach monstrous sizes is straight obscene.
King Cobras are Native to South and Southeast Asia
King cobras have a varied habitat, spread throughout South and Southeast Asia, covering areas like Hong Kong, the Philippines, the Malay Peninsula, China, and so on. These snakes patrol varied habitats but prefer the thick bushes and forest layouts close to streams and mangrove swamps.
These zones have stable temperatures and humidity levels throughout the year while also providing the deadly hunter with plenty of hunting opportunities.
King Cobras are Highly Venomous
The king cobras’ venom is neurotoxic, which is arguably the deadliest form. Hemotoxic venoms are just as deadly, causing blood clots and necrosis, but usually take longer to deliver their fatal effects. Neurotoxic venoms are notoriously fast-acting, causing paralysis and death within minutes. It also helps that the cobra usually injects unnecessary quantities of venom, capable of killing even the largest victims.
Notice how I used ‘victims’ instead of ‘prey’ because cobras can kill animals far larger than those they can eat. Like an elephant, for instance.
The venom itself is extremely potent, one of the most powerful chemical cocktails on the planet. The venom acts by disrupting the central nervous system, causing the brain to misfire electrical signals into the muscles. The result consists of loss of control over the muscular system and gradual paralysis. The symptoms may begin as fast as several minutes after the bite.
But the paralysis that ensues isn’t the real threat, especially since the cobra can’t eat you. The real danger is the venom causing the diaphragm to stop working. This means you won’t be able to breathe anymore, which will lead to suffocation and death.
King Cobras are Capable of “Standing Up”
All cobra species are known for their upright posture and aggressive hood display. This behavior only occurs when the cobra feels threatened and cornered. At this point, 2 things will happen:
- The curled position – The cobra will take on a spring-like body position, curling up by forcing its body in a compact shape, with rings on top of each other. This trademark posturing has 2 goals: to protect the snake’s body and provide the right mechanical support for a lighting-speed attack. This is an attack position that’s capable of propelling the snake’s body more than a foot forward in less than 70 milliseconds. By comparison, humans need 200 milliseconds to blink, which should speak volumes about the king’s deadly speed.
- The hood display – King cobras can display their hood when threatened with the goal of making themselves appear larger and more imposing. This is a useful tactic in the wild, as the snake appears bigger and more intimidating, allowing the cobra to scare off potential predators.
In short, if you hear an ominous hiss and you observe the cobra standing up with its hood out near you, back off slowly. After you’re out of its range, turn around, pack your bags, get your passport out, and embark on the first plane out.
King Cobras are Oviparous
Cobras breed via egg laying, with an adult cobra female being capable of producing between 20 and 50 eggs in one sitting. The reproductive process may last for several hours, as the male and female remain intertwined for quite some time. This is to guarantee that the male’s sperm will fertilize as many eggs as possible.
King cobras are known to sometimes mate for life and provide their eggs with care and protection. The male cobra is especially protective, working with the female to find a suitable nest site and then guarding the area for predators. Most cobra attacks take place near the reptile’s breeding ground because of that.
The eggs will incubate for a period of 85-100 days, which is considerably more than the typical snake. Most snake eggs will only incubate for up to 60 days. On the other hand, the longer incubation period allows the snake babies to grow longer (cobra hatchlings can get as long as 20 inches), which improves their survivability.
It’s also worth noting that cobra hatchlings are generally even more venomous and inject more venom per bite than the adults. This is to compensate for their smaller size.
King Cobras are Solitary Creatures
Cobras don’t appreciate the company of their own species. They prefer to roam and hunt solo and can become very territorial when sensing another cobra nearby. The only time when cobras accept company is during the mating season.
King Cobras are Excellent Hunters
Cobras are very efficient hunters, capable of detecting the prey via smell. The snake uses its forked tongue to capture air particles and drag them to their Jacobson’s organ, located on the palate of the mouth. This provides the snake with relevant information about the prey, such as its species, direction, and distance.
Upon locating the prey, the snake crawls unseen and unheard toward the target area and strikes with impunity. The quantity of venom injected usually matches the prey’s size, as cobras can control how much venom they use with each bite. Since cobras have no constricting abilities, they have to rely on the venom to do the job for them.
Once the venom is in, the cobra allows the animal to run away and gives chase, using its smell to close the distance. The venom will shut off the nervous system within minutes, rendering the prey defenseless against the voracious predator. The cobra will then consume the prey whole, usually starting at the head.
Cobras are very effective killers; fortunately, they only eat once every several weeks, depending on the prey’s size. They can even go months without eating, thanks to their slow metabolism.
King Cobras Have a Fascinating Defense Mechanism
King cobras use hood flaring as their main defense mechanism, usually with loud hiss. Their purpose is to make themselves look larger and scarier to deter any potential threats. The hood is an amazing evolutionary feature because it’s formed out of the snake’s ribs and rib muscles.
If the flaring fails, the cobra will eventually bite. Contrary to popular belief, cobras, and snakes in general, aren’t keen to bite humans or animals they can’t eat. That’s because venom takes time to collect, and snakes use it for hunting purposes. A venomous snake without venom will go hungry, until the venom reserves refill. Even so, you should take the cobra’s word for granted if it starts hissing at you and turn back where you came from.
Interestingly, some cobra species also possess more specialized defense mechanisms like venom spitting. They can project their venom through their fangs with incredible accuracy, hitting targets several feet from them. More importantly, it seems like these snakes always aim their shots at the face, primarily the eyes. The venom will cause severe eye irritation, causing intense localized pain and discomfort.
It has been suggested that this behavior is actually the result of human presence. Snakes and ancient hominids have shared the same land for millennia, forcing the snake to adapt to the aggressive primate. That’s because humans would generally react aggressively towards snakes out of instinct. To counter this crude primate aggression, snakes have evolved the capability to shoot venom at longer distances, which eventually earned the humans’ respect and increased the snake’s survivability.
Fortunately, king cobras don’t possess the ability to use their venom as liquid projectiles, and it’s a good thing. The king cobra’s venom is known to cause permanent blindness if it reaches the eyes.
King Cobras are Sacred in Hinduism
You may already be aware of India’s infatuation with cobras, but did you know that these snakes are considered divine in that country? And it’s not just India. Cobras are sacred in several Asian nations, with many myths and legends surrounding the deadly snake. The cobra is at the root of the naga myths, creatures that are half human, half snake and are said to only attack evil humans.
Indians also believe that killing a cobra will raise the wrath of its mate, which will hunt and kill you eventually.
King Cobras are Threatened by Habitat Loss
King cobras rank as vulnerable in the wild due to habitat destruction and illegal poaching. These snakes are highly valued for their skin, meat, medicine (especially on the Chinese market), taming, and show display. If you were wondering how you can tame a cobra, the answer is you can’t.
The only way to ‘tame’ a king cobra is by removing its fangs to eliminate its deadly potential.
King Cobras Can Inject a Large Quantity of Venom in One Bite
These snakes can inject a lot of neurotoxic venom with one bite, enough to kill an adult elephant in 3 hours. The same amount of venom can kill 11 adult humans in minutes. Despite this extreme toxicity and lethal power, only about 50-60% of cobra bites are fatal.
This is due primarily to dry bites. As I’ve already explained, adult cobras need their venom to hunt, so they’re not exactly eager to use it on humans.
If they do use venom, they only inject a bit, enough to deliver visible symptoms but not enough to kill. However, you shouldn’t rely on that. Many cobras couldn’t care any less about these general rules and will inject you with sufficient venom to eradicate a 4-ton pachyderm (that would be an elephant.)
Also, as I’ve explained, baby cobras are even more dangerous than adults. Their venom is just as potent (sometimes even more potent), which can result in swift death when paired with the juveniles’ extreme aggression.
Baby cobras are more vulnerable than adults due to their small sizes. So, they tend to make up for it in aggression and their utter disinterest regarding the amount of venom available. They will often infect all of the venom in one bite, in which case it’s unlikely you’ll ever get the help you need in time.
King Cobras are Able to Move Quickly on Land
King cobras can reach the staggering speed of 12 mph on land. This qualifies the cobra as one of the fastest land snakes in the world. Combine this with its chemical deadliness, and you have a fast and dangerous animal that can deliver a swift death.
You should also know that cobras like to dwell in bushes and beneath foliage which renders them nearly invisible due to their matching color scheme. So, in most cases, you won’t even see the snake coming. Fortunately, cobras don’t have humans on their menu. Unless you step on one or come really close out of the blue, it’s unlikely that the cobra will bite suddenly. You should be able to hear the ominous hiss in time.
King Cobras are Skilled Swimmers
Cobras are some of the most adaptable snakes in the world. They move at lightning-speed on land, they can climb trees, traverse rugged terrain, and can swim and submerge themselves under water. This adaptability recommends the cobra as one versatile killer with many attack and escape routes, depending on the situation.
Fortunately for you, cobras don’t bite while swimming, because they’re not exactly adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. They will keep their mouths closed, not to drown, and will only swim for short periods. This is a glaring contrast with what happens if you meet the same snake on land, in its natural habitat.
King Cobras Have a Wide Range of Diet
It’s safe to say that these carnivorous snakes can and will eat anything that fits their mouths. This includes birds, small and medium-sized mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and the list goes on. This being said, king cobras have specialized in hunting and consuming snakes, and the list is impressive here.
The typical snake species that make the list include kraits, vipers, the Asian rat snake, pythons, Indian cobras, and other king cobras. Yes, king cobras are cannibals too. It’s amazing to note that the king cobra doesn’t fear any snake, whether it’s a constrictor or a venomous species. Their 0.5-inch fangs, paired with the ability to inject up to 1,000 mg of neurotoxic venom, can have that effect.
King Cobras are a Popular Symbol in Culture and Media
The king cobra is the most recognizable venomous snake in the world, turned into a modern symbol thanks to its trademark looks, behavior, and deadly potential. But there’s one other thing that has turned the cobra into an icon in modern times: its outstanding intelligence.
The king cobra is considered one of the most intelligent snakes on the planet thanks to its hunting finesse and adaptability. It’s known that cobras tend to lurk around their prey for a while to observe its behavior and only strike when the time is right. They also use different hunting tactics, depending on the prey itself and its size.
For instance, if the prey is small, like a bird, snake, or small rodent, the cobra will bite and coil around the prey at the same time. The behavior reminds of a constrictor snake, although the cobra doesn’t use too much power in the process. The goal is to keep the prey close, as the cobra bites and chews repeatedly, injecting venom in the process.
If the prey is too large, the cobra prefers to strike to inject its venom and retreat immediately. The prey will flee, with the cobra on its tail, and will be consumed whole once it collapses due to the effects of the neurotoxin.
In human culture, cobras symbolize dignity, power, majesty, and fertility and are often considered messengers of the gods.
Few snakes are as fascinating and as unique as cobras. It’s only a shame that the reptile king’s habitat is dwindling by the day. Fortunately, efforts are being made to preserve and protect the species so that it can keep haunting our imagination and nightmares.